09/28/2015 12:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017



Illustration by Holly Nichols

Once upon a time, if you wanted to make it as an artist, you had to be prepared to toil for years in obscurity, perhaps lugging an oversized black portfolio of your work from one gatekeeper to the next.

Not anymore.

In the age of Instagram, all it takes to become a successful artist, aside from the usual amount of hard work and talent, is an iPhone and a dream.

Holly Nichols exemplifies this trend as much as anyone alive.

A superlative fashion illustrator, she recently took part in the pinnacle of her field, New York Fashion Week, sketching and posting runway models with a special focus on their hair.

She wasn't there as a tourist. She was there at the behest of one of the top hairstyle brands in the country.

She runs a thriving business out of her studio in her hometown of Braintree, MA, posting her work on Instagram and selling it on Etsy.

One look at her work -- the flowing impressionism of the way she captures the frocks, the hair and the haughty expressions of the runway models, and you'll understand why she is so successful.

When you take a look at what social media means for artists, you'll understand how she became so successful, and practically overnight.

"In some ways, I owe my career to social media," Nichols said.

Not quite two years out of Endicott College, the illustrator began posting her work on Instagram and very quickly developed a following that includes fashion lovers and also many of the top brands in fashion today.

"It's pretty exciting," she says, "when you post a design of something Banana Republic did, and then suddenly you see that somebody from the company liked it enough to give it a favorable comment on Instagram. That's pretty amazing."

If you're not conversant with Instagram, here's how it works. You post a photo of your artwork with relevant hashtags -- in this case, #fashionillustration or #fashiondesign.

"Don't go overbroad, like #art," Nichols advises. "And don't go too obscure, either. You want people to be able to find your work easily."

And people will, or at least they have in Nichols' case. She started studying interior design began posting on Instagram while still an undergraduate, and her work quickly found favor among fashion illustration aficionados all over the internet.

"I switched to studio art while I was at Endicott," Nichols says, "but the interior design really helped me. You have to know how to draw folds in material, and that certainly helps me illustrating fashion."

Nichols had a part-time job, but she didn't need it very long, because sales of her fashion illustration quickly took off. No making the rounds with the oversized black portfolio of her work. Instead, with an iPad mini-friendly stylus, Nichols can practice -- and post -- her art, anytime, anywhere.

One of the key words that describes the internet, if admittedly a long word, is disintermediation -- the elimination of the middleman. Instagram is a major step forward in terms of breaking down the walls between artists and the communities they serve. Artists in all fields can do their work, choose the appropriate hashtag and find themselves careers without anyone's outside intervention.

From Endicott College to Lincoln Center for New York Fashion Week?

For Internet-based artists like Holly Nichols, it's all in a day's posting.

To visit Holly's Instagram -- hnicholsillustration