OK, if you're not already blogging then hopefully I've convinced you with the previous article in the Artists Online Series that it's something you can do. In the next couple of days, I'm also going to be doing a round-up of some of the comments about blogging that other artists have left me. If you're an existing blogger who'd like to be included in that, then leave a comment telling me what you get out of blogging or how it's helped your career.
If you're new to the idea of blogging but roaring to get going already, then you might be wondering where to start. Well, basically you've got two main options - a blog that's part of your website or a stand-alone blog.
A dedicated blog with an attached website, ideally hosted at a snappy domain name (i.e your name.com or some variation on that theme) is a great option and obviously, the one I'm currently using.
The advantages are that your portfolio, CV and statement are all right there for people to see. Plus you've hopefully got that snappy, easily remembered site name. This can be quite an important issue - after less than three months, I can always remember the name of this site but not the Diary Project blog address, even though the later has been up since the start of the year. I can never remember the full address of my Livejournal blog either and I've had that for nearly four years! Admittedly I have a stinkingly bad memory but it's certainly easier and quicker to say or write yourname.com than yourname.blogspot.com or yourname.wordpress.com.
Being on your own domain also means that you have ultimate control over your content - this may be a big issue if your art is controversial since the free blogging services tend to put limits on what you can publish on them, especially if there's adult content.
The disadvantage is it's not very instant. Unless you already have a website you'll have to do a fair bit of work - even if you pay someone else to design the site you'll still have to sort out all your photos, update your CV and your statement. If you go with designing it yourself you'll have to do all that and the design and coding. Even with the best will in the world, in my experience, it takes months. Even if you do already have a website, designing and inserting a blog into it might involve some reshuffling.
It's not free either, at the very least you'll have to pay for a domain name and hosting and if you're design-impaired like me, you'll need to pay a designer too.
I do think a dedicated website with an inclusive blog is well worth doing. However, if it's going to take you a little while then you might be better to start a free blog now rather than waiting for all your ducks to be in a row (because we all know how that duck thing goes!) Remember, you can always move your blog over to your dedicated website once you've finally got it up and running - people do it all the time.
To set up a stand-alone blog, you'll need to sign up with a blog hosting site. Some of these cost but these days there are lots of places where you can blog for free. I'd say the main ones are probably Blogger, WordPress and Livejournal and I have experience with all three of them.
The Diary Project is hosted over at Blogger and I don't have many complaints. It's pretty stable with only the occasional glitch - I know it had big problems with crashing in the past but I've not seen many in my 8 months over there. The software's not too bad, although I have had problems with certain parts like inserting code into the sidebar. The clickthrough rate from people finding me by hitting the 'next blog' button in Blogger also seems to be quite high - I get a surprising number of visitors to the Diary Project that way. If you go with Blogger, make sure you read this article about improving your visitor numbers.
WordPress can be used to run a dedicated domain, including a blog, or you can set up a free blog over on WordPress itself. This whole site is run on WordPress and while I'm not a software expert by any stretch of the imagination, I like their software a lot. It's free, open source, upgraded fairly often, mostly intuitive and easy to use and the help forums seem quite decent although I haven't needed to use them much. Personally I also prefer the WordPress interface to the Blogger one, it seems slicker and plugins definitely work better.
I've had a blog on Livejournal for nearly four years and I love it over there. That said, I wouldn't recommend Livejournal as a place to host your primary blog if your aim is to promote your art career. It's a very enclosed community so it can be hard to reach a wider audience from there, plus Livejournal is not taken seriously by the rest of the blogging community - something to do with 'drama' and 'weirdos' apparently! While I've loved being a member of Livejournal, I've definitely reached far more people here in three months than I did in three years on Livejournal (although to be fair, I wasn't really trying to get a big audience over on LJ). However, Livejournal and similar sites who use the Livejournal code, like InsaneJournal and GreatestJournal, can be fantastic for building communities and I'll be addressing this in later articles on social networking.
You could also check out Tumblr to make a tumblelog, which is a bit like blogging for people who're too lazy to blog! Tumblr describe them thus, "If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks." I've given it a short go and found it a bit like eating junk food - kind of addictive but ultimately unsatisfying. I don't like the aesthetics, which are deliberately basic - to the extent that posts blur into each other far too much for my taste. But that's just my personal opinion, tumblelogs do work for some people and it really depends on your style of blogging and what you're trying to get out of it.
Read the various FAQ over at the blogging sites, do some research and decide which place suits you best.
Decide On Your Focus
Next, take some time to decide why you want to blog and what you want to get out of it. There are lots of different kinds of blogs and reasons for blogging and you may well find it easier to find your writing voice if you're clear in your intent from the beginning. Read my article on the different forms of art blogging if you're still unsure what your approach should be. You can also just dive right in and at some point, you're going to have to do exactly that, but taking some time to set out some goals first can be helpful as long as it doesn't become an excuse not to start (watch out for those damn ducks again!)
OK, so you've chosen your platform and decided on your focus. What next? Well, you should probably read the Wikipedia article on blogs to get an idea of some of the background issues in blogging, particularly defamation and copyright issues. There's a ton of stuff that you can read on blogging - after nearly four years as a blogger, I'm still learning new stuff every day - but that's a good place to start if you're pretty new to the concept.
Choose a Blog Address
Now you need to chose a name and get your blog set up. I'd advise using your professional name in your blog address, where possible. If you've got a common name, someone else might already have nabbed it but it's a good idea to use it if you can, for the following reasons:
- Even the most addled of us can usually remember and spell our own names, which is useful when you're telling people where you blog!
- Blogging under your professional name will increase your Google ranking and make it easier for people to find you.
Choose a Blog Title
Now choose a snappy title for your blog. You might want something that relates to your art practice or, if you're like me, something that makes you laugh. Incidentally, my original title for this blog - "Look At Me, I'm Fabulous" - is still up for grabs, feel free to use it if you want!
Your blog name can include your own professional name but it doesn't need to unless your blog address doesn't. This site rates highly in Google searches for my name because although the blog is called Up All Night Again, the actual blog address contains my full professional name. However, over at The Diary Project, my name isn't in the blog address and I had to change the blog title to Kirsty Hall - The Diary Project because it wasn't registering well in Google. When I added my name to the title, the site's Google ranking improved drastically.
Mind you, this advice is only relevant if your blog is intended to be a professional one: if you're setting up a blog about your interest in clown porn, then you'll probably want to go for a completely anonymous title and blog address! Well, unless clown porn is a relevant part of your art practice, of course...
Setting Up Your Blog
If you're blogging from your own website you may want your blog design to match or echo the rest of your site design, although you can go for a different look if you want. if you're setting up a stand-alone blog, most blogging sites have a range of predesigned templates that you can use. In my experience, you can fiddle around happily for hours until you find one that you like and I'd advise you to do so. If you're a computer expert with good graphics skills, you can also design your own completely from scratch.
You should try to find a template that you like but which will be accessible to other readers i.e easy to read, especially for visitors who might have visual impairments. Don't go for anything too cluttered and if you're planning on posting regular photos of your own work or that of other artists, then I'd strongly advise against background wallpaper. Take a look at other blogs and see what elements you like or dislike in their designs and use that to inform your own choices. If in doubt, err on the side of minimalism and readability.
Great, your blog should now be up and operational. Now you just need to close your eyes, take a deep breath and start posting... Good luck and remember to have fun with it.
Get more help
If you'd like more information about building your online presence, check out the free resources section.
I am also available for online consulting if you need one-on-one help.