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Forums > Art & Creativity > Personal art sites.

This is the summer I plan on kicking my art business into full gear. (Or, well, a slightly higher gear. I'll still be a full-time student in the fall because I'm slow. :P) I just ordered 500 shiny business cards, set up my commission e-mail (the.screaming.north [AT] gmail [DOT] com), and got a coupon for Google AdWords! Plus, I'll be in the art show at my first con next weekend, where I hope to garner a good bit of attention.

But before then I really need to finish my website. For now it's just a free page on Webs since I've had nothing but good experiences with them in the past. You can see my site's dessicated husk here: http://screamingnorth.webs.com It's sparse, and while it works, I really need it to be a hub of information before I start handing out my cards.

However I'm completely clueless as to what to add! :P

I definitely need some gallery areas. I was thinking about one gallery for each area of my expertise. (Non-Furcadia stuff for now, though I might have a link to my Furc site.) So leathercraft/bonecarving, paintings/primordialart, and illustrations. But the only way I can think of to implement it would be to have a series of clickable thumbnails that take you to a page devoted to that image/item or just open the image in a new tab, which would work well for the leathercraft section since I like to include multiple images of each piece. My favorite artist, Sarah Frary, uses this approach for her personal site and it's very successful: http://www.spiralunwinding.com/ But what do you think? Should I hunt down how to make galleries like on the RPR?

Other than that I have no idea what to include, other than a page with contact information. I have a commission ToS that I've been using for a couple years, but its emphasis is on illustrations and Furcadia work--I'm not sure if it's applicable to other things. (http://vorpalmuse.webs.com/tos.html) I need ideas!

Also, should I redo the physical layout? I tried to make it fairly easy to see and still attractive but I wonder if it isn't as professional as it could be. X_X

What else should I do for my site and even my business in general? I'm also thinking about setting up a new Etsy and DeviantArt account that correspond with my business name. I also would really like to register for a new Paypal account that will go with the aforementioned e-mail... and somehow getting it to not use my whole first name would be nice. -_-

Before you add anything, clearly define who your audience is and what you want the website to accomplish.

Seriously, I can not stress how important this is for a professional website. You would not believe how many people get this wrong, and what a difference it can make. It is of critical importance to everyone, but even that critical value multiplies itself for someone like you who serves a niche market. Once you can tell me that, then we can really get somewhere. In a lot of ways this is the hardest thing to define, but it will make every other decision about the site easier in the long and short run.

The RPR's galleries use lightbox. If you have any knowledge of jquery, it is very easy to install. Even without much knowledge, it's still pretty easy, and I can talk you through it if you like.

Websites that are kept up to date and updated often are worth their weight in gold. Having a website that looks dead or neglected is almost worse than having no website. To that end, I always recommend that my clients make it as easy on themselves to update as possible. The easier something is, the more likely you will do it, and do it often.

For a website that needs to be gallery heavy, I typically recommend zenphoto. It is free and generally easy to install (but maybe not on Webs, I don't know what they allow you to do.) There's a learning curve for figuring out how to customize it (unless you already know PHP?) but it is really worth it. It will make certain you can upload images in a snap, prevent you from ever having broken links on your site, ensure you have lots of easy to follow navigation that makes browsing the galleries easy without forcing you to hand update every link on the site every time something new happens, allow you to crop custom thumbnails right on your website, and all sorts of other things. It basically does all the heavy lifting of updating your website for you, you just have to hand it images.

I would also strongly recommend that you get off Webs. It doesn't give the greatest impression of professionalism, and it's not too clear to me how much control you actually have over your web space with their service. Getting web hosting isn't really that expensive, and it's all tax deductible for a working artist.

Heimdall wrote:
What else should I do for my site and even my business in general? I'm also thinking about setting up a new Etsy and DeviantArt account that correspond with my business name. I also would really like to register for a new Paypal account that will go with the aforementioned e-mail... and somehow getting it to not use my whole first name would be nice. -_-

Once you are sure of your business name, go out and get accounts everywhere, even places you don't plan to use. You don't want someone else getting the name and coming up in Google searches when people are looking for you, because they turn out to be particularly active with whatever social thingamajig it is. Mistaken identity can be very damaging, even if it isn't done maliciously. And if you turn out to be even moderately successful, odds are good someone is going to try and sponge off you by diverting traffic to their own site.

A really good way to generate buzz about your artwork is with tutorial videos -- If you can make a short video showing how much work goes into your pieces, people will be more willing to pay the prices you ask for because they understand why they are being asked, and people who are interested in leather working and the like will be more likely to stumble across you or be linked to you just by interested parties. Finding ways to make things you are already doing work harder for you is stellar, you don't want it to be so much work you can't keep it up. But just pointing a camera at your hands while you work, then chopping it together with a quick voice over, most people can manage.

Wow, thanks a ton, Kim! I'll think about all the wisdom you've imparted unto me. :bow:

As for being on Webs, I'm sticking with it for now. I've decided that I'm not going to root for my own domain name and web space until I know what the hell I'm doing and have even a tiny modicum of success--plus, my current batch of business cards has it set in stone. XP I know you had a great site that only charged you based on how many hits you got--are you still on that one for your art site or have you settled somewhere new?

And as for updating often, I suppose using a gallery utility would be the easiest way of doing that. But how else do you keep it up to date? Turn it into a mini-blog with front-page updates just to show people I'm alive?

Tutorial videos is a fantastic idea. I love the speedpaints on YouTube and I started one of my own but never finished the painting, so I may try it again with something smaller. I had never thought of doing it for leather, though.

Quote:
Before you add anything, clearly define who your audience is and what you want the website to accomplish.

Interesting. Let's have a shot at this!

The primary purpose of the website is to provide information to anyone looking to commission me. Prices, process, availability (to the best of my knowledge), places I'll be... all things people might want to know. I also want the website to be useful to people who simply enjoy my art but have no means or intentions of buying anything, since that's still a form of support.

As for audience? That's more complicated. Anyone who enjoys my art (with an emphasis on the people who want to buy from me) is the short answer. Since I haven't sold much leatherwork at all, I can't fully give you the long answer. People who enjoy Renaissance fairs, but not necessarily SCA people, I think are a big market. Anime fans and bondage enthusiasts too. People who like unique jewelry (since not all my stuff is big chunky armor and whatnot). People who enjoy Norse mythology, fantasy, and/or primordial art.

For the illustration work, I think roleplayers are my main market. ;) And people who have other online personas and enjoy art, even if they don't actively roleplay. There's also the untapped world of illustrating for companies--making art for TCGs and handbooks, things like that.

Right answer? Wrong answer? Not enough of an answer? :P

I didn't know you were open to leatherworking commissions... this is all enlightening and I encourage you to share the full site when you're done :)

Heimdall wrote:
As for being on Webs, I'm sticking with it for now. I've decided that I'm not going to root for my own domain name and web space until I know what the hell I'm doing and have even a tiny modicum of success--plus, my current batch of business cards has it set in stone. XP I know you had a great site that only charged you based on how many hits you got--are you still on that one for your art site or have you settled somewhere new?

Okay, that's fair. Caution is a totally valid approach. Do know that at any time you can reroute your old domain to a new one, so if you do decide to make the change before the end of your business cards, you can do so without having to order new ones.

The website you're talking about is nearlyfreespeech. They are an excellent choice for small-budget static sites. I would no longer recommend them for dynamic sites (which you would have, if you were using any kind of CMS). They've changed their pricing to be more expensive if you go dynamic, and I've found their security measures to be overkill to the point of making it difficult or impossible to get standard CMS software installed and working. But there are many other reasonably priced hosts out there, almost all of which are also easier to use, and I'd be happy to have a conversation with you about picking one when you get to the point of wanting one.

Heimdall wrote:
And as for updating often, I suppose using a gallery utility would be the easiest way of doing that.

No matter how much enthusiasm and zeal you start off with for your website, eventually, as your site expands, it will crush you under the weight of having to update all your own links by hand. I've been down this road too many times. Save yourself! I would never recommend a client go live without one, and I certainly won't put myself through the experience again.
Heimdall wrote:
But how else do you keep it up to date? Turn it into a mini-blog with front-page updates just to show people I'm alive?

A static site that you hardly ever update is fine, so long as the information you are presenting is completely timeless.

Examples of non-timeless content to be avoided letting get out of date at all costs:
  • A special price you are offering until, say, May 22nd. Come the 23rd, that pricing offer should no longer be posted.
  • A calendar of events you will be attending. If I'm trying to find you and all I can find is information of stuff you did last year, I will think you've gone out of business, or are so backed up with orders you don't have time to update your calendar and therefore also won't have time to take my order.
  • A blog where the last post happened more than 30 days ago at a maximum. See above about thinking you don't have time or have just plain died. It's better to have no blog, than a blog you will neglect for any reason.
Heimdall wrote:
The primary purpose of the website is to provide information to anyone looking to commission me. Prices, process, availability (to the best of my knowledge), places I'll be... all things people might want to know. I also want the website to be useful to people who simply enjoy my art but have no means or intentions of buying anything, since that's still a form of support.

As for audience? That's more complicated. Anyone who enjoys my art (with an emphasis on the people who want to buy from me) is the short answer. Since I haven't sold much leatherwork at all, I can't fully give you the long answer. People who enjoy Renaissance fairs, but not necessarily SCA people, I think are a big market. Anime fans and bondage enthusiasts too. People who like unique jewelry (since not all my stuff is big chunky armor and whatnot). People who enjoy Norse mythology, fantasy, and/or primordial art.

For the illustration work, I think roleplayers are my main market. ;) And people who have other online personas and enjoy art, even if they don't actively roleplay. There's also the untapped world of illustrating for companies--making art for TCGs and handbooks, things like that.

Right answer? Wrong answer? Not enough of an answer? :P

What I'm hearing for audience and purpose looks like it could be boiled down to:

"Promotional website for my art-making business."

Even people who aren't necessarily buying now, may buy in the future. And if they are enthusiastic about your art, they are helping to promote you to their friends and family -- who might be actual paying customers.

Some key target audience demographics might be stated as:
  • Fantasy and historical fantasy enthusiasts
  • Mostly adult or older teenagers
  • Some disposable income

This doesn't mean you might not also have an appeal to a wider audience, but when you work for a niche market, you need to speak as directly to them as you possibly can. And do that speaking as fast as possible, too. People will glance at your website for an average of 2 seconds before hitting the back button. It's depressingly true.

So, on the order of speaking to your niche market as clearly and as fast as possible, here's some tips:

Come up with a slogan that describes exactly what you offer. If you can, include in that slogan why someone might want it. See if you can cram all of that in in ten words or less.

If you can't, because you offer several different types of things that can't be summed up together, then you need two straight to the point slogans for the different sections of your site.

For example: "Quality leather work: Feel like a Norse God"

Then make that the first thing your eye goes to when you hit the page, so you instantly answer the question of why someone should stay on your site instead of hitting the back button. Make it larger and brighter than your company name, if you have to. Unless your name is Prada or Gucci, what you actually do is way more important than what you call what you do.

Do not rely solely on images to present your name and slogan. While image files allow for more control over the look of your site, they are not readable by robots, which means your ratings on Google will always be abysmal and it will be difficult for people who want you do to find you. Put your name and slogan in header tags. <h1> and <h2>.

Knowing what you know (or have guessed, it's okay to refine later) about your demographic, once you've hooked them, you then want to get immediately to the good stuff. For the love of all that is good, do not start any page with the word "Welcome to..." They know they're welcome. Assume they are going to read about 20 words and then bail if you haven't given them an immediate reason to stay and then something to do.

It sounds like there are three things the site needs to accomplish now: Show off your leather work, show off your illustration, and offer commission information. If I were you, I'd put three big "tunnels" on my landing page that channeled people right into what they want to see. Use images and a minimum of text, so it's a no-brainer for them to click to the next thing. The more choices they make, the more specifically you can address them.

For example, on the portfolio site I'm working on now, I have a landing page that lets people choose what they are interested in, web design or artwork.

If someone chooses web design, there are two types of people I work with in that area: Web site owners (who don't want to do any of their own designing) and web designers (who make pretty websites but don't know how to program, so they want to team up and take on clients together.) Obviously both those groups have very different needs, so I once again have a branch where it is drop-dead easy to figure out who you are what you want to be doing. Once I know what they are interested in, I can speak (and sell) directly to that person.

Under your main "tunnels", you may also want to include a slightly less prominent tunnel that leads to information about you. Your process, your background, where you'll be and how to contact you personally... But remember, everything you put there should support the idea that you are a professional who can help them with their fantasy costuming or illustration needs. Nothing extraneous. All copy should be short and packed with as much meaning as possible in as small a space as possible.

I should really stop here before I rant myself into a coma, but effective web design is something I'm really passionate about. The thing to keep in mind on the web is, no matter how much love you put into carefully crafting your copy, no one is going to read it. People treat the internet like they are zooming by billboards at 70 miles on the highway. They kinda sorta get the gist of what the thing says, before they excitedly zip on to the next thing. Instead of being depressed that people are treating your design like a billboard, we should just aim to design really effective billboards.

Once you've made it super easy for a person to make some choices that are clearly tailored to their real, personal interests, you have a much better chance of getting them to slow down and read something. Because they know you are talking to them, and that you know that they want.

Kim, I'mma let you finish, but I just wanted to say that you're the best lady of all time! ;)

Thanks for all the advice!

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Forums > Art & Creativity > Personal art sites.