Part 1: The Artist’s Website – Doing it Yourself vs Hiring a Professional

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In this blog I typically talk about topics related to art making. For a change of pace, I would like to talk about another important topic — art promotion. Specifically, the artist’s website. Whether you are actively promoting or passively posting, your website is the single most important marketing and outreach tool you have.

As both a fine artist and one who also develops websites for artists, I have the benefit of perspectives from both sides of the fence. In Part 1, I’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of building the site yourself or hiring a professional. In Part 2, I’ll offer tips and suggestions about what an artist’s website needs to do.


See the Before & After report on Michael Stasinos’ website.


Home page design by Mitchell Albala for Tom Hoffmann's website

The Home page for Tom Hoffmann’s website features a large image that places his breezy style up front and center.

Creating the site yourself has one main advantage: since you are not paying someone else, it is the most affordable route. Nowadays, the do-it-yourselfer turns to “hosted” web services like Weebly, Wix or Squarespace. There is also one called Faso which caters exclusively to artists. For a monthly fee, these services let you build your website from within their proprietary control panel or “dashboard.” These services have become increasingly feature-rich in recent years, allowing you to do just about anything you might need a website to do. They are a reasonable option for those who can’t afford to hire a web designer; however, they have several drawbacks which you should be aware of.

First, they have a steep learning curve. These hosted services will tell you that it’s “easy,” but “easy” is just a marketing term for them. Learning how to build your website will be much like learning software. You will have to become familiar with its capabilities and its interface, and read or watch their training modules. You can also expect to contact their support team with questions along the way. And the less you know about web design, the more complicated all this is going to seem. In addition, you also need a working knowledge of image resolution and exporting graphics to web-ready formats like JPEG or GIF, within applications like Photoshop or Affinity Photo.

screen-snapshot-stasinos

The Home page for Michael Stasinos’ website calls attention to all the key activities from the studio, including a listing of recent blog posts.

The second downside, and most significant in my experience, is that you will not get the same results as you would from a professional. Why? Because it isn’t just a matter of assembling the parts and pieces in a way that “works.” Just as there is a special skill set for painting and drawing, there is also a skill set to web design — which the average person, including the average artist, does not have. A web designer is well versed in user interface design, typography, digital imaging (Photoshop), and organizing information in ways that ensure a user-friendly experience. Miss these fine points and you can end up with a site that projects the wrong image. Remember, good design suggests professionalism even to those who know nothing about design.

Especially for an artist, presentation is of paramount importance. Your website makes an impression that will affect how your art is perceived by galleries, buyers, and visitors. Does it suggest “professional”? Or do small images, confusing navigation, or poor design and color choices say “amateur”? 

What’s more, experienced web developers are familiar with what’s possible. They may be able to suggest features or approaches that you are unaware of. For example, in the website I did for Michael Stasinos, whose work is extremely detailed, I suggested a special add-on that allows visitors to zoom in and inspect the surface of his work. You can preview this zoom function on Michael’s In Detail page.

A professional web developer would not likely build your site using one of the hosted services named above; rather, they would build it with WordPress, which is the leading platform for developing websites and is much more customizable. Obviously, hiring a web designer will cost more than doing it yourself. But if you have little inclination toward computers, and you have the budget, then hiring a professional is most definitely the right choice.

The cost of doing a website must be seen as a long-term investment. (Case in point: see Rosemary Mattick’s comment below.) If properly maintained, the website will work for many years and be able to grow with you. Plus, you will have an ally in the form of your web designer who is always there to help. There’s an initial fee to build the website, and then minor fees for routine updates and edits (if you want your web designer to do them for you). With all of the artist’s websites I’ve done, however, I also trained them to do their own updates, like adding images to their portfolio and creating blog posts. So the cost of updates can be mitigated with a little training.

It’s hard to put a price tag on the value of your professional image, and in turn, the potential to better promote your artwork.

In Part 2, I’ll offer several suggestions for helping you make the most of your website.

Home page design by Mitchell Albala for Katherine Wright's website

The Home page for Katherine Wright’s website is direct and to the point — just a representative example of her work and a short bio.

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About Author

Mitchell Albala is the author of Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice (Watson-Guptill, 2009). A best-seller with 37,000 copies in print, it has been called the "new classic of landscape." A respected teaching artist for more than 25 years, Mitchell currently teaches at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Art School, and Winslow Art Center. He has also lectured at the Seattle Art Museum and written for International Artist and Artists & Illustrators magazines.

5 Comments

  1. Hi Mitch,

    Your comments about websites are applicable to many of us in so many different businesses. I’m in the vacation rental/hospitality business and authentic, thoughtful promotion is essential to successfully reaching the clientele I’m seeking. Last year I sought a professional website developer and the change in reservations and successful outcomes has been staggeringly positive. And, my work load decreased. I have much more time to do the necessary things!

    BTW – I purchased your book, “Landscape Painting” when it was published in 2009. I’ve got it open again tonight for a ‘refresher’ to help me in my latest landscape painting endeavor (taken at Gage, of course, this Spring). What a great critical reference. Thank you so much!

  2. Mitchell Albala on

    Thanks for comments, Rosemary. It’s true, smart web design will make a difference in any business. I happen to think artists are one group that are in particular need of websites that stand out. Of course, I am a little biased! Glad you are enjoying the book, as well! Plein air season is upon us!

  3. Thank you for all your blogs. You are most kind and resourceful. I will check out the Affinity software, as its had good reviews. I don’t like the monthly fee for cloud hosted solutions [like Wix or Weebly]. Also, I like that you showcase other artists. Thank you!

  4. Thank you for this. I would just like to comment that there might be some problems “down the road” for users of the DIY hosted sites like Weebly, Wix or Squarespace. I have found that building a WordPress site is no harder than learning the editor on one of those others, and also cheaper and more customizable.

  5. Mitchell Albala on

    Thanks, Carmen. You raise the finer point that a do-it-yourselfer could also use WordPress (not just Squarespace, Weebly, or Wix), which I did not mention in the post. Yes, WordPress is more customizable that these others, but that customization takes a knowledge of CSS. Not something your average do-it-yourselfer knows how to do. My main point is that regardless of the platform one chooses, if you are doing it yourself, the learning curve will be steep, and the results not as good as you might get with a professional.