Iris Yuan: Instagram star[tist]

Maya Akkaraju and Evan Baldonado

Palo Alto High School senior Iris Yuan works on one of her lettering pieces. She shares her work on Instagram, under the handle @irissletters, and recently gained 1,000 followers. "I started my Instagram so I can hold myself accountable for my lettering and keep it up, because I’m also someone who drops a lot of hobbies," she said.

While most casual Instagram users use the application for social purposes and as an escape from boredom, Palo Alto High School senior Iris Yuan uses Instagram for more than simply sharing pictures and perusing memes. She is part of the creator culture, the small subset of Instagram users devoted to creating content for the public.

Her Instagram biography describes her account’s themes as “lettering,” “watercolor[ing]” and “bullet journal[ing].”

With an eye-catching array of artwork populating her account (@irissletters) feed, Yuan has established herself as an up-and-coming player in Instagram’s art scene.

A post shared by iris? (@irissletters) on

A post shared by iris? (@irissletters) on

A post shared by iris? (@irissletters) on

Yuan is far from the only person to have taken a stab at an art account. Numerous others have tried, but Yuan is clearly doing something right, as she recently reached 1,300 followers on the platform.

What is Yuan’s secret? Why is her account flourishing while many of her peers’ stagnate?

“If you want to run a successful Instagram account you need two things,” Yuan said. “You need to post quality content […] but you also need to get people to see your account.”

By focusing on this strategy, Yuan has found success at amassing a following online, and her efforts at posting quality content are immediately apparent upon viewing her profile.

But for Yuan, lettering isn’t just something for Instagram, as she enjoys the creative process behind each piece.

“I like lettering because it’s a natural corollary to cursive, which I love, and because I like the aesthetics of it,” Yuan said. “It’s very satisfying for me to play around with colors and fonts and styles to see what I can come up with.”

According to Yuan, she uses similar Instagram posts as her inspiration for new lettering pieces.

“Most of my inspiration comes off Instagram,” Yuan said. “It’s a place where creativity is shared and you’re always welcome to borrow someone’s idea for something as long as you give credit, and since I’m still figuring out my style and trying everything new, I’ve definitely based a lot of my pieces off those of other people’s that I see.”

After initially learning with Crayola markers, Yuan has graduated to the more specialized Tombow pens which she says are more advanced, yet also more fragile.

“If you use Tombow, the tips will fray if you don’t use them right,” Yuan said. “Don’t buy expensive pens until you get the hang of it.”

According to Yuan, she will sometimes “practice [her lettering] maybe 10 times” before deciding on a final piece to curate on her page.

In order to gain visibility for these pieces of art, Yuan looks toward the social side of the Instagram platform.

Yuan is a strong believer in the use of hashtags and in engaging with the content of others.

“I have 50 hashtags, but I also go on the most common ones, like #handlettering, and I’ll just like [posts],” Yuan said. “Every time I post, I’ll just go through and like the most recent photos up to 30 minutes ago.”

By searching through art-related hashtags, Yuan identifies other users who share similar interests and might be keen to follow her account. Whenever Yuan likes someone’s post, the owner of the post receives a notification from @irissletters, which often prompts them to reciprocate.

Through this two-part strategy, Yuan has grown her account into what it is today. But she isn’t done yet — Yuan has ambitions for the future.

“I’m looking into starting an Etsy shop,” Yuan said. “I’m going to wait until I have more followers and am more established to do that, but that’s really all I have right now. Just keep growing my account.”