Libby Haines has the innate ability to make Instagram feel like its old, deeply imaginative self— when it felt more like a space for people to share the inner workings of their minds, and less prone to profoundly unrelatable influencer tendencies. Haines has been gracing Instagram feeds since the early days of the pandemic, when she decided to end her jewelry career to search for a new creative outlet. Her medium of choice became paintings that fuse clever tabletops with vivid, whimsical color palettes and textures leaping from the canvas.
Haines’ ability to turn ordinary objects into tablescape masterpieces proves her creative eye and ability to find magic in the mundane. But the true magic of her feed lies in her unique ability to sell her art through her account: each week, she drops two new paintings, and within milliseconds, they’re sold.
I had the special opportunity to ask Haines about her work, career path, and how she’s been able to utilize Instagram to drive her artistic success.
You drop two new paintings weekly on Instagram, and the demand is wild. Can you explain how and why you chose Instagram as a sales method?
It definitely wasn’t always this way, but it has escalated much quicker than I could have anticipated and I’m still always a bit shocked and in awe of the positive reception. When I started sharing my art, I was working on the pieces for my first solo show. I had a bit of a following from my jewelry brand and decided to do some smaller paintings and try to sell them on Instagram. It felt like a way to experiment with color/texture and wasn’t as labor-intensive as the larger pieces I was making. It felt low stakes; my plan was to not spend more than a few hours on them, and just put them up on online to see if anyone was interested.
And at first, it took a few days to sell one (which I was thrilled with) and then from there it was happening within hours, then minutes, to the point where many people were commenting at the exact time I released it. Sometimes, I have people really upset in my DMs because they have missed out on getting a painting, which is a huge compliment, and just a bizarre position to be in too. After years of working so hard to keep my jewelry brand alive, I could never have dreamed of this kind of demand for my work. I got so used to creating collections with very little reception (aside from some incredibly supportive friends and family) it still comes as a surprise to me that my work now is being so well received.
And more so, how lucky I am that I just love doing it. There’s still a huge part of me that thinks it won’t last, so I am really trying to just enjoy any success as it comes and not take it for granted.
I noticed on your website that your art practice has evolved during Melbourne’s extended lockdown. Can you explain the evolution?
Melbourne’s first lockdown in 2020 coincided with me deciding to end my jewelry brand that I had been operating for the last six years. I learned so much from running my own business, and despite some big successes with it, it was really hard to make a profit. When I finally decided to call it quits, it was bittersweet.
I had studied art at university years ago, but hadn’t painted properly again in 12 years. By deciding to let go of the jewelry brand, it was like a creative hole opened up within me and felt the urge to start painting again. And once I started, something was really awakened in me, I hadn’t felt so much passion and drive to create in a long time. I was home with my two toddlers (both under 2 at the time) and almost over night, painting was all I could think about.
When I wasn’t parenting, all I wanted to do was make more art. I was setting myself goals to get a large painting done a week while in lockdown with no real end game, aside that it gave me purpose and I was enjoying it. And lockdown kept going, so I kept painting. I never could have dreamed it would result in this becoming my full-time job. All I knew was that the joy it was bringing me was immeasurable.
Your paintings often showcase what could be mundane moments, but the vivid colors create an entirely new landscape. Can you explain how you choose your colors and why you opt for vibrant options?
Painting for me is a form of escapism, a chance to step outside of myself, my own thoughts/existence and be entirely in a moment. I get so much pleasure focusing on color and texture and bringing a concept and feeling to life through paint. I guess the idea or aim is to create pieces that bring other people joy and capture the mood and evoke a universal feeling.
I think color and texture are the biggest vessels for that. The subject matter is almost secondary. I tend to get locked onto color combinations for a few weeks and then move onto something else. I’m always interested in color combinations that are a bit jarring or unexpected, a pretty, sweeter type color with a dirty, sickly color.
What is your painting process? How long does it take from start to finish?
I approach my small paintings in a much more relaxed way than my large ones. The large ones I spend quite a lot of time planning and sketching, working from different photos I’ve taken to get my sketches right. I feel I can convey so much more when I work on a large scale but they also tend to take up a lot of my head space and plague me until they’re finished.
The smaller paintings are more impulsive and I usually complete them in a few hours. I paint with water mixable oil paints and I paint alla prima (wet on wet). I love the vibrancy of oil paints and the way they dry exactly as they look wet. I apply my paint very thick and liberally— for me, this is the most pleasurable part and where real magic happens. The colors and textures create something so much more vivid and powerful than my shitty initial sketches convey.
And while the small paintings are done more impulsively, they have become such an integral part of my practice now. I commit to doing two a week, even while I’m working on pieces for a show because they are a way to experiment and try different color combinations. I rarely plan these paintings— I just decide that morning what I feel like painting, and then I just go for it. Sometimes there is no motivation and I hate the outcome, and other times it just works. But regardless, I always force myself to do it. And I’ve come to realize there is an energy to the smaller pieces that I am still figuring out how to bring to the larger works I create. Each month, I chose my faves of the small paintings and make these into limited edition fine art prints.
Often, artists don’t harness the power of social media. Should more artists lean into the capabilities of social media, especially regarding sales? Why or why not?
I think it can be really scary sharing your work on social media, and when I first started doing it, I felt so exposed. So I think fear can definitely hold people back. For me, it has been a great way to connect directly with my buyers and build relationships without a middle man. It’s really built my confidence knowing there are people who like what I’m creating, because being an artist can be isolating and I tend to get in my own head about my works.
So to have a direct line to the outside world via Instagram has been a really positive thing for me. But what works for one artist is not necessarily going to be a formula that can work for others, so I don’t know if I have strong feelings about the way other artists share their works. But if you are starting out and you aren’t hearing back from galleries, why wait for someone to give you a show when you can start sharing your work right away?
That’s not to say I think galleries are irrelevant, which I know some people believe. I have had shows in a number of galleries and have loved it. It’s so satisfying seeing all your works on the walls and so important for people to be able to see your work in person, I think. Galleries have also given me access to buyers that I wouldn’t have been able to connect with on my own. But if no gallery will give you a show, there are so many other ways you can get your art out there, and Instagram is one of them.
Who is your greatest creative inspiration, and why?
I’ve been so hungry for creative success since I was 18, truthfully. I studied art, then fashion, and went on to work in fashion roles before I started my jewelry brand. Along the way, I have met so many inspiring people who have made their own creative dreams come true.
I think meeting people who were living proof that you could work for yourself and make a career of it, is what inspired me to keep going. I’m turning 37 this year and I think, for a long time there, I never thought I would have creative success. I saw it happening all around me, but it was never quite within reach. I’ve been lucky to meet so many people who were generous in what they shared with me about business and believed in what I was doing.
For every supposed failure along the way, I learned something, and the one thing that never faded was the urge to create, whether anyone was going to pay me for it or not. So when I think about my greatest creative inspiration, I think it’s all the people who I’ve met over the last 18 years who have made their own dreams happen, and were also generous enough to share small bits of wisdom that have stuck with me.
How would you describe your art in three words?
Textured. Messy. Colorful.