Monthly Archives: December 2010

Why do we teach stained glass when we already have enough competition?!

Vitreus Art beginners stained glass Workshop

Vitreus Art beginners stained glass workshop

By now you know we teach stained glass, right? I go on about it often enough!

Well, one of the reasons we teach (aside from wanting to share the craft we’ve become passionate about!) is that we often hear from would-be stained glass artists who’ve gone out and bought tools and glass and materials and then found they just couldn’t make it work.

They cut themselves to shreds, their pieces didn’t fit together, they wasted loads of expensive glass, their soldering was lumpy and ugly, or their fledgling abilities just didn’t develop.

Net result – most of them gave up.

We had the benefit of a day’s class when we were starting. We had no idea what was required, where to begin, what tools were needed – we just knew we wanted to find out if we liked it, and if we might show any early promise!

It could have been so different – Lord knows it’s sometimes a frustrating craft!
However, decent tuition,  access to the right tools,  and the desire to learn from someone clearly very skilled set us off in the right direction.

Starting teaching

Fast-forward 5 years and we’re making commissions,  selling through galleries and teaching. Why?

Coming from marketing and PR backgrounds, we both felt that we were good communicators, and we’d been on a very steep learning curve.  So as we began to field questions from people who wanted to try, or who’d tried and given up, we set up our first class.

Crikey – that was hard work! And the investment – we decided that 6 was a good number of students so we needed 6 sets of tools. And you may already know, a complete set of  tools costs about £150 per person, not including a grinder. And don’t forget the glass – we get through a lot!

We hooked up with a local gallery with spare workshop space (thanks Sally!) and set some dates. Luckily we found enough students (that always seems like the wrong word!) and set off on our journey.

We did a lot of planning, a lot of cost analysis to be sure we knew how long and how many classes it would take to repay the investment in tools and glass. And we sweated over the lesson plan and rehearsed, and tested.

The comments we had back after our early sessions encouraged us to carry on. We now run 13 or more sessions a year, some at an intermediate level now that we have students who are keen to progress to making bolder and more ambitious pieces.

As an example of the type of comment that led us to develop our programme, here’s one from an early student:

2009 hasn’t been the best of years for me but I can truly say that this one day was my real highlight. Your passion for the subject really shone through and your professionalism in guiding us in all the task was amazing. I am delighted with the pieces I made.  I suspect my husband actually thought I’d bought them!

And now that our classes are getting fully booked months in advance, we’ve taken the plunge and set up a 5-day workshop in Cornwall too! We must be mad!

So the message here is – if you’ve struggled to make the glass work for you, if you’ve become frustrated at lack of progress, or you want to find out what stained glass is all about before you jump in, get some tuition – for two reasons:

one – you might save a lot of money on tools if you don’t enjoy it!

two (much more likely!) – starting off with someone to show you the basics and to offer constructive feedback might get you totally hooked, like it did for us!

three – knowing someone in the trade, and being able to ask them how they got started, and what they found hardest at the beginning is great background info and reassurance

I’d love to find out how you got started, or even what made you give up.
We might be able to offer some advice!

I’m considering running a tips and tricks column on our stained glass website, or in our monthly newsletters, or on this blog.
I’d like to know if this would be useful to you – leave a comment and let me know.

Happy creating!
Mike

What got you started in art?

When we’re out and about, teaching, demonstrating, doing Open Studios or selling at craft markets, we’re often asked – what got you started in stained glass?

Well, for Jenny, my partner in crime over at Vitreus Art, she found an artistic interest while watching her Grandfather painting with oils and making detailed models from scratch.

She subsequently attended St Albans art college; becoming a mum sadly put such frivolities on hold for some years.

Although Jenny sketched from time to time, being a busy mum and PR professional didn’t afford time to find a real niche and pursue it.

Then, while on holiday in Porthleven in Cornwall we happened across the work of a stained glass artist who sadly has moved from the area. But we both loved the colours, the simple sea themes and the light effects the pieces created in the gallery.

Returning home, we booked ourselves on to a one-day stained glass workshop to find out how hard it would be to create our own pieces.

In the meantime, I discovered the work of John Piper, the artist who created

Baptistry Window, Coventry Cathedral, by John Piper

the beautiful abstract glass for the lantern at the  Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and the 76ft-high Baptistry Window at Coventry Cathedral.

You can see examples of the glass at both of these fabulous 20th century architectural marvels at John Piper’s website.

I worked in theatre lighting on leaving college, and I’ve always been fascinated with creating coloured and textured light effects. As a comparative youngster, I never got the chance to really test out my imagination, but the passion persisted!

6 years later, we’re now teaching, helping prospective glass artists get started, and we’ve just finalised the plans for our own 5-day workshop in Porthleven, where our passion started!

Do leave a comment and tell us how you got started in art, or what inspires you – share the passion!

Season’s greetings,
Mike

Search engine optimistion for artists’ websites – the challenge!

Yes – even the world of art is waking up to why search engine optimisation (SEO) is a good thing.
My fundamental perspective is – you can strive to get your work accepted in galleries, you can set up as many exhibitions as you have energy for, you can network in person like a greasy salesman, but you’ll never reach even a fraction of the potential new customers you can online.

But to achieve that, you need to be found. And that means getting indexed in Google and the other search engines.  And for artists, this represents a greater challenge than for many small businesses or individuals.

This post was prompted by an excellent blog post from Nikki Pilkington examining why being searchable (indexed highly is what we’re talking about) for just your name is not nearly enough!
Incidentally, Nikki is well worth following for info on online marketing, social media and blogging.

Nikki talks about how being indexed for what you do is far more important (and harder to achieve) than being found for your name. That’s easy. But it relies on the prospective website visitor knowing who you are. And frankly, we’re all looking to attract web traffic from people we don’t already know – that’s how we grow our audiences and potential customer bases, right?

So if we assume you want to be found for your work, your tuition practice, your exhibitions or your public speaking, why do I say that’s harder for artists?

A lot of it comes down to the common features of many artists’ websites.

  1. a lot of images, not much text
  2. images handling using a java plug-in or Flash features
  3. lack of keyword research to inform the written content
  4. use of frames and other architectural issues
  5. poor navigation and menus

Let’s look at these in order:

1 – a lot of images, not much text

Artists’s websites are often very image-heavy. That’s great, but it often means that there’s not much written content. This means there’s not much text for Googlebot and the other search engine spiders to  use to figure out what your site is all about. And often what text exists is a bit vague and artisty, rather than reflecting what potential visitors might be looking for.

Instead, consider how to use text on your site to build up a word picture of what you do, and what the owners of your work might be interested to read. (This is part of what I mean by keyword research.)

And for your images, make sure you use the ALT tag to help search engines work out what the images are. You can use quite a few characters – so you could say Joe Bloggs watercolour painting of a boat, available to buy and give Google something to index. With an ALT tag like this Google can return your image as a result for searches including Joe Bloggs, boats, watercolours and paintings. Oh, and use filenames for your images that Google can make sense of, like boats-in-the-harbour-joe-bloggs.jpg for example. Google et al treat the hyphens as spaces.

A great way to overcome the ‘not much text’ issue without moving the focus of your website from the pictures is to start and develop a blog. This is a subject all on its own, but for now, let’s agree that with a bit of lateral thinking most artists could create an interesting blog that could drive visits to the main art website. And blogging is largely without financial cost when using WordPress – like this blog does.

2 – image-handling using a java plug-in or Flash features

Another issue commonly found on artists’ websites – Java or Flash is used to display images, perhaps in a scrolling gallery, or with pop-ups or other cool-looking gimmicks. That’s fine because it can enable a nice user experience, but the search engine robots (spiders) can’t make these work like a human can, and may not find those images at all.

There are alternatives that can be partially indexed by spiders, but the best route of all is to make the image available as a file from the web server just like your web pages. And if you include a watermark with your web address on the image this will help to stop image theft and give extra visibility for your website.

3 – lack of keyword research to inform the written content

There are plenty of keyword research tools available (including excellent ones at Google) to help you identify what’s being searched for and how often. We’ve already looked at why a lack of text will limit your search engine visibility, but not doing research to reveal which keywords matter is hardly any better! The fundamental point here is that your text content should reflect what people are looking for, so that search engines return your pages instead of someone else’s.

It’s a challenge for us all to think in terms of what our web visitors are looking for rather than what we might look for, but this is a vital part of the process of creating and updating web pages.
Now that tools are readily available, I urge all ambitious artists and website owners to ensure their content benefits from this kind of research.

4 – use of frames and other architectural issues

Most web designers gave up using frames a long time ago, but many hobbyists still do, without being aware that Google will ignore most of the important content. If the frame carries the navigation (menus) and the page carries the content, because the frame is what Google sees, it will only find your menus. Your content will go un-indexed, which is not good!

Another issue, perhaps more contemporary, is that some websites are designed using Javascript-enabled navigation systems. Many of these now can be navigated by search engine  spiders but many others created a few years ago can’t.
So make sure there is a text link navigation alternative on your site so spiders can crawl your site even if the Javascripts don’t respond to the spider’s gentle silky touch!

5 – poor navigation and menus

Related to point 4, make sure your site has a logical navigation, that makes sense to human visitors. A website should offer a sense of exploration, and it should be possible to find one’s way round the site without a lot of back-clicking.
Navigation that presents a clear sense of where the visitor is, and how that page relates to others is essential for a good visiting experience, and it also works for search engines too.

There are lots more ways to improve a website’s ranking in search engine results, but we’ll cover these in another blog.

In the meantime, if you think you need help, or advice, get in touch or visit my website!
Happy selling!

Mike

How do you make your customers feel?

Do you get annoyed when you feel your business has been taken for granted?

Art is one of those areas of business (if you earn your living or some of it from art it is a business!) where repeat customers are more common than usual.

Once a customer finds you or your work and they get your style, they’re quite likely to come back to you again.

(Remind me to consider how e-marketing and keeping in touch really pays off here. For now though, I want to think about how we make our customers feel when they buy something.)

Hopefully the inevitable buyer’s remorse passes, your art becomes a feature of your customer’s home and they get used to knowing they bought something unique and beautiful.

So they might come back and buy something else?

Here’s my characteristic digression.

I bought a tankful of petrol from an Asda petrol station last week. I was served by a machine (and me) so there was no human interaction. As soon as I’d filled, up the machine said ‘Next customer’. No ‘Thanks Mike for spending nearly 90 quid with Asda, part of the Wal-Mart Family of giant businesses that don’t care.’ No thanks of any kind. 90 quid.

If I’d sold something for £90 I’d damn-well say thanks very much, and I’m sure you would too.

So that got me annoyed. But then I visited a gallery I rarely go to (definitely not any of the galleries Jenny and I sell through as the owners of those are smart and civil and very likeable).
I overheard the gallery owner talking to a punter in the most patronising tones imaginable. The (potential) customer was made to feel like they knew nothing, and I winced to hear it.

Ok – maybe the lady didn’t know much about art (or about that kind of art) but she had a nice bag, nice shoes, and I’m guessing the nice Audi in the car park was hers, so she probably could afford to buy something.
Did being condescended-to make her more likely to buy?

No. The lady left. She’d spent at least 20 minutes there. She looked at a couple of pieces very closely, asked about the price, and asked if the artist had a website. So some buying signs, or at least ‘leave me your email address and I’ll add you to our newsletter list’ potential.

But she left.

Customers want to be treated like I do when I’m taking a serious interest in something. Respected, considered an equal, and engaged with. It’s not salesmanship, it’s courtesy and respect.

There may be things they want to know; or you can entice them into your art by hooking them. But let’s make a special effort not to imagine the customer knows nothing, or is just a punter who’d prefer the comfort of buying a print from a DIY store and is out of their depth.

Instead, let’s make a lifelong friend out of them, and hopefully a repeat customer who’ll tell anyone within range what a great artist you are, and how much they enjoyed finding out about your art!

Send me your artist horror stories or even your successes!
Mike