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.
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.
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.