The first few sites that we ever worked on back in 2001 – 2002 were websites for artists and art galleries so they hold a certain nostalgic interest for us. For the most part they were fun to do and an invaluable introduction to the growing world of web design. They might not have always offered the most scope for sophisticated web development at the time but they did allow an enormous amount of disciplined creativity in paring down the design to showcase the artists’ work.
Over the years we have refined our techniques for the design and build of artists’ portfolio sites but the most important goals to keep in mind are to keep it fast, simple, easy and organized. We believe that the solid foundations of simple navigation and clean design allied to great photography are key to the successful display of art on the internet.
Although the landscape of the internet has changed beyond recognition, we still do work for some of our favourite artists such as Pippa Blake and Catharine Somerville and below are some of our thoughts for those embarking on a commercial internet presence on what makes a good artist/portfolio website:
- It may sound obvious but it is important to register and set up your own domain name and to avoid free or low cost web hosting services. Free web hosting is never free. Your art will be sitting alongside advertising and other uncontrolled content and art never looks good under those circumstances. Crucially, free sites give the impression that either you can’t afford your own website or domain name or worst of all, that you don’t care enough about your own art to bother making it look good online. Marketing is everything and art like any other commodity benefits from a little positive promotion.
- If you are already immersed in the world of social media make sure that your website is linked to all of your social networking pages (and vice versa) so that visitors can easily and seamlessly navigate between them. If maintained and managed correctly, social networking websites have evolved into one of the best tools for driving traffic to your website. However, it is important to remember that your website is all about your art and social networking sites are geared to reflect who you are as a person. It is important to work out beforehand how the content of these two media will complement each other.
- It is important to think about how you present yourself and your art on the internet so that anyone can easily understand and share your artistic vision. Visitors who land on your site by chance or referral should be able to quickly see what it is you do and feel that they can relate to what is being expressed. Clearly, this comes down to both the site design and the nature of the art. They should complement each other, but the site design should not detract from the content.
- Artist websites are one area on the web where it generally pays to keep text to a minimum. This includes your artist statement, biography and any lengthy explanations of medium or techniques. Concise introductions and descriptions are recommended where possible. If it is felt necessary to provide detailed information about either yourself or your art, link to informational pages where people can read more and they will not be distracted by imagery. However, it is important to think seriously about accompanying each series or body of your work with its own introduction. Keeping any content brief, a short explanation deepens people’s understanding and experience of the work. This is useful from an SEO perspective; Google and other search engines cannot search images but they can search text. Providing textual explanations of your art, either accompanying groups of similar works or even of individual pieces, increases the chances that they will be found and indexed and thereby increase your site ranking.
- Keep image file sizes as small as practicable. Large detailed images of your art may look great when they download over high-speed connections, but remember that many people still have slow broadband speeds. Long download times frustrate visitors and drive them away from your site. Again, this is a design issue and a workable compromise can always be found.
- Remember to provide adequate contact information. The more detail you give such as your studio address, a mobile phone number, email address or other contact points, the more accessible you appear. Don’t give potential buyers the impression that you’re hard to communicate with by not telling them how to find you or by just giving your email address. Anonymity is not a selling point. It allows your market to engage with you and feedback from your audience can be a very useful tool.
- Selling your art: If you have no long-term gallery representation and you want to sell your work, price every piece of art on your website for sale. If you have representation, discuss options and preferences with them regarding whether or not to put prices on your website. Generally, not pricing your art on-site and asking people to email or otherwise contact you for prices, is always a big mistake. More than other online purchases, people prefer to shop for art quietly by themselves, decide whether they can afford it and then make contact. Above all, provide clear concise instructions on how to buy. Tell people what payment options you accept, how you pack and how you ship and where to. The more professional you appear, the more comfortable people will feel about buying from you.
- Don’t show too much sold art. Some artists think that showing numerous sold works of art will make them look popular and incite some kind of buying frenzy. This usually has the opposite effect of making potential buyers think that the best pieces are already sold and all that’s left is the least desirable. We would usually advise to show sold works in a section titled “Selected Past Works” or something similar. Here for example, you can show any art that’s won prizes or been exhibited in prestigious shows, art that’s in respected private or institutional collections, art that’s been covered in reviews or pictured on websites or in hard-copy publications. Discreetly using past works in this way illustrates and strengthens your credibility as an artist.
- Don’t show every work of art you’ve ever created. It is not necessary for your audience to see experimental projects or older pieces that have little or no bearing on what you’re doing now. Too much art and too much variety is confusing to visitors because they don’t get a sense of who you are, what your art represents or is intended to communicate.
- Whether or not you want to sell your creativity, it is important to engage with your online visitors. The design, content and functionality of your website will inform their perception of your work. Making it appear professional and accessible to use will improve their experience and generate interest.
The above list is by no means exhaustive and is intended solely as a starting point for those artists thinking about selling their art online. Here at 247 Creative we would be happy to advise on this and any of the points above. The benefits of having a website to showcase your work have been widely discussed elsewhere, but we believe that it is important to realise an artists website should be viewed as the online part of a complete holistic strategy to gain exposure for what you do and want to share with others.