Making an arts or photography web site

On this page: Lois explains the importance of making your arts or photo web site personal, to overcome the distance of the web.

(This article originally appeared on Outdoor Eyes, a web site for outdoor photographers. http://www.outdooreyes.com

I am quite often asked for my opinions on arts-related web sites (mostly by photographers), and I tend to make the same observations over and over. So, I thought I'd collect them together in case they are helpful to anyone else wanting to set up a site to promote or sell their art works.

Get attention quickly

Loch CoruiskYou really need to pack a punch with the home page, and grab people's interest in the few seconds they first scan the page. That doesn't necessarily mean over-the-top design and flashy stuff, but definitely some captivating words and images.

Make sure the most important and enticing stuff is "above the fold" - that is, can be seen without scrolling. Don't waste screen real estate on over-large banners, third party ads, hit counters etc. For this reason, free web space can be a false economy: paid-for space is usually more flexible and looks very much more professional.

Concentrate on the art

A refinement of the KISS principle: if you want to promote your art, don't overpower it with lots of flashy effects and clever stuff: you may be the world's most tricksy web designer, but people who want to look at paintings, ceramics or photos don't care. A clear uncluttered screen, easy to read text, and a design focused on decent sized images are what is called for.

If you use a gallery or slideshow script, try to choose one that is functional in every browser, but simple. It should be an unobtrusive aid to getting about the site, not a showcase for the programmer's skills. If the navigation gets in the way of the pictures, you are wasting most of the effort you put into the site.

Make it personal

four beech treesIf I go to an exhibition or a gallery, I am always interested to speak to the artists and find out a bit about them. I have bought quite a few paintings and ceramics over the years - nearly all from people who I have met and liked. Talking to other artists, gallery owners and buyers, I am not alone in this.

So, establishing that personal connection between an artist and potential buyer is a critical part of the sales process - and on the web, you have to be as personal as you can, since the chances are your visitors will never meet you in the flesh. Your site must be as close to a personal meeting as you can make it. Don't try to look or sound like a corporation, but use your site to establish what makes you different from all the other artists out there: tell them what drives you to make your art.

Tell them what they need to know

Think about what else a visitor might want to know: where you live, how to contact you, what you specialise in, and how to buy your work. And in conjunction with the ideas in the section above, let them know why they should buy your work or commission you, rather than the many other people working in the same field.

If you specialise in a chosen location (as I do), then make the most of it, by including enticing descriptions and photos to engage your visitors. That will also have the useful side-effect of improving your search engine ranking for the location, of course! Or if you travel widely to get your inspiration, record your reactions to places and people in a compelling way. Whatever you do, you are almost certain to be able to find something that differentiates you from the crowd.

When it comes down to the individual images, it's all very well saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a few well-chosen words can really enhance the pleasure and appreciation of a work! Apart from a title, record your personal feelings or aims in making this particular work.

Be selective

sheep in bluebellsYour web site should be a showcase of your very best work, not a ragbag of everything you have ever done. Although you may be keen to show a wide variety of what you can do, balance that against the fact that not having a coherent body of recognisable work might be diluting your impact. It's often better to concentrate on a few strong themes and exploit them to the maximum.

And make sure the site is focused: it is often a temptation to add pages about your other interests: but if you want your site to be professional and easy to use, keep a clear idea of what you want it to do. Use free space at one of the big social sites to tell us about your hobbies or family!

Putting it into practice

Remember that a web site is an evolving work, so even if you don't get it completely right at first, you can always change things to improve it.

If your site isn't working: try one change at a time, then you will be able to see what makes a difference and work on that.

I've tried to follow the principles here in my own photo web site (http://photos.lois.co.uk), but I know there are areas I need to improve: adding online ordering and allowing paging through each gallery for starters. I'm sure readers can think of others too. So, don't agonise for years: get it out there, and then worry about the finer points!