Tag Archives: Series: Artists Online

A series of articles about how artists can create a useful online presence

15 Comments


Photograph by Johnny Grim. Used under Creative Commons license

I recently wrote about why there's no excuse for artists not to have websites. If you're still working on yours, here are a few things to avoid like the plague.

1. Overuse of Flash

I'm not a big fan of Flash - it can be useful when used sparingly but it's frequently overdone or used inappropriately. Web designers can start acting like puppies on crack when they get their paws on Flash. You need to smack them firmly with a rolled up newspaper.*

There are other good reasons for avoiding Flash. The web is increasingly moving over to HTML5, so a site that’s designed in Flash now is highly likely to need redesigning in a couple of years. Flash often doesn't work on mobile devices, including iPhones and iPads. Apple have said that they won't integrate Flash into those platforms. Microsoft have also come out in support of HTML5.

Even if your visitors are capable of viewing Flash, it often slows a site down considerably - I do not care how pretty your site is, if it takes several minutes to load, you've lost me.

*Fret not, it's hyperbole. I do not advocate violence against web designers. Or puppies. Or crack addicts.

2. Choosing Form Over Function

Unless your site is an actual art project and a pretentious design is vital part of your evil plan, please resist the urge to overcomplicate things.

I do not want to chase small objects around the screen. I do not want to have to guess what your obscure labels mean. I do not want to search in vain for photographs of your work. You are not a pirate constructing a fiendish puzzle to protect your buried treasure, so knock it off!

Again, this is usually more of a problem with professionally designed sites because the rest of us simply don't have the skills to complicate things in this way. I have a theory that web designers hear the word 'artist' and immediately start cackling like mad scientists thinking about all the crazy things they can get away with.

I don't want to sound as though I'm picking on web designers - most of them do wonderful work - but I have seen a lot of art websites rendered unusable through 'clever' design. Remember: just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. People visiting your website don't care how 'arty' your site looks, they just want to find out about your work quickly and easily. Simple, functional and elegant wins out over complex and difficult to use every single time.

ETA: Artist and web designer iamANT pointed out that it's actually often artist clients who demand bizarre and 'creative' sites. If this is you, stop it, you silly artist! Listen to your designer when they tell you that strangely animated Flash sites are a bad idea. They are trained in their field. You are not.

3. Illegibility

It sounds painfully obvious but if you want people to read your site then you need to make it readable.

Large blocks of text are hard to read, so break it up with paragraphs and photographs.

Do not use colours with too much or too little contrast. In particular, be very careful of white text on a black background. This has been popping up all over the web recently like a bad case of shingles and I think it's appalling. I find it painful to read and 9 times out of 10, I simply click away. If you must use white on black, there are things you can do to make it more legible.

Do not use hard to read fonts or text that's too small. Websites are increasingly being read on mobile phones and small text that won't enlarge is one of the major problems. If you're on WordPress, there are various plugins that will make your site compatible with mobile devices. I'm currently testing out Mobilize by Mippin.

4. Clutter

White space is your friend, people.

Busy backgrounds and animated adverts do not enhance anyone's browsing experience. And you don't need to put hundreds of buttons, banners and widgets on your blog sidebar either.

I understand, I do. We’ve all been there. There are all sorts of cute widgets and plugins out there wriggling provocatively at you and promising to show you a good time if you'll just take them home. The temptation to tell people what you’re reading; what you’re twittering; how many fans you have on Facebook; what the weather is like where you are and when you last ate cornflakes is enormous. You could fill your entire blog with sidebar widgets. Unfortunately many people do.

But the human brain can only parse so much information at once: you need to be selective or none of the information will register. I've visited blogs where it's hard to focus on the actual blog post because it's lost in a sea of visual clutter. You need to prioritise & put the most important stuff at the top, especially things you want your visitors to actually DO. These ‘calls to action’ should be clear. If you want people to sign up to your mailing list, don’t make them hunt for it. If you want people to buy your products, make it easy to do so. If you want them to look at your art, direct them to it. And then get rid of as much else as humanly possible.

If you need further help optimising your website, I highly recommend a coaching session with Catherine Caine from Be Awesome Online.

And if you still feel the need to tell people about your breakfast cereal of choice, write a FAQ page.

5. Music

Apparently some artists think that my appreciation of their art will be deepened by tinny elevator music suddenly erupting from my speakers. They are very wrong.

Look, it could be my favourite piece of music in the whole wide world but I still don't want it to start up when your site loads for the very simple reason that I'm usually already listening to music while browsing.

Nothing will make me leave your site faster than music that starts automatically. It also makes me want to hunt you down and stab you but we won't go there...

6. Lousy Content

Are your photographs good enough? Are they properly labelled and easy to navigate? Do they load quickly enough? Is it obvious what things are? Avoid blurry or badly lit photos wherever possible (I do know that photography conditions in exhibitions are sometimes less than ideal but do your best).

What's your writing like? Unless you know you're speaking to an exclusively art audience, don't use art jargon. Use your spellchecker. Read through your stuff before you hit publish. Make a decent stab at using correct grammar, although you can get away with writing that's technically incorrect on a blog because a more conversational style is common in blogging.

Oh, and don't be boring or no one will read it. You have to sign up to a mailing list to get it but I found this free guide to writing 'non-sucky copy' from Laura Belgray of The Talking Shrimp useful.

7. Being Secretive

Do you belong to a secret spy organisation where your identity must be protected at all costs? No, you (probably) do not!

If you’re trying to promote yourself with a blog and/or a website, then you need to reveal something about yourself. Like, say, your name. You don't have to reveal everything but an 'about me' page is a must. Arts business coach Alyson B. Stanfield recommends having a good photograph of yourself too.

A lot of artists also make it far harder than it needs to be for people to contact them. Claire Platt pointed out in the comments that even simple contact information like an email address is often missing.

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.


5 Comments

I don't know about you, but I regularly get email invites to join art sites. It can be daunting working out if they're worth your time and energy. I can't make those decisions for you but I've written this general guide to help you assess this sort of opportunity.

1) Do You Like The Other Art?
People judge your work by the company it keeps. If you'd be embarrassed to be shown on the same gallery wall, then don't place your art in the same online space. The exception to this is when it's an enormous site like Saatchi Online, where there's a huge selection of work in a wide range of styles.

Submitting your work to a curated site can be more work but that 'gatekeeper' aspect often results in a site with a higher quality of art. That exclusivity can also appeal to visitors who may take your work more seriously because it's been vetted.

2) Does It Match Your Values?
Do you like the aesthetics of the site? Does the site have an ethos with which you strongly agree or disagree? How much control do you have over what appears on your page? Are there adverts? In short, does the site chime with your values, both moral and aesthetic?

One important point you must always check is whether the site retains any rights over your images. I know it's a nuisance but you need to read the Terms Of Service (often abbreviated to TOS). These are always available when you sign up to a site - you'll probably have to check a box to say that you've read them - or you can also usually find a link to them at the bottom of the site or in the FAQ.

3) Do They Charge?
Ooh, the big one!

I have no objection to spending money online but I do think that a lot of art sites prey on the desperate and inexperienced. There are many excellent free art sites that offer just as much exposure.

There definitely are good subscription sites out there. Even though I've still not got round to applying, I've long considered AXIS to be worthwhile, especially for UK artists. They're a long-established site with a solid reputation and they provide a lot of 'added value' such as job opportunities, forums, high Google ranking and access to curators. Personally, I'd be incredibly wary of newer sites who want payment without having that sort of proven track record.

However, different rules apply if the site is specifically for artists in your area. These can be very worthwhile. I'm a member of Bristol Creatives and Textile Forum South West. Both charge a small annual membership but they're worth it because they connect me to other local artists, give me access to pertinent news & exhibition opportunities and organise regular offline events that are close enough for me to actually attend. Consequently both sites have a far greater practical value to me than many free national or international sites. Similarly, as a UK artist I wouldn't dream of letting my annual subscription to a-n lapse. An artist at a recent networking event I attended described it as "like Equity for artists". There are masses of benefits but frankly, it's worth it for the free public liability insurance alone.

There's also usually at least one professional organisation specifically for artists using your particular material and many of these now have websites where you can add a profile. Even if their website doesn't give you space for a profile of your own, you'll get access to high quality information that is specific to your field.

So I'm not saying that you shouldn't join websites that charge but you need to research them thoroughly, find out if they're as effective at promoting artists as they claim and and know exactly what you're getting for your money. In my opinion, you should definitely spend your money on your relevant professional organisations and local networks first.

4) How Effective Is It?
Randomly pick a few of their artists (not the ones that show up on the main page) and type their names into Google. How highly do those site profiles rank? If their site profile doesn't come up on the first couple of pages, it may not be worth your time.

Do be aware that if that particular artist already has a broad and effective internet presence that will skew the results. I'm all over the net like a cheap rash, so any site I'm on has to compete with all the other places where I'm active online. But if you check several of their artists and none of their profile pages rank highly, then that site probably isn't promoting its artists very effectively.

The second way to judge whether a site is worth your time is by checking their stats. Diane Gilliland has put together an excellent short video demonstrating how to do this. Her video is specifically about judging other blogs but most of the information still applies.

5) How Much Work Is It?
Is participation necessary or is it a 'set it and forget it' kind of place?

A lot of sites strongly encourage artists to maintain blogs on their sites. In my experience, there's a limit to how much blogging a single artist can do well. Remember that Google punishes duplicate content - it regards it as spam - so simply writing one blog post and plastering it over loads of art sites is counter-productive. I do allow occasional republishing of relevant blog posts from this blog on a few select sites but I would never republish every single post because that would definitely hurt my Google ranking. Many sites also contain forums where regular participation can gain you valuable contacts and further exposure on the site. However, be aware that forums are a notorious time suck.

If you're spending a lot of time on an art site but not getting many visitors to your site, you should question whether it's a good use of your time and energy. Marketing bods call this ROI - 'return on investment'. There's a wealth of information about your visitor numbers and behaviour in Google Analytics. If you've not already got Google Analytics on your website, you absolutely must because you need to know that information.

Now there could be strategic reasons to spend time on a site that's not bringing many visitors to your main site - perhaps it contains lots of people you're trying to get to know or it may just be fun - however, if it doesn't fulfil the criteria you've set, reconsider your participation.

6) Will You Be Seen?
Will your work be lost in the crowd? The smaller, more intimate sites can often be a more effective way of promoting your work than the huge sites. However, if a site has sufficiently huge traffic, you may garner significant eyeballs just by chance.

Are there opportunities to feature in newsletters, on the front page of the site or otherwise be brought to people's attention? I enjoy Central Station, partly because it's a fun place with interesting people but also because they regularly showcase my work. Because it's not a huge site, it's quite easy to stand out there with very little actual effort. In places that showcase new work, it's smart not to upload all your photos at once but to stagger them over a couple of weeks - you're more likely to get featured that way.

7) Who Are Their Audience?
Will your work be seen by the people who matter to you? If you're selling work, are new customers likely to find that site? If you're more interested in coming to the attention of curators, is there any indication that they browse the site? Does the site contain a lot of artists who you'd like to get to know?

If you're marketing your work to a specific niche, consider participating in non-art sites where your customers are likely to congregate. For example, if you paint racehorses, being active on a respected racing forum might be beneficial. Obviously you don't want to spam people but many forums allow you to have a short signature when you post, so you can subtly let people know what you do. Plus, you're presumably painting racehorses because you're interested in them.

Conclusion

If the site is free, matches your values and joining it won't take too much time, then you might as well go ahead and whack up a couple of images and a profile. After all, you don't know exactly who their audience are and you've got nothing to lose. However, if a site charges or requires far greater time participation such as using forums or blogging then you need to carefully weigh up the costs against the benefits.

_____________________________

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.

Comment

I'd love to hear how you decided which sites to join. I'm planning on a follow-up post detailing some of the sites individual artists use, if you'd like to be included with a link to your site, please comment below or get in touch on Twitter.


19 Comments

1. I CAN'T AFFORD IT

Websites used to be an expensive proposition but the costs have dropped considerably over the last few years. Excluding any initial design costs, the annual fees for a self-hosted website should be about £60-£80. If you really can't afford that, there are other options for setting up a simple online portfolio.

a) A free Blogger or WordPress blog and a Flickr account can be set up in a couple of hours and are a surprisingly effective combination.

b) If you don't want a blog, Flickr can be used on its own as a basic art portfolio.

c) Many art sites will host portfolios for you and some of them are quite sophisticated. There are too many to link to but type the words 'free artist portfolio' into Google and you can research the many options available. Do check that their artists rate highly in Google and choose a site that gives you a short URL so you can easily add it to your email signature and put it on business cards.

d) A Facebook fan page is a fourth option. Most artists use Facebook fan pages as a subsidiary to their main site but at a pinch you could use it as your sole online portfolio. However, this is not something I'd recommend as a longterm option because they're overly fond of suddenly changing things around and there's some debate over how much control they have over any images you post there.

Any free site will have limitations but if it's a choice between whacking up something free now or waiting until you can afford something better, go with the free option. You can always move to your own site later if you want to. But get something. Hell, use MySpace if you have to! And I say that as someone who hates MySpace and thinks it should be your last port of call unless you're a musician.

2. I DON'T HAVE TIME

I won't lie to you, setting up a full website like mine is not an instant process. My site took about 6 months from start to finish and was a lot of work for both myself and my web designer. Even if you work with a designer, there's still blurb to write, design decisions to be made and photos to edit. In addition, all websites need low levels of ongoing maintenance. Blogging is an even bigger commitment and ideally needs to be done at least once a week to be effective.

However, setting up a simple portfolio site in the ways detailed above is relatively quick. If you've already got edited photographs of your work and a reasonable artists' statement, you could do it this weekend.

If you're serious about your art career then you must make time to get some sort of website up and running. Take a good hard look at what you're currently doing and what your priorities are. Can you let go of any commitments? Are you using your time wisely? As Gary Vaynerchuk says, quit watching Lost!

If you definitely don't have time to commit to a large website project right now, free up a weekend and put up a quick free version for now.

If you decide you do want something a bit more swanky, you can gradually start working towards your permanent website by doing preliminary things like researching designs and deciding what you want. Start a digital scrapbook of other artists' sites that you like - a site like Evernote is good for saving this sort of research. If you look right at the bottom of the page it will usually say which templates or designers they used. Equally importantly take note of what you don't like. Now look at your work and think about what sort of presentation would suit it. Do you want quirky or classic? Colourful or monochrome?

Laying the foundations like this will shorten the time taken by the final design process and if you do decide to pay a designer, you'll save money if you're clear on your design brief from the beginning. Although I changed my mind about plenty of things during the design process, I was very consistent about the basic parameters of the brief. I knew I wanted something elegant, simple and easy to navigate in neutral colours that would subtly compliment my often monochrome or pale work.

3. I CAN'T CODE OR DESIGN

Then pay someone who can!

Artists are absolute buggers for believing they have to do absolutely everything themselves. I understand the reasoning: money is often tight and even when it's not, that starving artist mentality is tenacious. I tried to put together my own site 4 or 5 times over the space of a decade. I taught myself HTML at least twice! Finally I had to admit that while I was perfectly capable of learning to code, I was monumentally shitty at the design side.

If you've got a good grasp of design but no coding skills, there are masses of customisable templates out there. If you're willing to pay for a premium WordPress template, I hear very good things about both Thesis and Headway. There are also lots of cheaper and free templates available: type 'free WordPress themes' into Google.

4. MY GALLERY PUT UP A PAGE FOR ME, SO I DON'T NEED A SITE OF MY OWN

Oh really? And how much say do you have over how that page looks? Do you plan to be with that gallery forever? What happens if they drop you or go bust?

Please don't give your power away like this: ceding control of your career is never smart. There's nothing wrong with having a page on your gallery's website but it shouldn't be your only online presence.

5. MY FRIEND SAID THEY'D MAKE ME ONE

This is one I hear surprisingly often.

Unless your friend is a professional web designer, you may be waiting a long time for what turns out to be a sub-standard site. Are you willing to put such an important part of your promotion in the hands of a untrained mate who probably has better things to do with their time? Even if your friend does know what they're doing, the process can be fraught with problems. What if you don't like their work? Are you going to fire your friend? What if working together sours your friendship?

I'm being slightly hypocritical here since my site was designed by a friend. However, he is a professional web designer and we were both very clear that I was employing him but we wouldn't let it get in the way of our friendship. We worked hard to keep the boundaries firm and managed to come through mostly unscathed. I'm quite certain that I was far more annoying during the process than he was but thankfully he still talks to me!

6. I DON'T KNOW WHAT I WANT

Yep, that's going to make life difficult!

Start mindmapping what you do want. Follow the steps mentioned in Excuse 2 and Excuse 7. Again, if you recognise that this is going to be a long process for you, slap up something quick and cheap like a simple Flickr portfolio now (are you sensing a theme yet?)

And remember that the website you have now doesn't have to be the website that you have forever. Websites are not static things. If you make a mistake or your needs change, you can always redesign the site. Even though the basic design template for this site has stayed the same since we launched three and half years ago, I've changed multiple things since then. Things change. You can change too. Website nirvana does not exist and perfectionism is just another excuse.

7. I JUST DON'T KNOW WHERE TO START

I'm always sympathetic to cases of overwhelm because it's something I'm extremely prone to. But you don't have to conquer the internet instantly. Break it down into small manageable chunks.

If a full website is too overwhelming for you to consider right now, there's absolutely no shame in going with any of the other options I've discussed. It's OK to just set up a Flickr account, whack some photos on there and a bit of blurb about your practice and then stop. It won't be the absolute 'best' website option but it's far better than being so frozen by indecision and fear that you wind up doing nothing at all.

If you do decide that you want a 'proper' website, your first step should be deciding what you want that website to achieve. Do you plan to sell from your site? Is it a virtual portfolio/business card? Are you planning to drive traffic to your site with a blog? Do you want to deepen your relationship with existing collectors?

Your second step is to decide on your professional name. If you've got an unusual name you've got an instant advantage. Artists with more common names may need to be more inventive.

Your third step is to buy that domain name. It'll cost you less than £10 for a year.

There you go, you've made a good start towards having a website and you've only spent a couple of quid!

8. I DON'T BELIEVE I NEED TO BE ONLINE

Don't be daft! As I hope I've demonstrated, you don't need a fancy website hosted on your own domain but you need something. If you don't want to deal with any of this stuff yourself, hire someone who's willing to take over the whole process for you.

I personally believe that a well designed website hosted on your own domain name is the ideal option but you can still have an effective and beautiful online presence by using one of the simpler methods detailed above. What won't work is sticking your head in the sand and hoping all this crazy internet stuff will go away. It won't.

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.

............................................

Well, I hope that was helpful. What website solutions do you use? Please join the conversation by commenting below or tweeting the article.


4 Comments

Erin from the Sculptress blog asked:

Would you clarify something for me? How do I know for sure I am hosting an image, do you mean save the image as a file on my computer and then repost it from the computer file?

Good question, Erin - it was something that confused me a bit at first and my web designer had to walk me through it several times until I got it.

...do you mean save the image as a file on my computer and then repost it from the computer file?

Yes, that's exactly what you do, Erin - from the way you've phrased the question it sounds like you may know how to do that already but I'll run through the exact steps just in case other people are a bit unsure about it.

What I do is this:
1) Find an image I'd like to use
2) Drag and drop the image to my desktop
I do this by left-clicking on the image, holding down the mouse button and dragging the image until it's off the browser and onto my desktop. You can also do it by hitting the right mouse button and clicking on 'copy image' but I think dragging and dropping is quicker. Make sure that you're dragging a reasonably sized image and not a thumbnail.

The image file is now on my computer. If it's too large and I need to make it smaller I can edit the size in Photoshop but I usually don't need to do this.

Next I need to get it onto my web server:

In WordPress there's an upload section just beneath the text box where you write posts. Hit the 'browse' button, locate the image on your desktop and click on it to select it, write the artist's name and the title of the work where it says 'title' (this is optional but I always do it), then hit upload. After a few moments a thumbnail of the image will appear in the 'Browse All' page - the file is now loaded onto your server. You can put the image in a post by selecting 'show fullsize', followed by 'link to file' and then hitting 'send to editor'. You'll see that a bunch of html appears in your post, this is the image file, it'll become an image when you publish the post.

If you're using Blogger you do the following: Go into dashboard and select new post. Now hit the little image button on your blogger toolbar - this is the 6th button along or the second from last. This will bring up an image page. You'll see that it says 'add an image from your computer' on the left, hit the browse button next to it and select the image from your desktop by clicking on it. Now choose the size and layout you want and then hit the 'upload image' button at the bottom of the page. Your image or the image html should now appear in your blogger editing software. This article from Blogger give more details on uploading images, including where the images are stored and how you can check how much room you've got.

The only thing left to do is to add the artists name and the title of the work - oh, and write the rest of the post, of course!

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.


18 Comments

OK, so you've got your blog started - you've set the table and put the kettle on and now you just need some visitors. So how do you go about enticing people to your site?

Obviously you need to have great content but even if you've got the best blog in the world, people won't know you're there if you're doing the online equivalent of hiding in the kitchen at parties! You're going to have to get out there and meet some people. Here's a few ways to do that...

Link, link, link

The first thing that any article on this subject will tell you is 'link'. There's a very simple reason for this - it works. At least a third of my visitors to both this site and The Diary Project arrive here via other bloggers who've linked to me in their posts or on their sidebars.

Linking is, quite simply, the foundation stone of the blogging world. Sure, you can blog successfully without ever linking to anyone else but you'd better have another promotional strategy worked out. I don't use links much over at The Diary Project because of the type of blog it is, consequently I have to work a lot harder at promoting it. This site, where I link to a lot of other artists, has snowballed for me in a way that the Diary Project just hasn't yet (although I keep hoping it will).

Linking just works. And it's easy: find someone whose work you like, nab one of their images *unless they prohibit that*, host the image on your site so you're not stealing bandwidth, write a little bit about their work and what you like about it and voilà, almost instant blog content with the added advantage that you might have drawn the artist or blogger in question back to your site.

Be generous with your linking, link to people you like or who've done or said something that interests you. It's OK to link to people that you'd like to be noticed by but don't make those the only people you link to. Be genuine and think about linking in terms of good karma, not in terms of what it might bring you. And don't expect to be linked back - you might be, but it's not automatic and it doesn't mean anything if you're not, so don't get huffy about it.

Tell People You Know

You've already got a ready made audience in your existing friends and family - send them all an email to let them know you've got a new blog. You should also change your email signature so that you're automatically letting people know about your blog every time you send an email. If you've got a mailing list, let them know too. Do you have profiles on other sites, especially networking ones? Go round and update them to include your new blog address.

Watch Your Numbers

Get Google Analytics or a similar programme installed on your blog and keep an eye on your numbers. It's helpful to know your baseline and encouraging to see the numbers gradually rise. Plus you can usually spot when you've been linked somewhere. If you are linked, nip over to the person's site, check it out and leave a comment or email to say thanks. Obviously, if you get really huge, it might not be possible to say thanks to absolutely everyone (you've got to leave some time for the studio!) but give it your best shot, especially in the beginning.

NB: If you have already linked to me and I haven't thanked you either by email or in your blog comments, then it almost certainly means that Technorati has missed the link so I don't know about it.

Make Some Cards

A couple of months ago I bought a box of 100 Moo cards to advertise the Diary Project and I've gone through two thirds of the box already. I carry them in my handbag and give them out to people who seem like they might be interested - you know, bus drivers, random people on the street, small children in pushchairs! OK, I'm kidding, I only give them to people I'm already talking to but I do know that people often do visit the project after taking a card because they often email me to tell me they have.

You don't have to get Moo cards made (although they are fab) but you should already be carrying some sort of visual card to hand out to people you meet, so you might as well have your blog address on it too.

Leave Comments

Leaving comments on other people's blogs is a good way to meet people, make connections and get readers back to your own site. If you leave a comment on here, I'll invariably go and check your site out because hey, I'm nosy! I'm not alone in this, it's common blogging behaviour. I don't end up regularly reading everyone's blog but I have discovered some great new sites this way.

Most blogs have a fairly open comments policy and it's usually easy to leave comments, although some sites do moderate to avoid spam so your comment might not appear instantly.

Leave your name and URL so that people can find you. Oh, and definitely make sure that you get your own address right - I'd accidentally been leaving the slash off the end of this blog address in other people's comments for about a month before someone kindly pointed out that hey, they couldn't actually get to my site that way. Boy, did I feel stupid! I can't believe that I could make such an elementary mistake despite being on the net for about 12 years, but I did...

Link To Yourself

If you have more than one site, make sure you link to your other sites in your sidebar or profile. All your sites should link up to each other - it sounds obvious but it's a step that many of us forget about. Looking at my numbers, I can see that both this site and The Diary Project get about 15% of their visitors from my other sites.

Remember my mantra of Make It Easy For People, well it applies here too. If you've got a cool project on the go, a nice little blog or a great new site, don't make people go hunting for them: the information should be right there, out in the open and very easy to spot. When I added a 'My Other Sites' section to the sidebar of The Diary Project, my visitors to this site from over there absolutely rocketed. This site was already mentioned and linked to in the profile, which was right at the top of the sidebar but for some reason having that extra 'My Other Sites' section made a huge difference. Sometimes you've just got to make things really obvious.

You should use this approach in your blog writing too - link to your sites or projects when you mention them in posts. It's not shameless self promotion, it's making it easy for people to investigate this neat thing you're talking about. Treat yourself with the same consideration that you would give to other artists or sites that you were talking about. If you find it uncomfortable to link to your own stuff, then ask yourself, "if this was someone else, would I put a link here?" - you'll probably find that nine times out of ten, the answer is yes.

The excellent Empty Easel has this to say about general linking and this to say about internal linking.

Submit Your Site

This is something to do with the bigger sites rather than individual blogs. Most of the big hubs on the web have a submissions page where you can enter your details. Work out where your work fits and then submit to those sites. This is something I do regularly with The Diary Project - since I don't use links much in the project blog, I have to raise interest in other ways.

A couple of weeks ago I submitted the Diary Project to Craftzine and when they blogged it (thanks Craftzine!), I got a big increase in numbers and visits from that site have continued to steadily climb.

You can also submit your stuff to individual blogs but that's a technique you should use only sparingly because it can be a bit spammy. I know many of you discovered this blog through Alyson Stanfield who kindly blogged about my Why Artists Should Be Online article. I had emailed Alyson directly to tell her about the article because I thought she'd be interested and fortunately she was. However, I already knew her slightly through commenting on her blog and because she'd linked to a previous article of mine, so it wasn't a complete 'cold call'. This is yet another good reason to build up your blogging relationships through commenting - it makes approaching possible allies a lot less daunting.

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I should also point out that there's absolutely no obligation to try to improve your visitor numbers - if you're happy with a very personal blog that has a small intimate readership (or even none at all!), that's completely fine. It's a valid way to blog and one that I've used for many years over at Livejournal. Just don't expect it to be a particularly effective way to promote your art career.

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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.

Website Blogs

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.

Stand-alone Blogs

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!)

Get Educated

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.

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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.

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I am also available for online consulting if you need one-on-one help.


26 Comments

Well, it's time to get back to the Artists Online Series - today I'm going to be exploring the different types of art blogging.

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One of the golden rules of blogging is that 'content is king'. All the articles about improving your readership numbers will tell you to 'write great content' and 'post regularly'. But how do you do that? Where to start? It can all seem a little daunting at first.

Fortunately, there are lots of different techniques for art blogging and it's probable that you can find at least one that suits you. Here are a few different kinds to think about:

The Blog As Art Project

This form can be a great way to stand out from the crowd. My own Diary Project is an example of this but there are plenty of other artists using blogging to create art projects. Some notable examples are The Textile Files, PostSecret and Skull-A-Day.

I've noticed that art project blogs usually have a set of defined rules, however, this isn't set in stone and blogging is a form that lends itself to plenty of creative interpretation. Blogged art projects can be a one person affair or a collaborative or communal project. If you've got a great idea for an art project, why not take a moment to consider whether blogging could enhance it. Remember that blogging can often bring you a larger and more diverse audience than a gallery show.

The No-Writing Blog

This is an excellent way to blog if you're not confident with writing or don't have a lot of time to write in-depth stuff. Because art is a visual medium, you can put together a great blog simply by linking to other people's work. Do make sure that you have images of their work though, rather than just a text link - you'll have a far more interesting blog that way.

Maditi Links is a good example of this form, she doesn't write about the work at all, just posts an image and a link. Her blog is a feast for the eyes and I visit regularly for inspiration and to find interesting artists for my own blog.

If you want to use this technique, make sure you host images on your own site rather than stealing bandwidth and don't lift any images if the artist has stated that people shouldn't do so. If in doubt, simply ask the artist. Always give full credit to the artist and link back to their site. If you want to include a little bit of text, you can usually pick up a description from the artists' site (be clear that you're quoting them) or write a brief piece about why you like the work.

There are plenty of places to find artists to blog about - Flickr, other art blogs, other artists you already know, general search sites like StumbleUpon! or dedicated art sites like Saatchi Online or AXIS.

Linking to lots of other artists in this way will often improve your traffic since the artists in question usually come over to your blog to check you out. Don't be cynical though, only link to people whose work you genuinely like, rather than people you think might be useful to you.

The Process Blog

Blogging as a way of recording artistic process is a popular choice amongst artist bloggers. It can be helpful for artists because it creates a journal-type record of their practice but readers like it too because it gives them an insight into how an artist creates and the way a piece develops - warts and all! It's a way of unlocking the studio door and that's always appealed to people. If you can talk about your work until the cows come home (erhm, guilty as charged, officer!) and are comfortable showing unfinished work, then you'll probably feel quite at home with this technique.

I don't have any numbers to back this up but I suspect that this could also be a good way to drum up sales because allowing people to see the process might get them emotionally attached to a piece.

Blogging images of your own work also exposes more people to your work - I've found that a large proportion of people who read my blog don't visit my galleries. Posting images of my work on a fairly regular basis means that those people see at least some of my work. Blogging about your own work also allows you to go into greater depth about subject matter or technique than might be appropriate in the portfolio part of your site. If you're not comfortable showing unfinished work, then just show finished pieces and talk about them instead.

The Tutorial Blog

If you're a frustrated teacher then this could be the blogging technique for you!

A step-by-step guide to a technique, especially when accompanied by clear informative pictures, is a great way to draw people to your site. Plus, there are plenty of places where you can promote tutorials - sites like Whip Up and Craftster are always on the look-out for them and I'm sure there are plenty of other sites that would happily link to them. If you can't find an existing place to promote them, then why not set up your own Squidoo? Squidoo isn't something I've got into yet but I know a lot of people find it a useful concept: Katherine from Making A Mark uses it to provide a handy round up of art resources and a search for 'art' on Squidoo gives nearly a thousand results, so there are clearly plenty of people interested in art who are using it.

If you want to try this form, you'll need to have reasonable photography skills and be good at writing out projects or techniques in easy to understand steps.

The Article Based Blog

A similar approach to the tutorial blog but with more words and less pictures. Good if you're confident with writing and have plenty to say on a subject. This really works for visitor numbers - the articles I've written for my Artists Online Series have brought a large number of people to this site. Watch out though, this kind of writing is time-consuming and you may want to balance it out with some of the other forms, both for your own convenience and so your readers aren't drowning in words.

The Subject Blog

If you want a very defined blog, then blogging about a single subject can be the way to go. The Carrotbox is a blog about rings and nothing but rings. You might think it would get boring but it's actually a constant source of delight and a brilliantly condensed way to learn more about contemporary jewellery because there's lots of images and the work chosen is so diverse. The downside to this type of blog is that you may only attract the people who're already interested in your niche subject.

The News Blog

A round up of news stories in the art world is a fairly easy way to provide regular, topical content. You can provide stories without comment as The Arts Journal site does or add your own opinions, like The Arts News Blog does. If you're going to focus on this form you'll need to have the time to keep up with current art stories and you should also have a few research and journalistic skills.

The Opinion Blog

Aren't artists always a bit opinionated? The ones I know certainly are, myself included! If you're a critic at heart, love to analyse things and don't mind sticking your neck out, then you'll probably enjoy this form of blogging. Just remember that being overly critical might not win you too many friends and being overtly nasty can look very unprofessional.

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Of course, your blogging might cover many or all of these forms, there's no rule that says you can only do one and I use a combination on this blog. However, if you mostly blog in one way, why not try shaking things up a little by trying a different form? You might gain a new readership and surprise yourself by being good at something you didn't know you could do.

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14 Comments

Michelle wrote in the comments on the Alt Images post:

Very informative post, Kirsty. One question: is there a place to learn how to create alt tags? The article is clear about what they are, but not how to make them. For those of us who are coding-challenged (or coding-averse, more accurately!), this would be vitally valuable information! Thanks.

No problem, Michelle, I'll have a go at explaining it.

I'll use this image as an example:

Kirsty Hall - Photograph of Broken Cup Handle With Shadows
Kirsty Hall - art, photograph of Broken Cup Handle With Shadows

It's actually pretty simple and you don't need to be scared of it. OK, if you look at the code on your linked image, you'll see something like this:

initial code here="tt-flickr" href="big long string of code"> img class="tt-flickr" src="a different bit long string of code"
width="500" height="305" alt="Broken Handle 01" /> closing code here

Please note, I've replaced the actual code with the helpful words 'big long string of code' and 'initial code' and 'closing code', so that we can see the code instead of just getting the picture again (working out which bits to change took me quite a while, since I'm pretty code impaired myself!) The code may also be in a slightly different order depending on how you've linked the photo. However, the only bit you're interested in is the bit that says, alt="whatever" /> and that will always appear somewhere towards the end.

In this case it originally said alt="Broken Handle 01" />, which was just the title of the image in Flickr. Now Broken Handle 01 isn't very informative, it doesn't give you my name or much about the image, so I changed it to: alt="Kirsty Hall - Photograph of Broken Cup Handle With Shadows" />

Basically, whatever you put inside the two sets of quote marks between the = sign and the /> code will be what Google and the other search engines read as the alternative text for the photo.

If any of you are more technically minded than me and are smacking yourself on the forehead and yelling 'dammit, that's completely wrong', then please do get in touch and I'll change it but I'm 99% sure that this is right.

Making that text searchable and relevant is how your work winds up in Google Images so, you should be adding your name and keywords that are appropriate to that particular work, i.e. 'oil painting', 'landscape', 'sculpture made from pins', etc. Apparently using keywords in alt tags can boost your general Google results too, although I'm not too sure how (magic Google dust sprinkled by the Google fairies maybe?)

Don't restrict yourself to using alt text just as a promotional technique though. You should also make sure that your text is clear and descriptive to make your site or blog more accessible to disabled internet users. Text browsers can't detect images but can detect alt tags and will translate them into spoken text for visually impaired web users. People in countries with poor web access may also have their browsers set to text only and they'll see little written blocks of text instead of your images. Bear this in mind when you're writing your tags. This article has more details on the level of helpful descriptiveness you should be aiming at.

It's a shame that Flickr seems to turn the photo title into the alt text since I can't quite bring myself to label all my Flickr photos with my name (I think it would look way too pushy, weird and tacky). Manually changing the alt text when I post images over here seems to be the only solution right now but I will do a bit of research over on Flickr to see if there's some wonderful way to add hidden alt text to the images without putting it in the titles.

However, if you're uploading images directly into your WordPress site, rather than linking from Flickr, then you can set your alt text very easily. Simply go to the section where you upload images and type the description you want in the box that says 'Title'. I imagine that other blogging software probably has similar options but fortunately changing the code isn't too complicated - just make sure you don't accidentally erase those all important little quote marks.

I hope this makes things a little clearer, Michelle. Oh, and if it makes you feel any better about the subject, I've just this minute realised that I have 235 envelope images to change over at The Diary Project. Someone shoot me now!

EDIT: on the advice of Gyrus, I've changed the term 'alt tag' to 'alt text' as the later is apparently less confusing and more accurate.

Gyrus also points out the following:

Sometimes you might not get the alt text come up when you hover the mouse over an image (it doesn’t come up on Firefox, for instance). Properly, the alt attribute value is “alternative” text, i.e. to use if you can’t see the image (either it’s a text browser, images are turned off, or it’s a speech browser reading the text out). That little “tooltip” that pops up, if it’s there at all, is technically supposed to come from a “title” attribute on the img tag. The title is optional, though. Just thought I’d mention this in case anyone gets confused on Firefox with the alt text not popping up when you mouse over it.

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4 Comments

Alyson B. Stanfield has an excellent podcast this week about the importance of assessing art venues.

Considering your exhibiting strategy is always worthwhile. The artworld judges you not only on how often you show but also where you show and who your fellow exhibitors are. Not all exhibitions are created equal - a selected group show in a well regarded gallery usually rates much higher than an open submission exhibition with a high proportion of amateur artists.

Do you have rules for showing and places you won't consider? If you don't have any showing rules, then it's definitely time you sat down and did some strategic thinking about this issue.

Personally, I won't apply to exhibitions that charge an upfront non-returnable application fee unless the show is extremely prestigious or has some other compelling factor. For example, I'd consider putting in for the Jerwood Drawing Prize even though they charge an application fee because it has national exposure, a proper catalogue and is very well regarded in the British art scene. I chose not to apply this year but if my drawing continues to evolve then I might consider it next year. I know that my chances of getting in would be low because they have a lot of applications and the standard is high but even applying would feel like a step up to me.

There are a couple of other UK juried shows that I feel that way about but they're fairly few and far between. Usually they'd need to be in an extremely good venue that I couldn't otherwise get into at this stage in my career or have some other major advantage.

That said, I'm completely fine with paying a small fee to take part in things like local art trails. Now, if you look at it logically, this doesn't seem to make sense - I'll happily bung £15 to a bunch of artists organising a local event, while I'll scoff at a gallery charging the same amount in an application fee.

However, there are couple of good reasons for this.

Firstly, I'm just more comfortable with artist-led projects - at heart, I'm a grassroots kind of girl! I know exactly what it's like to put together projects on a complete shoestring and believe me nobody's getting rich doing it! Usually you're doing well if you break even.

But it's not just about supporting local artist-led initiatives out of the goodness of my heart - art trails often have a lot going for them. Our local art trails get fantastic visitor numbers and good coverage in the local media. Plus, they can be a great way to build up a local following; add to your mailing list; attract local visitors to future shows and make vital connections with the movers and shakers in your regional art scene. On balance, I'm more than happy to pay for that, there's enough value in the exchange to make it worth my while.

Secondly, artist-led projects usually don't want money from you unless you're accepted, whereas a lot of galleries seem to think that it's completely fine to charge you money for the privilege of them looking at your work.

I know from my curating experience that having that kind of show can be an excellent money spinner for galleries. You get the fees from all the artists who've applied, not just the ones who're eventually selected. Then, because you're showing a lot of artists you get a bigger than average crowd when the artists invite all their friends and family. In turn, large crowds give you a higher chance of generating big sales. Believe me, I can completely understand why galleries put on these kind of shows - I'm just not sure that it's my job as an artist to subsidise them.

I'm not saying that artists should automatically rule out every exhibition that charges an application fee but you should definitely consider the following things:

  • Is the venue far enough above your current level that it would boost your profile considerably?
  • Is there a proper catalogue?
  • Does the show have a good reputation in the art world?
  • Does the show get good media coverage?
  • What are the visitor numbers like?
  • Does the show traditionally have an excellent sales record?
  • Is there a prestigious guest list for the private view?

As with everything where money is involved: caveat emptor! Know what you're getting into and why, understand your reasons and don't apply to or accept shows out of sheer desperation.

87 Comments

The next section of my Artists Online Series will look at blogging.

Blogging can be a very useful promotional tool for artists. It's not a substitute for having a good online portfolio or for doing lots of offline work on your career but it can be a useful addition. Not convinced? Here are my reasons:

Blogging Raises Your Google Profile

Since Google prefers fresh content, regular blogging tends to push your Google results higher. Other people linking to your blog posts also increases your Google profile. Make sure you're blogging under your professional name to get the full benefit of this.

It's not just Google that likes new information: people are also far more likely to come and visit your website if you've got constantly changing content. How often is someone likely to blog about your really cool art? Once or twice tops. However, if you're regularly writing good blog posts then you don't just get repeat visits, you may also get repeatedly linked, which means... yes, better Google results! Rinse and repeat...

Blogging Reminds People You Exist

Promotion isn't something that you do once and then it's done forever: it's more like exercising - you need to do it little and often!

Blogging helps with that; if people are constantly coming back to read your blog, then they're naturally more aware of you. You don't even need to constantly talk about your own art; just by visiting regularly they're getting a gentle little nudge that you and your work exist.

Blogging Improves Your Website Numbers

Being able to say to a gallery or a funding body, "well, last month I had X number of visitors to my website" puts you in a better negotiating position because it proves that your work is already popular.

Of course, online popularity won't substitute for offline experience like exhibitions, publications and residencies but it can add to it. Last year I was told by someone in the know that if you're filling out a funding form and it asks about prospective audience audience numbers, you should definitely include your web hits. This had never even occurred to me but apparently Arts Council England counts online viewers as bums on seats!

Blogging Connects You With People

This is one of the most important reasons to blog: I've met some completely amazing people through blogging and some of them have turned into offline friends.

Blogging can help you find a group of people who support your art. This can include other artists, gallery owners and curators but equally importantly it can include lots of non-artists who are willing to be advocates for your work.

Cultivating a group of people who like your work is vital for any artist. Supporters will turn up at your shows, cheer you on, blog about you, tell their friends and even sometimes buy your work. Supporters are great!

Of course, you should also be cultivating a group of supporters offline through using things like mailing lists, but finding sympathetic people who genuinely want you to succeed can often be easier online.

Blogging Gets You Out Of The Garret

Many artists work in isolation and blogging can help reduce that all pervading sense of invisibility. My own studio is in my home: this is definitely the best option for my art practice but it does mean that I don't always get as many opportunities to connect with other artists as I'd like. When I graduated, I did feel very isolated, lonely and out on a limb. I lessened that by starting a artists' group with my college friends but it was a lot of work - I was the chairperson, general organiser and one of the main curators for our group shows. Now I get that all important sense of connection through blogging and online social networking spaces with a lot less effort. For real world connections, I have the Spike Island Associates Programme, local private views and my part time jewellery course.

Even if you are in a studio, there aren't always as many opportunities to connect deeply with the other artists as you might expect - they're busy, you're busy and you might not have that much in common anyway. But online you're not limited to your geographical surroundings - with a little effort, you can find a peer group with whom you truly click on an artistic and intellectual level.

Blogging Breaks Down Barriers

Sure, there's a hierarchy in the blogging world but there's also a surprisingly level playing field. You can leave comments in the blogs of 'far more important' bloggers and they'll generally reply to you on an equal basis. I've spoken in blog comments to published authors and more established artists in a way that I would never have dared to do in other mediums. Blogging opens the channels of communication in a way that feels comfortable to me: I feel much more equal online, I'm less intimidated by what someone's done and just respond to what they write and how they come across. Blogging makes me braver and that has translated into my offline promotion efforts.

In the same way, blogging can make you seem more approachable and human to people who are interested in your art. Why not do the next generation of artists a big favour and help to break down the myth that artists are all crazy, ear chopping introverts or outrageously drunken drama queens! Of course, if you do happen have that kind of personality then you might as well play to the gallery because I've been told several times that collectors just love that sort of thing...

You Can Reach A Wider Audience

People who might not be comfortable visiting a gallery are often happy to look at your work online, especially if you initially engage them with a blog post that's relevant to them. Through blogging you can often reach people who wouldn't otherwise consider looking at your art and those people can sometimes end up being incredibly supportive.

Through blogging, you can also reach a global audience who might not otherwise be able to see your work. To date, The Diary Project has had visitors from 39 countries, including places like Guam, Brunei and Malaysia, while this site has had visits from 29 countries.

I'm not saying this to boast - just the opposite, in fact. My point is that I'm not important yet. I'm very much an emerging artist rather than a well-known one: I'm only five years out of college and although I've had a steady stream of group shows, I've only had one solo show. I'm certainly getting established, through lots of hard work both on and offline but I've not exhibited my work abroad yet and I'm probably still be a couple of years away from doing so. [Although, do feel free to offer me an international show - I'm totally OK with moving it up my agenda!]

So it's quite incredible that people from all over the world have already had the opportunity to see what I do. This would never have happened without the internet - it simply isn't possible from my current position in the offline art world.

Blogging Empowers you

By being active online you take a little bit of the power away from the artistic 'gatekeepers' and put it back in your own hands. You're not just sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting to be discovered - you're out there building an audience and creating your own opportunities.

Of course, the gatekeepers aren't ever going to be redundant - artists still need gallery owners, exhibitions, audiences, collectors and funders in the offline world. I'm not trying to denigrate the artworld or its gatekeepers but particularly in the early days it can feel as though you're banging your head against a brick wall and getting nowhere. I'm not complaining about that either; there's absolutely no substitute for paying your dues and we all have to knuckle down and do it. However, a little bit of encouragement online can keep you going when it feels as though no one else knows you exist. You're still going to have to engage with the artworld offline but blogging can help to increase your confidence to deal with those interactions.

Blogging can also build confidence to take bigger and bolder steps online. I was blogging over on Livejournal for 3 1/2 years before I got my website up. Setting up a website felt huge and intimidating and quite beyond me at the time, whereas setting up a blog was quick and easy. Blogging was undoubtedly a helpful first step towards finally getting my website sorted.

Blogging Strengthens Your Voice

When you're blogging about your own work, you have to think about your work. You have to put into words what you're trying to do and that's damn good experience when you need to write artists' statements and press releases. A lot of artists hate writing about their own work and find it excruciating - blogging can help you get over that.

Blogging Can Generate New Opportunities

I know people who've been published or been offered exhibitions because of their blogging. It hasn't directly happened to me yet but I have approached people I know in the online world and scored opportunities that way.

Blogging Is Cheap

Blogging costs virtually nothing compared to other forms of promotion like postcards, poster and ads but it can be very effective. Writing a good blog post won't cost you anything except time, energy and a few pence for internet access and the electricity to run your computer but it can get distributed all around the world. Not only that but when people link to you, the information is usually replicated on their blogs plus they also usually link back to you. It's like you sent out a single postcard and someone photocopied it and gave it to all their friends. As we all know, word of mouth can be a powerful thing. Who knows how connected some of those people might be? Who knows how large the audience on their blog is?

Blogging is Fun!

OK, obviously I'm biased on this one but I think blogging is a blast. It's an effective promotional tool for me but it never feels like work because I enjoy it. Believe me, that's a world of difference to how I feel about writing press releases or designing posters!

A variety of views from other artists discussing whether blogging works:
The Painter's Keys

The Empty Easel

Art News Blog

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.