Tag Archives: website

I don’t need a website, I’m an artist…

I’m still rather surprised that many artists don’t yet have their own websites. This comes up in conversation quite often in our gallery, especially when an artist is presenting their work to us. Often the work is great, but the artist isn’t aware of why they need to promote themselves online.

Others have a website but it’s out of date, or a lash-up, or it just looks out of step with the standards of presentation expected these days. Sorry if that sounds harsh, or dismissive, but let’s be completely frank for the avoidance of doubt!

The ‘explanation’ tends to be one of these:

  • ‘A friend built my website but he never has time to update it and I don’t like to hassle him.’
  • ‘I did it myself but it took me a long time and I’m not very happy with it.’
  • ‘I have a gallery page on an art site but I don’t know if it’s really working and I can’t really update it very easily.’
  • I use Facebook / Instagram / Flikr / social media platform du-jour
  • ‘I had a site built for me but updates are expensive so I don’t really use it.’
  • I sell on Artfinder so why do I need a website?
  • Or – quite often – ‘I haven’t got a website’.

So let’s consider some of the reasons why it’s essential for people like us to have our own websites. And to keep them fresh and up to date!

Make it easy for your customers to find you and your work

Your future customers are searching for information about art. Some of them are looking for work that’s like yours. Some of them may even be Googling for you, your work, and for ways to buy from you. Let’s make that as simple and rewarding as possible. Whether they already know about you or not, your objective is to make it possible for them to find you!

The cost of having a basic website is probably about the same as doing 1 or 2 shows or craft fairs. And your website is open for business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year…
Even plumbers have websites these days; you’re a creative visual person – what you do needs to be seen much more than a plumber’s work!

Reach your customers yourself

When you have a website you’re proud of, you can use it as the reference point for your newsletters, update emails, social media activity….and so on. Emails and social media posts can link back to pages, or specific pieces on your site, or to your ‘events’ page instead of going nowhere.
This is far preferable to sending word docs, PDFs or images as attachments to your database. Nowadays attachments are highly likely to get trapped in your recipients’ spam filters. You can easily produce visually rich emails that do justice to your reputation as a creative person!
Services like Mailchimp (which we use for Vitreus Art’s newsletters and I use for newsletters for clients) make managing your circulation list and creating and sending your emails very easy and professional-looking.

In our world, once someone has bought from you, they’ll probably buy again.
Provided they can find you, and you continue to nurture the relationship!

Build your reputation – aka your artist brand

Your website is a great place for showing off your design skills and your artistic ability. It’s where you get to show how your work is the result of years of experience and dedication; you can sell the unique aspects of your work; you can emphasise the hand-made nature of what you do. Use your site to ‘sell’ the value and uniqueness of what you do, helping to distinguish you from the far-off factories that churn out cheap alternatives and the charlatans who cut corners!

We know plenty of gallery owners who won’t consider artists and craftspeople who don’t have a website. It’s an indication of the seriousness with which you take your work.

Sell your art online directly

It’s a long time since ecommerce was the preserve of established businesses, who paid web developers to have their own bespoke ‘e-commerce engine’. With the advent of PayPal, and simple ‘self administer’ shopping carts, you can have a highly-secure website shopping and payments facility at little cost and minimal hassle. If you elect to use PayPal no special technical know-how is required – just your time and a bit of organisation.

Showcase your work at a distance

Unless you have the time to attend shows or seek trade buyers & galleries further afield, it’s very difficult to achieve recognition and gain sales overseas or even in your own country. There’s a whole world of art buyers and potential artistic partners out there and a decent website brings them all closer to you! And with inexpensive courier services(be careful which ones you choose though – cheapest is usually worst!), and simple e-commerce systems available, selling to overseas customers is hardly any more difficult than selling to someone in your own town.

Make your shows, exhibitions and press releases more successful

Perhaps you send out invites to your shows or private views? Being able to highlight these online is the first step. You can then get yourself listed on the many ‘what’s on’ sites, local arts and tourist info sites, and on all sorts of other listings websites, with links back to your site. Experience shows that the people who use these sites often do follow the links to further info – to get times, dates, venue details, maps and an idea of what’s on offer.

If you send out press releases, being able to point editors and journalists towards more information increases the chance your release will get used.

A further thought – if you publicise your shows (of course you do!) – people who can’t attend but want to know more can see some of what they’ve missed on your site. It’s like having a permanent exhibition, open to all!

Own your art ‘brand’ and control your presence

As an artist selling your work (and yourself) online do you have a cyber-home, or are you in the equivalent of a squat in a friend’s house?

After you spend (probably) too much time ‘interacting’ with people you don’t really know on Twitter and Facebook do you have a home for your work to direct people to visit? Where they can see a good selection of your best work? Where they can judge your skills and get a feel for you as an artist?

It seems that you can’t go anywhere on the internet without bumping in to a gallery website or craft sales site promising to sell your work. There must be tens of thousands of these sites now, with more being created every day. All make essentially the same promise – to sell your work in return for a commission and a little of your time to upload your images.

You wouldn’t only exhibit at one physical gallery or sell at just one craft show. It’s effectively outsourcing the selling aspect of your job, right?

It’s also abdicating control of your online presence – your artist’s brand. When you upload art to a gallery site, you upload your control too. You need your own online space with your name on it!

This is a fundamental point – if your work is only seen on other people’s sites, they have the control over what you can show and how you sell it.

This isn’t just vanity – it’s about retaining control over your brand, determining the presentation of your work, and getting your own message out about why you do what you do. This is your virtual identity and that’s too valuable to just hand over to a website owner or social media site.

The naked truth is – when you put your work on other people’s sites, it becomes their work. They’ll sell it for you (according to their terms). They may show it, they may reject it. They may show it alongside work from other artists, and ultimately you’re one of many other artists on the same site – all jostling for attention.

This is why it’s important that artists have their own online presence that they have control over.

This is not to say you shouldn’t use other art sales sites, but you definitely should have your own site – and use it to promote your own work and your own artistic practice.

And another important point – make sure you own your domain (like www.vitreus-art.co.uk) and arrange for your website to be hosted on that domain. Again, it’s about control. If you opt for a ‘free’ or low-cost package that gives you a domain like www.mikesart.greathosting.net that domain actually ‘belongs’ to someone else. They get the benefit of the search engine traffic, while you get to look unprofessional and lose control over what happens with that domain.

Happily, when you have your own online space, you’ll have the ability to develop it as you develop as an artist.  You’ll have to pay upfront to purchase your domain and find a decent hosting company, but the long-term benefits for your artistic brand will hugely outweigh the cost.

Use all the outlets you can – always be selling!

At the risk of seeming contradictory, the argument for having your own website is not undermined by the availability of other selling sites. Use those other sites, enjoy, choose wisely and make sure you manage what’s on sale where, and for how much. But don’t let any success you enjoy on those sites be an excuse for not having your own home on the internet. It’s not an either-or!

So there you have it – take control of how you’re found, presented and sold on the internet by managing your own website. Especially if you’re serious about your art!

P.S. for a bit of fun, head over to http://www.artybollocks.com/ to create your own highly pretentious and totally made-up artist’s statement. It’s a bit naughty and somewhat irreverent!

Why original art is like a good cigar…

They say that the metaphor is the lazy writer’s best friend…

Che Guevara and a Montecristo cigar
How is art like a good cigar?

Why is (original) art like a good cigar?

Firstly – choosing art needs time and attention – you don’t want to commit yourself to a piece of art that offered an initial flash of excitement, but later comes to annoy, or disappoint.

A cigar is the same – a few hasty puffs may leave you light-headed.
Much better to set aside some time for contemplation.

Artists – if you can give your prospective clients the opportunity to ‘test drive’ a piece or two in their own homes, you stand a better chance of making the sale  and developing a longer-term relationship with that customer. Just make sure you know where the piece is going, and get an agreement that the customer takes on the risk of damage while in their custody!

Secondly – no two ‘real’ cigars are the same. They’re hand-made (not supermarket cigars obviously). Variations in taste, draw, burning time, and consistency during the smoke are surprisingly wide between examples of the same cigar from the same box.

It’s the same with art – artists don’t always produce work to their best standard, and what you see in a studio or gallery on one day may represent the best they’ve created or not. If you like the style, seek the artist out and see what else they have to offer!

Artists – turn your stock at galleries over from time to time, and make sure you can be found on the internet! And consider if the work you’re presenting is the best you’ve done.

Next – cut your cloth according to your means. I’m fond of the Montecristo No.4 – the choice of Che Guevara and other revolutionaries. But it’s not cheap, and takes nearly an hour to enjoy. Often I don’t have the time, so I’ll ‘compromise’ on a No. 5 – shorter, less expensive, quicker to smoke and less ostentatious.

With art, be realistic about the space you have for a piece, and the environment it will live in. If you have a small space, or a small budget – get the best you can to fit within.

Artists – if you can offer work at a range of price points you might be able to win a customer who will buy larger or higher-priced work from you later. A good reason to stay in touch, via mail, email, regular open studios or open evenings – these have all worked for me or artists I know.

Lastly – aficionados of most things are avid consumers of information about their passions. The internet is awash with cigar forums, reviews, info about where the best tobacco leaves are to be grown, the best climates and harvesting methods, the merits of different types of constructions, the best humidors and on and on and on…

Those seeking out exciting art are likely to do their research, and will enjoy finding out how pieces came in to being. The more info an artist provides about their work, and the more they ‘augment’ the story about the pieces they make, the more enthusiastic the eventual buyers are likely to be.

Running demo days, being able to talk about their skills at Open Studios, using video to show what they do, creating rich experiences on their websites – these all help to build an exciting and informative picture for the customer. I’ve seen how this can work, and aim to do so with my and Jenny’s stained glass work.

I’m off to devote a little time to artistic contemplation. And a nice cigar.
Let me know if I’ve missed any other parallels between art and cigars!

Mike

 

 

 

Flickr – fantastic for artists of all kinds

Stained glass garden panel finished, ready for cleaning
Stained glass garden panel finished, ready for cleaning

You know how sometimes you wish you’d started using something a long while ago because it’s just so brilliant?

That’s the position I’m in with Flickr. I’ve been recommending Flickr to artists who didn’t feel the need for a website of their own, or who couldn’t afford one (although ‘free’ websites are readily available now).

Because we’ve had our own website from the start we’ve put off developing a presence on Flickr, but now we have, boy do we wish we’d done it before!

We’re using it to publish photos of students on our stained glass classes.
Of course we’ve been taking photos of class attendees working, and the pieces they make, since we started teaching about 3 years ago. But we’ve lacked that simple way to make them available without selecting and emailing them.

Instead, any of our students can choose to copy the images that feature them or their work and save them.

Why didn’t we do that before?!

Have a look at our Flickr stream and let me know what you think.

And of course, we want other folks to be able to see what we do – after all, we’re looking to drive traffic to our website and grow our visitors and business.

So we’ve added folders of stained glass pieces we’ve made as commissions, and a selection of glass art from our archives too.

What a great way to get your artwork in front of a larger audience – I’m sold!

To all artists capable of photographing their work – Flickr is a brilliant marketing opportunity for you – it just needs a bit of thought and planning.

A couple of tips:

  • Make sure you get good photos of whatever it is you’re doing – a good selection of shots that are in focus, well-lit and well composed is invaluable for all sorts of marketing activities
  • Make sure you get the permission of your students (or anyone else in the shot) to use the photo
  • Take photos at the highest resolution your camera offers, and downsize on your PC if necessary
  • Keep a record of which photo is where and when – useful as an archive and helps to track your progress as an artist
  • Don’t post the high-resolution versions on Flickr – you’ll use up your 300mb monthly allowance very quickly – resize them first
  • Tag the images to aid search engine indexing – think about which words people might use if they were looking for photos of what you do
  • Watermark your images if there’s a chance others might use them for unauthorised commercial use
  • Fill in your profile on Flickr so people can find you, contact you, or visit your website

If you’re an artist or a craftworker, or an avid user of Flickr, I’d love to hear any other tips you have that others can benefit from!

Happy posting….Mike

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

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