Designing Beautiful Artist Websites - 12 Tips To Showcase Your Art


1. Who needs an artists website?

Not everyone! If you are currently exhibiting in multiple high-end galleries and making a handsome income, a website may not be for you. In fact, it might actually work against you - some galleries may not like the perceived threat of you showing your work independently on the internet. Better to make use of your gallery's websites.

On the other hand, any artist who can classify themselves as either "emerging" or "mid-career" will probably benefit from having their own website to promote their work. At this stage of your career it is important to be able to have a place where anyone in the world can easily access and view your work. It is also important that your work looks as wonderful as you know it is!

2. Who are you trying to impress?

Are you trying to engage a Soho gallery to sell your $20,000 paintings or sell $5 prints to children in Korea? "Art" encompasses a huge variety of media, audiences, and budgets, and you need to be very clear about who you are targeting with your site. That Soho gallery might not be impressed when they see your online-store selling prints and art cards - but on the other hand, you could make a very handsome living if you really knew how to market those art cards. If you want to have multiple marketing strategies, you might even need to think about more than one website and maybe using a non-de-plume.

3. How should your website fit in with your overall art marketing strategy?

This is maybe the most important question you will need to consider in developing a website presence. A website is not an end in itself - it is only really effective when it is part of a larger overall marketing strategy for your art. This would include old- style hard-copy portfolios, lots of in-person gallery visits and presentations, regular (physical) showings of your work, and developing relationships with the art world. An effectively planned website can greatly compliment and simplify your other marketing efforts.

4. Is there a real market for art on the internet?

There is art business transacting on the internet, although we have not been able to find reliable statistics on the level of sales or the segmentation of the market into sales of originals and reproductions. It is probably fair to say that well-known work from established artists will sell because this art has a known market-value. For emerging artists, the picture is more complex - there is something to the experience of an original work of art that can never be seen or felt on a computer screen.

The sale of reproductions is another issue - their lower cost makes them a less risky gamble for the customer especially if your website provides a satisfactory return policy.

One thing is for sure - it will be increasingly important to have a website presence as an artist as more buyers become comfortable with the internet.

5. Should I have my own website or should I simply use one of the many artist website portfolio services?

This is an excellent question. There are many great artists website portfolio services available online today. As an example, check out Absolute Arts (www.absolutearts.com) and Artspan (www.artspan.com). These services are really online galleries where for a variable fee you can upload images of your work together with bios, artist statements, resumes, etc. The advantage of this type of approach is that it is a "connector" site - meaning that a lot of people visit there including dealers, galleries, etc. That doesn't mean that they will actually see your work as there are thousands of artists represented by these services - but there is a chance.

A great example of the value of this type of website was the jurying process for the 2005 Florence Biennale. Hundred of artists were selected simply because their work looked great and they had it available to see on these large connector sites. We think that this type of jury process will become more prevalent in the future as galleries and show curators become moresavvy with the internet.

The down side to these gallery-sites is that there is no flexibility to show your work they way you would like to and their selling fees are normally very high.

Remember the times you've been taken into the dimmer room in a commercial gallery? How that art which looked fairly good on the main gallery wall suddenly became something you had to take home under your arm? That is how a good website should showcase your work too. Choices of background color, layout, image size and quality, fonts, logos and text all combine to represent your work in the most beautiful way. That is what you can have with your own website - as well as complete control. Another advantage is that if you want to sell your work online it is much less expensive to do it from your own site.

For our art we use both website options and we find they compliment each other very nicely!

6. What do galleries and art dealers like to see when they look at an artist website?

Galleries have about as many views of how work should be showcased as there are stars in the sky. But the wonderful thing is that these skills and preferences have been developed through the process of really selling art. Don't ever under-estimate the experience and skill required to do this consistently - at Beautiful Websites For Artists we take out hats off to good art salespeople.

There are, however, some common elements which most dealers and galleries would agree on which could be summarized as follows:

? Keep it simple and elegant ? Keep the focus on the art itself ? Don't overpower the look of the art with a site that looks too busy ? Be VERY careful of "Designerish" effects like flash movies. In the time it takes to play your exotic flash-based entry page, the gallery will have already moved on to look at the next artists website. ? Everything you would have in a hard-copy portfolio should be there - bios, artist statements, resumes, etc as well as clear information on how to contact you by phone, email, fax, and snail-mail. ? Be aware of the potential positive or negative reaction you might experience from selling reproductions of your work online. Some galleries will be impressed that you are obviously business-savvy enough to be able to sell your work in this way. Others might consider it a threat to any potential sales relationship they might have with you.

7. How can I showcase my work in the most beautiful way?

There is really no getting away from the fact that you need to have visual design skills to create a beautiful artist website. One of the main reasons we started Beautiful Websites For Artists was because we were tired of seeing so much beautiful art showcased so poorly on some of the ugliest websites you could hope to find!

That said, here are some basic thoughts:

? Keep the website simple and elegant ? Keep the focus on the art itself ? Structure the site into different galleries and sections to compliment the work - don't put everything on a few pages. Think of a gallery with different exhibition and information spaces. ? Choose a background color that compliments and does not overpower the work. Think of the colors you would use in a physical gallery to showcase your work - neutral colors like crèmes, whites and grays are normally safe. Black can also look surprisingly good - it has the effect of totally focusing the attention on the art itself ? Lean towards a minimalist layout - a "busy" site design will normally detract from the work. ? Choose fonts, logos to harmonize with the work ? Copy should create the underlying feeling or environment for the site - it can create a sense of mystery or openness to compliment the feeling of the art. ? Use high quality images from professionally photographed work - the "Garbage in - garbage out" principle applies here too!

8. How will customers and galleries find my website?

There are really three primary ways that someone would find your website. They could find you through a search engine like Google. Typically after your site has been up for a couple of months, search engines will find you easily if someone was to perform a search on your name.

Lets say however that your work is classified as "Southwestern Art" and someone did a search on that term. It is very unlikely that your site would be listed in the first few results pages because there are so many other sites in competition. Getting your work to show up in the top results of such a search will require optimization of the website for search engines during the design process AND a lot of work from you afterwards to link your site to as many possible relevant sites on the internet. This is a lot of effort - no matter what anyone tells you!

The next way that people will find your site is very simple - you will tell them! Example Phone Conversation with Gallery dealer:

Dealer (Bob): That sounds nice Michelle but I'm a very busy person. I'd prefer to take a look at your work before we arrange a meeting. Do you have a website I could look at?

Michelle: Well of course Bob, please check out my work at www.michelleartist.com.

Dealer (Bob): OK Michelle - let me just take a look. ??.. Oh My gosh, what awesome work! I've never seen anything like it. I'm sending out a truck right away to come and pick up your work. Do you accept credit cards - I'd like to pay you $100,000 right away so that I don't miss this chance. And would Tuesday at 12 noon be convenient for an interview with Art in America?

Well - we can dream! But you get the idea. This is actually the most powerful way we have found to make use of a website. If you think of your audience you are probably going to require a highly focused marketing campaign to a relatively small number of potential clients and partners.

Of course you might build your art career around selling thousands of reproductions - in which case understanding how to rank highly with search engines is important.

Another way to tell people website is to participate in online forums. There are a number of these - some specializing in art subjects. If you become visible in some of these forums people will check your website.

Email marketing is yet another way to tell people about your site. You can use mailing lists you have developed yourself, or you can purchase email mailing lists. In addition, Rich-Text emails allow you to showcase your work as beautifully designed images - just like a web-page.

The third primary way in which people will find your website is through on-line advertising. For example, if your art is minimalist and modern in style, a banner add on an interior design website focused on the same minimalist ethic could draw a lot of traffic to your site. Some artists have experienced considerable success in this way!

9. Do I need to be able to sell my work on the internet?

Another important question. It really depends on what you are selling. If you want to sell originals for thousands of dollars, our experience suggests that a buyer will probably want to see your work in-person, or have an existing relationship with you. In which case you could easily transact the sale over the phone.

On the other hand, if part of your business model is to sell inexpensive reproductions, you probably would want to have at least basic e-commerce capability on your site. That way, business can be transacted on the site regularly without you having to personally supervise each sale - you still need time to be an artist remember J

To some customers, the fact that you have an e-commerce capable website also signals that you are "real" and "a serious business".

Some people still have issues with purchasing over the internet, but it is becoming a trusted buying environment.

10. Should I develop my own website or pay a designer?

It really depends. Some things to bear in mind:

? Do you have visual design skills/training? Be honest - Many great artists don't J ? When do you want the site ready (Next month or next year?) ? How much of your artist-time can you afford to give up to develop the site and what is the $ value of that time? ? Will you need to invest in new software or even a new computer to do the work? ? Will you need to invest time and/or money in software training?

11. What should I look for in choosing a website-designer?

The most important thing here is to remember what you are trying to create - most likely you want a beautiful online gallery space to elegantly show your beautiful work - this is very different from building a high-volume website selling printer ink cartridges and paper rolls!

So, simply put, you should not be interested in technical jargon as much as the ability to design a space to present your work. You might also want to consider a designer proficient in both web and print-based design. That way, should you choose to, you can coordinate the look and feel of all your marketing materials - website, letterhead, brochures, etc.

Also be careful of some "high-end" designers. If you take a look at some websites from design firms, you will notice a lot of visual complexity and sometimes high- tech effects that can be cumbersome and slow. This will not showcase your art well as it draws attention to the design rather than the art!

There is no getting around it - you have to do your homework!

12. How much does a website cost to develop??

An art website could cost you anything from a few hundred dollars to many tens of thousands of dollars. Typically, the bigger design firms have larger overheads and will be significantly more expensive. On the other hand, Joe down the street can probably build you a website for $200 - but you probably don't want that website J

At Beautiful Websites For Artists we have packages ranging from $500 to $2000 for simple elegant artists websites with different levels of functionality. We can also develop fully customized sites to your specifications with prices based on requirements.

In addition to development costs, you will need to pay monthly web-hosting and ecommerce fees that could range from less that $5/month for a simple sight to $100/month for a site with complex ecommerce functionality. Typically, the hosting cost for a typical site is between $5 and $25/month

Josse Ford and Daniel Tardent provide creative services for artists including web design, artist weblogs and marketing materials at Beautiful Websites for Artists. Visit our website at www.beautifulwebsitesforartists.com">http://www.beautifulwebsitesforartists.com


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