“When I post a piece of art, my hope at the end of the day is that someone sees it and they’re inspired to take action,” says illustrator Danielle Coke, known to many as the talent behind Instagram account @ohhappydani. In the last year, she’s seen that goal realized hundreds of thousands of times over. In the wake of the violence that sparked a worldwide reckoning around racism last summer, several of her thoughtful digital illustrations went viral, furthering the conversations about justice, privilege, empathy, and equity. And for many users, spotting one of Coke’s drawings on their feeds was just the beginning.
Those who visited @ohhappydani’s profile were greeted with a body of work that reinforced and expands upon the principles that drew them in, from an infographic about addressing racism at home to a series of greeting cards illustrating what racial micro-aggressions can look like. The 25-year-old’s talent for presenting social issues in ways that reach new audiences has attracted nearly half a million of new Instagram followers—and sustained their involvement in the fight for racial justice—in the months since.
Now, Coke is helping others find a voice, too. Her new Skillshare Original, Instagram Illustration: Make Shareable Art for Social Change, offers step-by-step instructions on using art to spark activism. She also offers social media advice for up-and-coming creators hoping to make a difference. To enjoy her full Skillshare class head right here.
Post to Instagram Consistently.
“I think the effort that is normally put into growth—hashtag strategies, buying followers—is better spent investing in consistency, authenticity, and listening to what’s happening in the world around you,” says Coke. Your post history can serve as an introduction to new viewers. “When someone comes in contact with my Instagram page, I hope that they’re drawn in by the colors and by the pretty nature of it, but that they stay for the encouragement education and inspiration: that it fosters a sense of awareness, but also personal responsibility for doing what they can to make the world a better place,” she says. Ask yourself what makes your work special and post regularly with those priorities in mind, whether you have 10 followers or 10 thousand. “When people find you,” Coke says, “they’ll see that you’ve been doing it all along.”
Help Your Instagram Followers Help You.
Reposts and shares are some of the best ways for artists to reach new people. But when users co-opt a graphic and don’t credit the maker, it can be nearly impossible for the illustrator to benefit from their work. “One thing that really helps is that I’ve posted reposting guidelines on my own page,” says Coke, who keeps a story highlight with tips at the top of her Instagram profile. Her asks are simple: In stories, use the built-in “share” icon to share the graphic directly from her page; for in-feed posts, tag @ohhappydani in the photo and the first line of the caption. “It’s meant to be shared, meant to be a resource,” says Coke of her work. Explaining how to do that properly can turn casual followers into your biggest champions.
Many followers turn to @ohhappydani for anti-racism resources, artivism, and tips on how to promote respect and equality in their own social spheres. But Coke says that doesn’t exempt her from pursuing ongoing education around those topics herself. “One thing that I’ve had to continuously learn is that just because I’m Black does not mean that I don’t struggle with the effects of internalized racism or that I always have the correct definition of keywords or phrases or ideas,” she says. “Don’t shy away from continuing to do research, learning, and refining your knowledge on the topics that you care about.”
That said, use outside information as a tool to hone in on your distinct point of view—not as material to replace it. “I’m not a textbook. I am a person. I never want to lose my personhood as I’m creating this kind of art,” says Coke, who adds that creating from your own personal perspective and worldview should always come first. “That might not be the same worldview as the next Black person. But I do know that my own unique experience is enough.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Take Instagram Breaks.
When you’ve cultivated a following that shows up for you, taking care of yourself is as vital to growing your platform as any other element. “Because of the space that I occupy with justice work and anti-racism education as a whole, it can get draining,” says Coke. “I don’t always keep up the momentum, and I’ve learned to accept that as just fine.” Coke isn’t alone. Plenty of creators bounce between feeling hyper-engaged one minute and tired, anxious, or burnt-out the next.
For Coke, these low moments offer an opportunity to step back and refocus. “I love to learn,” she says, citing a joy for note-taking and the classroom experience as building blocks for her informative art. Pausing to remind yourself why you’re creating can guard against social media fatigue and offer mental health benefits beyond the screen. “No matter how exhausted I get, after taking that time for myself, I always come back around to the love I have for learning,” Coke says, “which translates to the love I have for teaching.”
Be Yourself—Even When It’s Not Easy.
As your following grows, so will the number of people who feel entitled to share their requests and criticism. “Do not let what people ask of you affect or change your style and the way that you create,” says Coke. “Don’t compromise the integrity of your work for wanting to please people. People come and go, but who you are and what makes your art unique is what’s here to stay. Don’t lose sight of that.”
Make a Difference with Your Art
Explore how you can use art to make a statement with Danielle Coke.