I am an artist, do I need a website?
Does every artist need a website? Well, unless you are doing brilliantly without one, I would say yes. Most people would expect to find an artist online. And so having a website to show off your work and to tell the world a little bit about yourself is a great way to have a presence online. It is your ‘base’ where you can be you, you can have your own design, your own style and say what you want to say. It is your own bespoke gallery space and you are the curator of your own show.
If you are already on social media and people would like to know more or see more, it is good to have a link to your website somewhere. Social Media alone is really not enough to build a presence online. When people google your name, they should be pointed to the best place to introduce yourself: your own site. So where and how do you build your own website?
Your website is your own bespoke gallery space and you are the curator of your own show
This is the first of a 3-part series on website building for artists. I hope to show you what a website needs, how to build it and which builder to use. I also like to show you some good examples and some tips and tricks to keep in mind. If you don’t have your own website, or you want to improve yours, read on!
From HTML to WYSIWYG
I have been building my own website for many years, but as an artist it has never been my main focus. Over the years I learned a lot, yet there is even more to learn still. In the beginning I wrote some basic HTML and built my website like that. I have also used Blogger for many years for my blog. Later on I moved to website builders such as Moonfruit and Weebly and some others which use the What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) systems. There you can drag and drop website elements and get a feel for what it would look like ‘live’, while you are building it. I have always had an interest in having a good looking site but strongly believe things should not be any more complicated than needs be.
What sort of Site do I Need?
A Simple Site
Building a website can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. But if you are an artist like me, and you have paintings, sculptures or craft products to show, your website does not need to be complicated. Compared to some sites an artist’s website is fairly straightforward. The minimum you would need is a home page to introduce yourself and your work, you would need a page with an image gallery and a page about you. That is all.
Or Slightly More Complex
Of course you can make it as complex and expansive as you like. You might have different categories of work, and need multiple image gallery pages. You might have a page about commissions, a page with your CV or if you would like to write about your work, a blog page. If you want to sell online, you can create an online shop, complete with ‘add to basket’ buttons and payment system. Still, compared to many other websites, (imagine how many pages Amazon would need for their site) an artist’s site is simple.
Show off your Art: Web Design
The most important thing for an artist website is the content (your art) and the design and layout of the site. The design has to show off your work, be complementary to it, and perhaps even set the mood for it. The design of your site is the pedestal for your art. Although many artists opt for the neutral – but stylish- white website (like I do), others might want a more personal approach. After all, if you create Gothic dark art, you might prefer a site that oozes darkness from the start. But for many and most, a neutral coloured site is a good bet.
White, grey, cream and sometimes black are great colours to use for a site that does not distract and will enhance and support your work. After all, it is your work that matters, not the web design. Avoid coloured fonts, music or sound of any kind (unless your art features sound; but make sure there is a mute/play button), flashing or otherwise distracting fonts and avoid coloured backgrounds. Your favourite colour might be purple but your biggest fan might hate it and it certainly will look awful as a background for your website. Textured backgrounds are generally also hard to read text on, and can look very dated. Less is more when it comes to web design.
Organisation of Information
Keep things well spaced out; a visitor’s eye does not want to get overwhelmed with information and stuff to see. Have a think whether you prefer a long (maybe even single page) site where visitors can scroll past sections, or whether you prefer short pages where visitors can see the content in one go and click to go to the next page. Browse other websites and make notes of things you like and dislike. Adjust, copy and steal the things you like into your own site. Make sure the font is big enough to read (even for people with some eye sight problems) but small enough to look neat. Try out different computers, screen sizes and browsers as a website can look very different on each!
Think about your navigation (menu) and if you have more than a handful of pages, write down the structure to make sure it makes sense. Visitors need to be able to click from one page to the next without having to look for it. On an artist’s website most people will expect to find basic information such as a contact form, an artists statement, bio, and an image gallery. Make sure these things are easy to find. You can add things like a news page, a page with the latest exhibitions, a blog, commissions, purchasing info and perhaps other pages with some of your writing, projects or other long content stuff. Keep your menu short and use sub menus to organise things. Having a lot of links in your navigation just looks messy and confusing so if you have too many, see if you cannot bunch some together and use a sub menu.
Don’t give people 2000 words to read on the first page: they will be put off and leave. Show people what you are all about in one go. One great image and a little bit of text will tell people immediately where they are and what you do. Make it short and attractive. Put on decent photos of your work and add the best pics of you or your studio. Images are hugely important, not only because you are a visual artist and that is what you do, but also because they define the look of your site.
In order to have a website you need a domain. This is the web address where you website will be living. You can either buy your own domain, like I have: www.sophieploeg.com or you can use a free domain that many website builders offer in their free packages: www.sophieploeg.weebly.com. You can buy a .com domain (for US sites and sites that have a worldwide audience) or a .co.uk domain (for UK audiences), a .nl domain (for The Netherlands; each country will have their own) or a .eu, .net and many more. The .org domains are generally used for non profit organisations so not really suitable for individual artists. Do note that if you already have a domain, many website builders will allow you to transfer it to them although this is by no means necessary and you can simply ‘point’ your domain to the builder of your choice. Ask your domain registrar to help you with this. Shop around for the cheapest domain registration fees.
Of course you don’t have to use your own name in your domain if you don’t want to. Many people use something that describes their business like catportraits.com or something of the kind. Yet I do think that using your own name (or your artist’s name) is a good idea. As an artist you will want to be known by your name and people will google you under your name and not your type of business. If someone wants to know more about my work they expect to find something if they google my name. Unless you sign your paintings with ‘cat portraits’ (you better not get into dog portraiture then) it is generally not a good idea to use anything else than your own name for your domain. If your name domain is taken you can consider adding words like ‘art’ or ‘portraits’ (assuming you will never get into landscape painting!), or use a hyphen, a middle name etc. Do not use numbers or random letters, it really does not look very good.
Your website needs to be hosted somewhere. This is the company that has the computers where your website files will live and where it gets sent off to the internet. Most website builders will host your site for you. This takes away a lot of complicated stuff and makes these ‘hosted web builders’ very easy to use. A ‘self hosted’ web building service such as WordPress means you have to find your own hosting, pay for the service and upload your website to their computers (servers). If you use this way you can choose the best host, with the best servers. You can also access your own website files and fiddle in the engine room of your website. Most people will choose a website builder that hosts for you as this is simply the easiest.
Can I do it Myself?
I shudder a little when I hear a fellow artist has spent hundreds of pounds on a web designer to design a website for them. And when I look I see the ‘designer’ has just used a standard template without much personalisation at all. Building a website is really very easy. It can be difficult and complex, but it does not have to be. You can get free websites (that means the website builder will want its name mentioned somewhere) or you can go for a paid package, but most builders such as Weebly, Squarespace or Wix are really very easy to use.
Unless you really want nothing to do with computers, and you are really a complete computer novice, I see no reason why you too can build your own site. You need some basic computer knowledge, be willing to learn something new, and be able to take decent photos of your art, which you need to be able to resize in a photo editing program. If you do decide to pay someone else to do it for you, keep the money reasonable and shop around. Don’t get tricked into paying too much!
There are quite a few good website builders out there and in my next blog post I will discuss a few. Do let me know your experiences and I will try and incorporate it in the post. The more info we share the better we can all make choices! In a last post on this topic I discuss some final tips and tricks for building your own website.
After my move to WordPress I am still learning the ropes. I am told by Google my site is slow to load so I am trying to fix that. WordPress is truly a different ball game!
*Do let me know what your experiences are. Did you go for an own-name domain? How did you come up with the design for your site?