Drawing inspiration from Sweeney Boo

Sweeney Boo

This week’s creator interview is with a young comic artist and illustrator from Canada, who has 174,000 followers on Instagram and is making a good living to boot. She also has a crowdfunded graphic novel coming out soon, her first foray into the book world.

Her real name is Cécilia Dupuy, but in her career she goes by the screen name Sweeney Boo. For the rest of this interview, I’ll refer to her as Sweeney.

Judging from her website, Sweeney is earning good money as a freelance illustrator and comic artist. But I wondered if she makes much revenue online, from her indie creations – either from her online shop, or sponsorship and ads?

“Most of my revenues are contract work and my online shop,” she replied. She doesn’t attend many comic conventions, so her online shop allows anyone to “have access to my original artworks, books, prints, etc.” She’s never made money through ads or sponsorship, despite having gained a large following on social media.

Like most of the creators I’ve interviewed so far, Sweeney manages her business largely by herself. She describes this as “another job itself.”

Instagram & Inktober

Clearly, Instagram lends itself to visual creators. From the user standpoint, following artists like Sweeney is a great way to get visually inspired on a daily basis.

Sweeney has been especially popular on Instagram, with 174,000 followers and counting.

Sweeney’s Instagram

I asked Sweeney how she built up that audience – was it a gradual, organic growth, or was there a tipping point or two along the way when her audience suddenly grew rapidly?

“I started my Instagram about 7 years ago,” she said, “and it gradually grew while my drawing skills were evolving.”

She still feels the same way about her Instagram account today; that it helps keep her “on the right track with my drawing style.”

As for tipping points, Sweeney identified Inktober as something that has helped her a lot over the years. Inktober was created in 2009 and is an annual challenge for visual artists to post “one ink drawing a day” during the month of October. It’s similar to the annual Nanowrimo challenge for writers, in which you write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November (I did it back in 2003).

“When I did the Modern Witches series in 2017,” Sweeney told me regarding Inktober, “it was a huge hit. It was definitely the point where my community started growing even more.”

That boost in popularity was triggered by official recognition from the people who ran Inktober. This tweet, for example, got over 1,000 likes:

But the success of Sweeney’s social media also comes down to the regular care she puts into that aspect of her career.

“I post every day or two days,” she said, “and I take the time to answer comments and questions. I try to be in regular contact with my followers, asking about their advice and whatnot. I sure have a good following, but I would never take it for granted as my followers are very important to me.”

I wondered then if Sweeney’s audience has any expectations for her Instagram account? Of course, she’s not in any way beholden to her audience. But what it is about her work and the themes she explores that her followers most identify with?

“I think people know I love drawing cute girls with cool outfits,” she replied. “It’s pretty obvious that I like fashion, and it’s something I put of lot of attention into. But what I like is that people who follow me won’t expect me to always draw the same thing. They want to see me explore, evolve and expand my skills. Which is very good; it pushes me to get out of my comfort zone!”

Sweeney’s evolution in art

One of the great things about Sweeney’s Instagram is that she shows people how she does her art – her process and the tools she uses. So I asked her what percentage of her followers are fellow artists or budding artists? Or is most of her audience ordinary people, who just enjoy looking at her art work and following her creative journey?

“I think it’s a bit of everything,” she replied. “Instagram attracts budding artists, and for good reasons. It’s a great platform to share your work on and you don’t need to share finished pieces. You can share little sketches, from work in progress to a final piece, and you can get quick reactions from people. It helps you evolve. That’s what happened for me, and it will happen for others.”

As for the tools she uses, in a previous interview she’d mentioned that she doesn’t work digitally anymore. How did that transition, from working with digital tools to working with traditional tools, happen? And is it still true she doesn’t use digital tools to create her art?

“I used to draw digitally a lot when I started,” Sweeney explained. “One day, I got tired of feeling frustrated with my colors and where I was going with my work digitally. So I switched to traditional and it helped me find my style and my voice in art – where I wanted to go with it.”

However, breaking news, she’s now back using digital tools!

“A few months ago, I got an iPad pro and now I can’t stop working digitally,” she said. “I haven’t done enough traditional work since then, which I feel guilty about. So, honestly it’s a matter of what I prefer at the time. For me I need to find the balance between the two, because I want to be able to do both.”

Graphic novel

Sweeney’s big project currently is a graphic novel entitled Eat and love yourself, which is about a 25-year old called Mindy and her battles with a food disorder and body-shaming. Sweeney co-wrote the novel with a writer named Lylian, and they used the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise money.

The Kickstarter campaign ran during December 2016 and by the start of 2017 had raised about CA$26,000 (US$19,500 at today’s conversion rate). While that amount wasn’t enough to pay Sweeney herself, it was sufficient to cover printing costs, guest artists, and other expenses such as translation.

Sweeney in January 2017, after raising CA$26,000 on Kickstarter.

I asked Sweeney whether she was satisfied with how the Kickstarter went – did it raise enough money and sufficient community support?

“We are very happy on how the Kickstarter went, and the support,” she replied. “It is always very different from what you believe it will be. For us, we had things we didn’t think about [come up] during the campaign. Doing a graphic novel is very complicated and requires a thorough job.”

Initially the book was slated to be published sometime in 2018, but it will over-run that timeline by at least a year. 2017 seemed to bring the most challenges for Sweeney and her co-writer. An update post in November 2017 stated that “we’ve been through a tough year, personnally and family speaking.”

The delay was “something that I was very anxious about,” Sweeney admitted. “But all the backers and community have been very supportive, because they just want us to put our best into the book. It will be out at the end of this year, and we are very excited about it!”

The state of digital media

Lastly, I asked Sweeney what I’ve asked all the other creators I’ve interviewed so far: what does she think about the digital media landscape as a whole – including social media, online avenues to sell her artwork, and the community online for artists? Some creators, such as Tal Oran the vlogger, have told me they have misgivings about how their primary platform treats creators. Are there any such issues in the art creator community online?

“I don’t deal with monetary platforms like Youtube,” Sweeney replied. “I post most of my work on Twitter and Instagram, and I’ve never encountered any bad situations. I respect their rules about content.”

However, she is aware of “talk about the new Instagram algorithm.” The issue there is that, just as Facebook and Twitter did prior, Instagram changed its algorithm so that photos aren’t shown chronologically any more. Instead, your feed is based on an opaque algorithm. Creators can no longer be sure that their photos are being displayed to all of their followers.

But for Sweeney, the algorithm change hasn’t affected her Instagram account.

“I’ve curated and nursed my instagram for many years now,” she said, “so my visibility expanded as it was growing.”

I get the feeling Sweeney Boo’s popularity has only just begun. Check out her Instagram and website.

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