Riya Sharma creates beautiful artwork using photography, paint, and digital elements. She has recently been listed as an internet sensation who is followed by an estimated 26% of Americans via Instagram.

Riya has become such a sensation on Instagram that a team monitors her movements there. In fact, for the past two years she has been an influencer who has achieved global acclaim. Now ranked 25 in the country of Brazil, Riya boasts over 82,000 unique views and earns between $2,800 and $5,000 a month via her involvement with the platform.

Riya recently discussed her successes and plans for 2019 via an exclusive interview.

Photography, artwork, fashion and design

Meagan Meehan (MM): You are a painter and a photographer but your Instagram also focuses on beauty, fashion and travel. How does your love of fashion and makeup influence your artwork?

Riya Sharma (RS): I believe that every artist has their own creative process. Some do it while burning the midnight oil studying complex equations to solve the next mystery of the universe; others take inspiration from the works of others and build on it. For me, it has always been dabbling in the art of makeup. It’s when I sit down with another person and work on turning them into a better version of themselves that my creative process truly takes off. So yes, for me, makeup is art – and well art is… makeup.

MM: What is it about your channel that has drawn so many people from across the globe to it?

RS: I want to draw people’s attention to the colorful side of India. I strive to capture the beauty in otherwise mundane situations to show optimism. When people see my work, they don’t just see a bunch of pixels skillfully portrayed on a piece of canvas.

What they see is true beauty in the midst of chaos. When you get down to the nitty gritty of things, I think it’s the social and cultural aspect of rural India, which has been so underrepresented in mainstream art forms, that has brought attention to my channel. If I’m able to connect India’s remotest rural population with high street fashion brands, then I would consider my work to be complete.

It’s not just a superficial way to grab attention – it’s a genuine attempt at improving other people’s lives by connecting them with the fashion industry. I want to bust the myth that fashion is the exclusive domain of the super-rich and famous. Whether you’re rich or poor, we all have the right to fashion just the same. To that end, I’m going to bridge the growing disconnect between India’s elite and the not-so-elite.

MM: You model many beautiful clothes, so how did you get into modeling and how do you meet designers?

RS: If you want to get noticed in the fashion and modeling industry, then you need to have your networking skills on point. I am very active on social media. I try to attend social seminars, where some of the biggest giants of the industry gather under one roof to share ideas.

It’s usually the best time to meet designers and other aspiring artists for collaborative work. If there’s one tip I would share: if you want to know how to start your own fashion channel, you must start with networking.

MM: Do you primarily travel to promote your art and/or fashion?

RS: You can’t be in fashion and not expect travel. You’re always on the road, packing your things to attend the next conference or another. Think of travelling as a job hazard, we’re always on road trips, away from family and friends to chase after our passions. I wouldn’t be where I’m today if it weren’t for my nomadic lifestyle. I like to think of it as a ‘job hazard’, with the only difference being that I enjoy every second of it.

Promotion, sponsoring, modeling and evolution

MM: You can help promote people on your Instagram such as sponsoring posts. Typically, how does that work?

RS: There are many ways to get yourself ‘promoted’ on Instagram. The easiest it to create ads, but it’s largely a hit and miss with followers. If you truly want to break ground on Instagram, or any social media platform for that matter, then you need organic sponsorships from a celebrity or known influencer with a meaningful following to sponsor your work. In social media lingo, this practice is known as ‘shout outs.’ I regularly get requests from companies and other influencers to sponsor their channel. If I like what they’re doing and they impress me enough, I go ahead and give them the ‘shout out’.

MM: Were you surprised that your channel had grown so extremely popular?

RS: It truly is humbling to see my work being appreciated on a global scale. Truth be told, I didn’t expect people to take so kindly to my work.Yes, when it first happened, I was in denial. It took me quite some time before I finally internalized the fact that I’m now an ‘influencer’ in the realm of fashion! Nothing would delight me more than to have my work represent rural India in a more positive light. For me I think it was 2016’s artwork held in New York that helped bring considerable exposure to my work. And fortunately for me, people seemed to love what they saw. I just couldn’t be happier. I’ll just continue to refine the proven formula that has worked so far in my favor.

I will focus on all-things-art, interior décor and architecture.

MM: How would you like to evolve and expand the content on your Instagram?

RS: I’ll just keep at it. Personally, I’m going to take things up a notch by doing more collaborations in the future. If anything, my channel’s success has proven that people love the niche I’m focusing on. I would just take it from there and accelerate my efforts. I plan on moving to videography, and for that I’m going to need video editors and a studio. That is going to take quite a bit of effort. Particularly, it’s going to require some capital and having a new team on board.

MM: What are your biggest dreams regarding your modeling and art making future?

RS: I want my work to bring more empowerment to people who are less fortunate or people who’ve been deprived of opportunity. I want to help them realize their true potential and bring their creative ideas to life. I guess you can call me a social entrepreneur, in that I want to improve the lives of people in rural India by educating them about all things fashion. It’s the best way to communicate with the world. The crippling under-representation has alienated people living below the poverty line to a large extent. I want my work to help bring them into the limelight. It’s what drove me to pursue a career in fashion in the first place. One day I want to start a fashion school to bring free education to aspiring designers and help them learn the skills of the trade.

MM: What is coming up for you in 2019 and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?

RS: I am going to collaborate with some big names in the industry on amazing fashion projects in the year 2019. I have already lined up several collaborations with industry giants for artistic ventures. Together we’re going to visit rural areas around the world and meet up in several fashion shows. Who knows I might just find the next big model--wouldn’t that be amazing?