The conventional wisdom used to be: Don’t confuse the art with the artist. In the past, many of the world’s most admired artists used mystique to their advantage. The less we knew about Georgia O’Keefe, J.D. Salinger, and Greta Garbo, the more we were forced to focus our curiosity on their work.
Now that social media encourages creators to build personal relationships with their fans, being an enigma may not have the same effect. The first wave of influencers attracted attention with carefully crafted images of themselves—but that left many of us craving authenticity. Now, some creators are finding that letting down their guard and allowing followers to see a more unfiltered view of their lives can be an art in itself.
Fran Meneses (AKA @frannerd) is an illustrator, author, and graphic novelist born and raised in Chile. Long before she found her niche as a successful creator, she developed her artistic imagination as a child by making her own toys, stickers, paper dolls and comics.
“I loved making comics for my mom when she got home after a long day of work,” she recalls. “When my parents divorced and separated, that was my way of coping and talking about it.”
Meneses never stopped drawing, and as an adult began chronicling her life as an artist and has become an influential YouTube creator with over a quarter million subscribers. In 2013, she moved to Brooklyn to continue growing her business as content creator. Over the past nine years, she’s been attracting a loyal following by sharing her passion for creativity as well as the ups and downs of her personal life.
Revealing more about herself wasn’t part of a pre-conceived strategy. It was a natural evolution of her ethos. After opening up about her grief after a miscarriage, the end of her marriage, and her reasons for coming out, she began to make more meaningful connections with the people drawn to her art. Her honesty and vulnerability dissolved the walls between her and her audience and built trust among the emerging creators who look to her for advice on topics such as when to launch on Patreon.
We spoke with Fran to find out how she’s adopting new tech tools, adapting to changing algorithms, and building loyalty and trust among her followers.
You first launched your YouTube channel as a way to share videos of your honeymoon with your friends. What inspired you to start using the channel to invite followers into your personal life?
Back in 2012, I was watching people talking about makeup or comedy or gaming, but I’m like, ‘I wish someone would talk preciously like they do with eyeshadow palettes, just with art supplies. I think I can be that person.’
At that moment, I moved abroad and realized I had to switch languages because I kept showing people my work and no one was understanding because I speak Spanish. They were like, ‘It's very cool what you're doing, but I can’t understand a word you're saying.’ But it was great because I got out of my comfort zone and started connecting with audiences I never would have reached otherwise.
I started talking about the struggles of being a freelancer and how lonesome it gets when you live abroad away from your family and friends. It's very exhausting. Once you move to a different country, you're almost like a new person. I was massively surprised to see that other people were struggling as well. I didn’t know that. Because I was feeling lonely and saying it out loud, a lot of people were saying ‘Hey, I also feel lonely.’
“I got out of my comfort zone and started connecting with audiences I never would have reached otherwise.”—Fran Meneses
How did sharing your personal life affect your relationship with your fans and followers?
The utilitarian way of seeing my YouTube channel was for me to make people trust me. At the time, I’d just opened my Etsy shop and I wanted to show people that I'm just a woman behind the computer with two cats, packing the orders, and if they're paying me with their credit card, I’m not gonna steal their data. In Chile, at the time, online shopping wasn't as common, so I wanted people to see behind the scenes of having an online store.
Then, suddenly, a lot of people started relating with the way I was living and what I was showing. When I started working on a scene, people were part of the process from the beginning. So when I launched the product, suddenly there were a lot of people interested because they’d seen me working on it for months.
Now my YouTube channel is a way to show people how I live my life, what it’s like to be an illustrator, all the ups and downs, all the times I've heavily struggled with personal things and how that influences my work.
It seems like living your life in front of the camera is one step beyond creating a personal brand. It’s a way of establishing credibility.
Nowadays, it’s so difficult to separate art from the artists because we want to see who is behind a brand. The art that we see hanging on a wall or the crisps that we get at the bodega, [we’re] like, ‘I wanna know how those things are being produced.’ We want to support people [we] are aligning with ethically. The transparency that comes from being both an artist and a content creator nowadays is important because people are asking those questions.
As someone who’s learned how to support yourself by creating multiple revenue streams, including a Patreon page, do think we’re getting closer to a creator middle class?
I think we're getting closer. We're coming to a point in which social media is less and less reliable because their algorithms are changing at a much faster pace. A lot of artists are feeling not included in that change—especially when you're talking about art that is 2D, like non-moving images. People who are solely relying on social media are struggling to find a way through this rapidly changing environment.
“We're coming to a point in which social media is less and less reliable because their algorithms are changing at a much faster pace.”
Platforms like Patreon are not influenced by an algorithm because once you support a creator, you're going to get the content. There's no curation. What you're actually doing is subscribing on a monthly basis to the people you enjoy. When you have 1000 very loyal fans, it's easier to have a consistent income than relying on rapidly changing platforms or ads or algorithms.
It's such an uncertain time. I do want to believe that we're approaching a more subscription-based cycle. Newsletters are going to become very strong because email accounts are the thing people very seldom change. You're relying less on an algorithm.
You’ve said part of what you love about being a creator is that it gives you the chance to wear different hats. How has that been an advantage to you throughout your career?
As a freelancer, content creator or artist, I always encourage people to follow their curiosity to see where it takes [them]. It’s been so handy to know how to edit videos or use software like Photoshop or Illustrator. Because it not only allows me to be more resourceful, but if something happens and I need to delegate or ask for help, I know exactly how to ask. But I think it comes naturally the more time you do something for a living.
“You're never going to be ready enough. Most of the learning you do as you go.”
When I started with my online store, I felt so overwhelmed with the amount of choices—like what envelope I’m supposed to buy or how do you set shipping prices. I've noticed that the only way of figuring out those things is by actually jumping and doing it.
I think I am very insecure. Since I suffer from anxiety, I have to overprepare myself because I am never going to be prepared enough. I'm never going to be good enough. So there's this relief when I think I’m doing the work by overpreparing myself.
So, this is a gentle reminder for myself and for anyone who is reading this, that you're never going to be ready enough. Most of the learning you do as you go. So wearing multiple hats has been very handy in that regard, because when I started illustration, I had no idea how to do 90% of the things I'm doing now. You just have to have a good disposition and a curious mind to learn.