This article is inspired by an article over at ‘Lines and Colors’ called: “How Not to Display Your Artwork on the Web”. It’s a great article, quite sarcastic but there are some great tips there. In the many months that I have been running the Creep Machine, looking for featured artists, images for art of the day & prints and originals for sale, I have seen some amazing web sites and some really bad ones. So I decided to write down some tips, to make sure that your art gets seen. (Last Edited Jan 2012)
Of course this whole article is filled with my opinions, but as someone who spends hours a day looking at art as a fan and webmaster, I have collected some great tips and tricks to make showing and selling your work online an enjoyable process. So let’s get started.
Where should you host your work?
I strongly suggest staying away from using sites like Myspace (people still do), or even Facebook as your portfolio. Social networks are a great way for you to interact with your fans, keep them up to date, and help you sell you work, but you want something solid and clean for your portfolio. You also want your art to be as accessible as possible. The viewer should be able to see your art as well as your information in just a few clicks. Sites like DeviantArt are ok, but once again they are more setup to be a community to share your art with other artists. Even artists like Justin Degarmo, Dan Harding and Josh Taylor have a main homepage along with their DeviantArt account, which also has started a new portfolio service that is minimal and professional. So if you can’t afford to buy your own hosting, you have two other options.
1.You can use a service like Blogger. This is getting more and more popular, as it’s easy to navigate, your work can be seen quickly and people can learn about you if you post thoughts as well. I would say that this type of portfolio is best for ongoing projects, or “daily drawings” type of sites.
2. You can use online portfolios such as: Carbonmade, Behance, Otherpeoplespixels & DAportfolio. Most of these are free, and gets your art seen quickly and efficiently.
Simple and catchy domain names
If you have your portfolio on blogger, or one of the free portfolios I mentioned, you’ll be stuck with ‘whatever.carbonmade.com’ for example. Not much you can do about that. However, if you decided to pay a small amount, and have your own website you should pick a great name. You want something catchy, easy to spell and easy to remember. If your name is way too long and people need you to spell it out for them, try something different. Use a nickname, or even just name your site something nutty. Greg “Craola” Simkins uses the domain name ‘imscared.com’. Very simple to remember, and unique as well. Domain names are pretty cheap now, so get one even if you use a site like blogger. If you can’t get a .com name, you can also think about using .us or even the new extension .me. A good place to register domain names is Namecheap.com
Keep the design simple
I think this is the most important tip. Unless your a web designer and are trying to sell that skill, keep your web page simple. I know it’s tempting to make a page that is graphic laden and will just “wow” your viewers, avoid it. Wow them with your art, not your bloated web design. Stay away from animated graphics, obscure link names that you think is clever, or unnamed images for the page links. Clearly show the areas of your page: ‘Bio, artwork, links, contact’. I know this is boring, but it works. Don’t make the viewer have to hunt to see your artwork, trust me they’ll give up. I often do.
Avoid flash based websites
Flash is cool for very few things. Once again if your selling web design skills then go nuts. But if your trying to have your art seen, avoid 3 minute flash intros, people just want to see the page.
Flash galleries are also bad, they are a pain to use and don’t allow your viewer to see nice big images of your work as well as share your work. Viewers sharing your work with others is a great way to get exposure. I can’t tell you how many artists I have avoided, simple because I can’t share their work. The amount of people using mobile devices to visit web pages is growing more every day, and flash does not show up for iPhone/iPad users.
Get ready for mobile
More and more people are using their mobile devices to check out websites, and the design standards are beginning to change. You want this rapidly growing portion of traffic to be able to see your site clear and easy. So, while your designing your new site think about how a mobile user will be able to view the site. If your using wordpress there are some amazing “responsive” themes out there, that are able to fit to whatever device they are viewing your site from. You can also create a separate css file that will detect if your users are viewing via a mobile device and change the layout for them.
Keep the image gallery simple and functional
Like I said above, no flash galleries. Avoid watermarks as well. Flash galleries and watermarks are often used to stop people stealing your work. Trust me, if someone wants your work bad enough they’ll just use a screencapture tool and have it, and you also stop the important people from getting your work. I use the images from artists sites to post here, help sell prints, and share with galleries. Also avoid using odd thumbnail images, or text. Just show the thumbnail. Not showing the thumbnail is either used to integrate the thumbnails into the site, or to make the viewer have to enlarge the images. Don’t make the experience tedious, just make it simple. If you really feel that you should use a watermark, check out how Chet Zar went about this. Elegant, but not obtrusive.
Let them be informed, social, and in touch
Make sure that your website has a small bio area, contact area and news. People like knowing who the person is behind the art. Your sharing your art anyway, and this can be personal depending on your content. Make yourself known as well, or at least a resume, and make your contact information easy to find. One of the problems I see on blogger hosted sites, is that there is often no contact info available. How can I work with you, and even buy some art?
Add a news area, and even a mailing list. Keep your viewers informed. A news area lets people know what is going on, any upcoming shows, or even works for sale. It also lets people know your still active. I’ve found a few sites were it looked as though the artists hadn’t done anything in years. A mailing list also keeps people informed of whats going on, and you’ll know that they”ll get the info for sure.
One of the latest new additions to websites is social media buttons. Not only have buttons that link to your personal social profiles, but you can also add “like” and “tweet” buttons to your posts, individual pages, or items for sale. This way fans can help spread the word. Pinterest is a new social sharing site that you might also want to think about, and there are buttons for people to “Pin it” and share you work. Keep in mind though, that while many people are happy to share your art via tumblr, pinterest, or other similar sites, they don’t always state who the source is. So maybe a small unobtrusive watermark isn’t such a bad idea.
Selling your work
Aside from having your work sold in galleries, many artists are doing quite well selling their artwork and goods themselves. There are some great ways to empower yourself and offer your goods to your fans, while minimizing fees. Ebay is still used occasionally for artists to sell work, but I often see it used for charity auctions which it is great for. There is also Etsy, which could be considered a “arts and crafts” version of Ebay. You can list all the items your want, pay a small fee, and take advantage of your work being entered into a marketplace that users can search. There is the possibility however that your work can be lost in the immense amount of goods offered for sale.
Aside from created a shop area on your own webpage, or even using ecommerce plugins for the WordPress users out there, there is some standalone sites that give artists the ability to sell their work, accept payments, and take care of all of the little details for you so you can concentrate on making art. Bigcartel is the one I recommend the most. It’s easy to use, clean, and even looks good on mobile devices. You can sign up for a free account to get started, and once things really get rolling you can upgrade your account for more perks. There is also even an app that allows you to embed your shop in your Facebook profile. As opposed to other standalone shops that leave you in the wild, Bigcartel has an artist directory so fans can find you while stumbling around for artwork. They create a top stores list, and a “recently updated” list as well which helps even more with exposure.
How about some examples?
So, after these little tips, I think it’s best to show some sites that I think fit the tips very well. Many of these sites are from very popular artists, and look how simple their sites are. Maybe their on to something eh?
Dan May :a good example of a portfolio software in use, Otherpeoplespixels.
Mark Ryden :simple, easy, to the point.
Chet Zar :love that gallery, nice big thumbnails and info.
Chris Ryniak :his gallery is flash based, but its also linked to his Flickr page so people can still see the work easily.
Jeff Soto :I think his site fits many of the tips here, perfect.
ThinkSpace, Shooting Gallery SF & Jonathan Levine :my three favorite art gallery sites to visit. Filled with content, but easy to navigate.
I’ll refrain from showing bad examples. If your site doesn’t get many hits, and it’s been hard to get your art seen, check out these tips and examples and see if you can’t make it better. Many artists take inspiration from successful artists when it comes to the art, it should be no different to take tips in web design from successful artists websites. I know not everyone is sold on social media sites, but they can be a great tool to your work seen by others. You don’t need to create an account on every site available, a good, efficient, and active social profile is better than multiple rarely updated ones.
Thanks for reading, you can also check out the article that inspired this one as well.
How Not to Display Your Artwork on the Web