The other day, I offered to help a neighbour who wanted to build a website for his amazing mosaic art. He doesn't have a lot of interest in selling his art, but wants to participate in a local Artist Studio Tour that is happening here in the spring. The only thing is, for his application to be accepted, he needed a website. I am not an expert in web design, but I have designed and managed my site for several years. I was pretty confident we could set him up with a simple free site, so we sat down and got to work. He and I had a basic free website up and running in about an hour and a half! I wondered how many other artists avoid this task on their to-do list. Are you one of them? Maybe I can help you, too.
Perhaps you've told yourself, "I don't need a website!" Maybe you show your work exclusively at in-person events like markets or art fairs. Maybe you have gallery representation, and your gallery already shows your work on their website. Or, maybe you have an active social media page where you share images of your work, so you think a website would be redundant. In my opinion, none of these reasons negates the need for a website as an artist.
These days, the world is online, whether we like it or not. If you're not online as an artist in one way or another, it can be almost like you don't exist! A website can be a great place to gather images of all the pieces you've made over the years into a digital portfolio. It can be a wonderful tool for selling your art online. Most of all, it can be a place where people can find you when they are interested in what you do and want to learn more. Art is for sharing, so let's get to work!
I understand the hesitation many artists have; a website is a big and intimidating project, especially if you have no experience making one. In this post, I will break it down into simpler, achievable steps. By the time you're done reading, I hope you'll be willing to give website design a try!
Before we get started, I should mention that, although it is possible to create a website using your tablet, I wouldn't recommend it. A desktop computer or laptop equipped with an updated web browser is essential for this job.
WHAT KIND OF WEBSITE DO YOU WANT?
In addition to an online portfolio, do you also want to sell your art online? Would you like a way for people to contact you through your website? Maybe you want to try your hand at blog writing (like this one) or would like a way to collect email addresses from viewers for a newsletter subscription. Take a moment to brainstorm what you want out of your website. Have a look at the websites of artists you admire and take notice of what you like and don't like about their sites. Another question worth considering is what your budget is for a website. If your budget is $0, don't abandon the project! It's possible to build a free website that serves you well.
Once you know what you're working towards, you're ready to get started. At this point, you may have mentioned your plans to build a website to someone. Doubtless, they've overwhelmed you with their opinions about which web hosting platform is best, and now you're feeling discouraged again! Everyone has an opinion about this sort of thing, but try not to get ahead of yourself. Before you begin Googling "which web design platform has the best search engine optimization analytical reports," there are a few other things you can do to work towards your goal of building an artist website that will be more productive and less anxiety-inducing:
PHOTOGRAPH YOUR ART
At the absolute minimum, an artist's website should include photos of your art. If you don't have good photos, this is your best first step. You don't need a big fancy camera for this job. If you have a decent camera on your smartphone, you probably have everything you need to take great photos for the web. Jackson's Art Blog has a great post about photographing your art here.
Take the time to edit your photos for colour correction. This can often be done using the photo editing app that is already on your phone. You can use this app to also crop your images. A tightly cropped image of your art is essential but you should also consider collecting various different views of the artwork, including detail shots and images of the art in-situ. Try including a photo of the art on the easel or an overhead shot of the art laying on your studio table. I subscribe to a site called Canvy which I use to digitally stage my paintings into photos of interiors, which can be very helpful when collectors are trying to imagine the art hanging in their own space.
You will also need to learn how to convert your image files to an appropriate file type and size for online use. Digital image files can be confusing but don't let this hold you up. In the past, Google has been my best friend and helped me to learn what I need to know, so if any part of this process is confusing to you, Google it! No doubt, someone out there has created a very helpful YouTube video outlining everything you need to know. Squarespace has a great blog post here that offers some great information about formatting your images for display on the web.
Lastly, create yourself a simple system to keep your image files organized and ready for when it's time to create your site. You will want to save your images with file names that make sense to you so that you can find them easily when you need them. Consider including the title of the artwork, the year it was made, the collection or series that it belongs to, and any other helpful information such as the type of photo (in-situ, detail, etc) or aspect ratio (the geometric shape of the photo). You will thank yourself later when it is time to upload all your images to your website!
If this initial step of collecting and formatting photos seems overwhelming, perhaps it's because you have a lot of art to photograph. Consider curating a selection of pieces to show on your site. You can always add more in the future.
WRITE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR ART
Write a simple artist bio and statement. If you're freaked out by writing about your art, try not to overthink it. This doesn't have to be Art Basel quality. Artwork Archive gives some great suggestions on how to write an artist bio here. The Creative Independent outlines how to write a great artist statement here. If you're struggling, my best recommendation is to keep it as simple as possible and move on! Remember that your bio and statement are works in progress and will evolve as your art evolves. You can always go back and make changes later. Many artists don't even include a statement on their sites and opt for a simple bio. You get to choose!
This is also a good time to write about specific series, collections or projects you have created. You may want to feature these projects on your website in an organized manner and including little blurbs to accompany the work can be very informative for the viewer.
A METHOD OF CONTACT (optional)
Decide how you want to be contacted by people who are interested in your artwork. You'll need an email address to sign up for a website account, and you can use the same address as your artist's point of contact or even to send out an email subscription. Gmail is a great option, and an email account is easy to set up. Find instructions here.
TIME TO BUILD YOUR SITE
Well done! You've got great photos of your art, an artist bio, and an email address. Believe it or not, you're halfway to having a beautiful artist website. If you're still dreading the idea of building a site yourself or don't have the time and your budget allows for it, now would be the time to outsource the job. I can recommend someone who makes beautiful artist sites, so please get in touch with me if you'd like a referral. Otherwise, now is the time to sit down at the computer and choose your website-building platform.
There are many other options to research and compare if you are so inclined, but for an artist portfolio site, and in the interest of keeping things simple, I recommend choosing WIX or Squarespace. Both of these web-building platforms have intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces and lots of pre-designed templates to choose from. I love my WIX site, but many artists I know are happy with Squarespace. If e-commerce is your main focus, you may also be interested in checking out Shopify. Since I am familiar with WIX, the following steps will reference WIX processes:
Now is a good time to educate yourself on how to use your chosen web-building platform. By watching a handful of online tutorials before you begin, you can save yourself a lot of headaches later on. Pour yourself a nice cup of tea, sit down, and get familiar with how the program works. It will save you so much time in the long run. WIX has a ton of great tutorials for both beginners and advanced website creators. The first five tutorial recommendations in this WIX blog would be a great place to start!
Go to the homepage of the web provider and create an account to get started. Here, you can use the email address you set up for your art practice.
There's no need to register a credit card or pay for a plan yet. WIX offers free web hosting within an assigned Wix subdomain* (which you cannot customize), and the site will display Wix ads on all pages. These are certainly downsides but, in my opinion, not dealbreakers when they allow you to build a simple site for free. If you eventually want a custom domain name, eCommerce capabilities, or any of the other features often included with paid sites, you can upgrade your site anytime. A free site is limited in that you can't accept payments, create an online store or use Google Analytics, but it is possible to sell your art on a free site by linking your items to a PayPal account with a paypal button. I recommend starting with a free site and then making your decision about whether or not to upgrade to a paid plan later on when you have a better idea of which features you will use. WIX will immediately begin sending you discount offers in an attempt to lure you into an upgrade. Deals like this are frequent, so don't feel pressured into making a decision and instead allow your needs to guide you. Note that Squarespace doesn't offer free web hosting but does give you a 14-day trial when you sign up.
Next, you're going to choose a template to use. WIX has a little questionnaire at this stage that helps narrow the template selection process. This is where it will be important to know what you want out of your website. The more tailored your web template, the easier job you will have making it your own. Remember that template elements that you don't want can be deleted or changed later on in the editing process. Within your WIX account, you can make multiple free sites, so if you're unsure about your template choice, try another one! WIX templates are designed using systems that optomize the performance of your site, so you can feel confident that your site will operate smoothy for visitors.
If you've watched the tutorials, you know what to do next. Uploading your photos and other content can be a lot of fun. You will begin to see your website come to life!
The rest is up to you. Remember that the more website design tutorials you watch, the more you can customize your site. A website can be a constantly evolving creation if you want it to be, so at some point you will have to decide that it is ready to be published and shared with your audience. Remember to check how your site performs on mobile so that you can make any necessary tweaks and edits before sharing the site. Many people will probably look at your website using their phone!
TOOLS I USE FOR MY WEBSITE
My iPhone 12 - it takes great photos and I can edit them right on the photos app on my phone and then export them as jpegs for use on my website or social media.
My MacBook Pro - I don't recommend trying to build a website with just a phone or tablet. At the very least you'll need a desktop computer or laptop with an up-to-date web browser like Safari, Chrome or Firefox.
Canvy - for creating digitally staged in-situ photos of my art.
Canva - for creating logo image files to use in the header or other areas of my website or to create things like the website favicon (the little thumbnail image that accompanies your site name in the browser tab or on a browser bookmark menu.)
SquareUp and Paypal accounts - to collect payment in my e-commerce shop.
Artwork Archive - An Artwork Archive site is like a sophisticated inventory database that you can use to keep track of every artwork you've ever made (among other things.) Included in the Artwork Archive subscription is a public portfolio web page, which I have linked to my personal website. This way, visitors to my site can view a catalogue of all of the artwork I have made, even the sold ones, without my having to create that page myself. I have over 500 paintings catalogued, so this is a very handy thing indeed!
The meme is true! A website is never done, and at the very least, you will continue to add new images of art as you create it. So get to know and love your site and it will serve you well!