An Introduction for the Technologically-Challenged Artist on a Budget
By America Meredith
My primary advice to emerging artists is — well, number one, make incredible art you are passionate about, then number two — get your art online. The internet has revolutionized, globalized, and democratized communication in ways we have yet to fully comprehend. The important thing for artists is, no matter where you may live, Skiatook to Chinle, Natashquan to Sitka, by launching a website you access a worldwide audience.
Curators and other folks regularly ask me to recommend artists. I can name promising emerging artists, but if those artists don’t have readily accessible websites showcasing their work and their accomplishments, they probably won’t get the gig. Having a website demonstrates a basic commitment to professionalism.
“Native Americans are among the last citizens to gain access to the internet, with access to broadband often unavailable or overly expensive in Native communities,” states a study by Native Public Media.1 If you don’t have a computer, then schools, libraries, and FedEx Kinkos can provide access to computers and the internet. You can even maintain a web presence from your smartphone.
An online portfolio is a digitized artist packet. An artist packet is an essential tool that includes your résumé, artist statement, biography, images, and image list (titles, media, year completed, and dimensions). The barest minimum you should have on your website would be your name, general location, media in which you work, images with titles, and a means to contact you (definitely email and optionally a phone number or mailing address).
A premium website by an experienced web designer is ideal, with a custom-made layout and no external advertising. While a paid, professionally-designed website is ideal, if your budget is tight or if you have limited internet access, a modest website beats having no web presence. Fortunately, many free options are available to artists that don’t require extensive technical knowledge.
While social media is a valuable communication tool, it’s important to remember, not everyone is on Facebook. The people who don’t like Facebook, really don’t like Facebook. Feel free to create a Facebook page or Instagram account for your artwork (so people other than your friends can see it), but that is not enough to promote your art, especially with collectors and curators.
Don’t publish anything online you don’t want the entire world to see. How much information do you really want to share with the public? You might not want to share your mobile phone number or home address. By creating a website, you decide what information the public reads about your art. Don’t want people to focus on your famous relative or your schooling? Then share information about your techniques, subject matter, or inspirations. Focus the public’s attention on what you consider important.
The basic building blocks of a website are text and images. Ideally, you’ll have a professional photographer shoot your artwork, but, if need be, you can take decent images of your work with a digital camera or use a scanner for small, flat art.
Photoshop is ideal for editing your images; however, free photo editors are also available, such as DarkTable or Google Photos. Your camera or smartphone has basic editing tools, allowing you to crop and adjust photos as needed.
Computer screens display at 72 DPI (dots per inch), compared to 300 DPI for print. Larger images are slower to load, so small is preferable online. When people worry about their art being “stolen” on the internet, keeping images low-resolution (72 DPI) is protection from illegal prints being produced.
Some artists, particularly beadwork artists, worry if they post their designs online they’ll get ripped off, possibly by mass producers. You could post extreme close-up images, showing off your precision and technique, and distant shots, such as models wearing your beadwork, that don’t reveal the fine details of the design.
Search engines such as Google or Bing help people find websites, and text is their primary means of doing so. Many artists make the mistake of having images with little to no accompanying text. A brief description—a few sentences or a paragraph—about each piece or series of artwork will increase the odds of people finding your website. Additionally, you’ll want a bio (a description of you written in the third person), an artist statement (your motivations, inspirations, process, and/or artistic goals written in the first person), and a résumé, listing your exhibitions, galleries, awards, education, and any other relevant accomplishments. This text is what the search engines pick up.
Choose a Hosting Service
Dozens of sites offer free opportunities for artists to create an online presence. For the technically-challenged, many don’t require any knowledge of HTML (the web design language) or other programming skills.
Typically the free service is limited in size and design options and includes ads for the host. Paid options usually offer more space, no ads, and the opportunity to have your own domain name. You might want to avoid signing up for free trials since your credit card will be charged after the trial is up. Try out the free service, then if you like it, you can consider upgrading to a paid service.
Weebly.com provides free websites up to five pages, a large selection of streamlined templates, and a drag-and-drop site creator. After signing up and choosing the free plan, Weebly asks you to choose whether you want a site, blog, or store. To start an online portfolio, choose <site>, then select a template, which you can change later if you like. Each template has five page layouts for a coherent site design. You want a minimal, sleek template with neutrals (white, grey, or black). Weebly offers video tutorials and an interactive guide to planning out your website. They constantly prompt you to upgrade to a paid plan. Just ignore these. At first, their editor is confusing, but if you take the time to play around with it, you can have an attractive, online portfolio easily within a day. The free site will include an ad for Weebly at the footer of your website.
Wix.com also provides free websites from templates. You register, select two categories: <photograph/design/creative arts/etc.> and <portfolio>, then select a template tailored toward your field (film editor, makeup artist, etc.). Preview the template carefully, because Wix won’t let you change it later. Wix’s drag-and-drop editor allows you to construct each page, element by element, giving you more control than Weebly, but it can take longer. Wix offers a wide selection of apps, both free and paid. Free sites carry Wix advertising, but it’s unobtrusive.
A blog has posts added over time. Blogger is free to anyone with a Gmail account, Google’s email service. You get so many freebies with Gmail; I recommend it for everyone. Go to mail.google.com to sign up for the Gmail account, then go to blogger.com to launch your blog. Because Google offers the service, you will automatically be optimized for Google searches. You can create pages on your blog for content you want accessible to visitors at all times, such as your résumé or image gallery. Blogs are more structured than websites. They are also interactive; readers can comment on your posts. Readers can also subscribe to your blog, so if you regularly post news, they’ll keep coming back.
Enter your own name in search engines to see what pops up. Create profiles with your real name on social media sites, such as LinkedIn or Twitter. You don’t even have to use the profiles, just make sure to link them to your newly published website. This helps reputation management, i.e., presenting yourself online as you want to be presented. If you are applying for a job or a gallery, you don’t want the potential employer or curator to find embarrassing party pics or worse. You want your online presence to show you as the talented, passionate, intriguing, reliable, and hardworking artist that you are.
These are just a few examples of free hosting options. You will learn as you go, so it’s okay to start out small and expand over time. Explore other artists’ sites to see what works and what doesn’t. Have trusted friends and family preview your site and share feedback. With all the effort you put into your art, it only makes sense to let the world see it!
1. Traci L. Morris and Sascha D. Meinrath, “New Media, Technology and Internet Use in Indian Country: Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses” (Flagstaff, AZ: Native Public Media, 2009), 4.