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Monday, July 20, 2009

Websites & Artists Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?

Websites & Artists Series
Part 1 - Considering Your Audience
Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?
Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization
Part 4 - Describing Art Online


In the last part of this series, we discussed considering your audience and what things you need to think about when designing an artist's webpage. This time round, let's consider the strange and weird world of domain names.


What's in a Name?

Or a domain name, specifically. There are several approaches for choosing an artist's domain name. Many artists go the easy route and simply use their real last and first name (ie. www.angelasasser.com). If your real name is taken, you can try your first initial (ie. www.asasser.com). Or even hyphenate (ie. www.angela-sasser.com). You might also try your name plus the word art (ie. www.sasserart.com). Some folks are wary of using their real name, but if you intend to be a public figure involved with the community as most self-marketed artists are, you will have to overcome the fear of identity theft and simply be cautious about the information you post online. Unfortunately, presenting your real name to your audience is the first step to getting to know them!

Still others decide on a studio name, which is the path I've chosen for my Art Nouveau and angel art. A studio name can help build a sort of brand identification, especially if you can think of a quirky name that defines you or your real name is unusual and difficult to spell or remember. I decided on Angelic Shades years ago as a play on my own name (Angela) and the multi-faceted quality of the word "Shades". Not only can 'shades' signify shadows and all the ephemeral imagery shadows entail, but it can also represent varying values of a single color or indicate multiple colors in an image, which works perfectly as the name for an artist's studio.

The downside of building a brand, however, is that you limit yourself to one overarching theme. Having a single theme, though, is not necessarily a bad thing when you're trying to market yourself professionally. Plus, there's no rule saying you can't have multiple websites on the net (which I actually have two additional sites for my character art and artisan crafts).

A note of warning! Check your studio name on Google, or your preferred search engine, and make sure that your studio name is not similar to anyone else's! You wouldn't want the same studio name as a porn studio, would you? Not quite the audience you want to drive to your site (or is it?). And yes, this has actually happened to major businesses before!  I recall reading about a church whose domain name was bought by a porn company and whose name was very similar.


The Many Names of Net Domains

There is no need to settle for a single name. It's easy enough these days to register multiple domain names and domain suffixes (.com, .org, etc) that it has become common practice to register multiple names to cover all possible ways that a web surfer might arrive at your website. I can buy www.angelasasser.com in addition to www.angelicshades.com for $20 a year or lower and set them up so that they both lead back to my main website. This way of forwarding addresses is useful for funneling your web traffic back to your site OR to different sites, if you have different venues set up on the net to present various aspects of your art.

Also, be aware that some domain names imply a certain type of website, such as .biz and .eu, which are respectively reserved for businesses and websites associated with the European Union.


Don't Forget Sub-domains!

There is also a facet of domains called sub-domains which allow you to create an address within an already established domain. For example, I have set up a forwarding address with the sub-domain blog.angelasasser.com which links to my art blog. This subdomain is a part of my main domain, angelasasser.com, and can be setup with my website host, which allows me 99 sub-domains to do with what I will.

The advantage of creating this sub-domain for my blog is that it associates my blog address with my main address and appears more professional and succinct. You can do this with all facets of your online identity, from your forum, blog, professional portfolio, licensing portfolio, and more!

Examples:
My Blog - http://blog.angelasasser.com
My Shop - http://shop.angelasasser.com


How to Register a Domain Name

The most common method is to check the availability of your domain name at www.whois.com. Once there, you can also register domain names for a fee. Additionally, you can check and see if your website host offers package deals where you can register a domain name for free.  For example, my web hosting package with www.oneandone.com came with a single domain name with free registration.  Squarespace also has a similar deal.

A word of caution about registering with Godaddy.com as I've heard really terrible things about the headaches that come with transferring your domains from them.

Now go forth and register!

Next up: Search Engine Optimization and why you need it!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Art Festival Guide by Maria Arango


I've recently finished reading this gem of a book I discovered in a recent foray to find resources for entering the art festival market. In the next couple of years I hope to expand my art career into selling at fairs and to my surprise, this was one of the ONLY books specifically written about the wonderful wide world of the traveling fair artist.

Written by Maria Arango, a printmaker who makes her sole means of living from her sales at art fairs, this tome offers information from how art fairs are ran, how to apply, what equipment to consider, what to expect when you get there, and just about everything in-between.

For example, did you know that in order to sell at art fairs in other states you must have a business license for each state (and possibly each city or county) you wish to sell in? One of the most helpful sections in this book is Arango's explanation of her experiences in getting audited and what information she had to show the auditor to prove that she was a business and not a hobbyist.

Another extremely helpful resource is the appendix Arango includes in the back of the book which has such useful info as layouts for setting up your booth to maximize traffic flow, lists of website links for equipment, and other valuable resources. I discovered some sites I'd never heard of before, such as Artcartons, which are custom made mailing containers made specifically for shipping larger artwork safely.

The only downfall I found in this book (which is probably due to my own personal preference) was its loose, conversational writing style. You have to sift through a lot of superfluous chatter to get to the relevant information. On one hand, this down to earth talk gives us a glimpse of Arango's humor and experiences at festivals, but on the other hand, I am a very busy impatient person and sometimes I just want a list of useful information instead of walls of text. The useful info IS there, you just have to go with the flow till you find it.

Overall, if you're looking for insight on entering the art fair business, I can't recommend this book enough! As Arango says, it takes a brave soul to venture into this business, but seeing someone else who has been able to do it and learning directly from them is a precious gift. Pick this one up, if you can!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Websites & Artists Part 1 - Considering Your Audience

Websites & Artists Series
Part 1 - Considering Your Audience
Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?
Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization
Part 4 - Describing Art Online




Some of you may ask, "Well, why do I need a website anyways?" and I guarantee you that the first question any person will ask you when trying to learn about you is "Do you have a website?" It's a new age, my friends, the age of the internet!

Artists couldn't be more lucky in the fact that the world wide web helps us connect directly and easily with our target audience (and at a very low cost!). What you can't fit on a business card can be expanded upon at a website, as well as acting as a way for any person curious about you to remember you more easily than if they looked at your business card for a few milliseconds and then shoved it away in a file somewhere never to see the light of day again.

Before we get carried away, though, I think you should know a little about my experience with websites. I worked for a couple of years as a self-trained webmaster and website designer for a writing center in the past. Also, the information in this entry was taken from various lectures by illustrators and professors at the Savannah College of Art & Design and various articles & books. Much of this info is additionally gleaned from research pursued for my thesis on e-marketing, which is available at the SCAD-Atlanta library.

In short, these are only suggestions informed by a plethora of sources and methods and my own personal experiences, which may be different from yours. Feel free to share your own methods and do what works for you! I've decided to break this topic into a series so I can go into detail on each topic.


Considering Your Audience
A single website need not do it all.


Designing for the General Public:
When the theater gates open, a mob pours inside, and it is the poet’s task to turn it into an audience. --Franz Grillparzer

A website, like the theater, is open to a rush of all types of folks who wander in from the net. And more often than not, these people do not know you. You have about 10 seconds to gain their curiosity before they get bored and surf to another page. People don't want to hear how amazing you are, but would rather see examples. Bright colors and images keep people much more engaged than heavy pages of scrolling text.

People like to see a glimpse of your personality and what type of person you are. If you're a children's book illustrator, make a site with a fun, colorful mood like the books you would be illustrating for. People respond even more to the thought that an artist is willing to teach and share their experiences with others (which is one of the most alluring strengths of social media).

Tutorials, blogging, and some kind of method to communicate directly with your audience (like a forum) are all great ways to draw people in and add to your website's arsenal. Don't let your website become a lonely island floating lost in the net! Throw it a lifeline by linking from your email and forum signatures, your Facebook/Twitter/etc, and where ever else you can. This increases your search engine rankings as well! (More on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) later)

Also, if you are hoping to sell your art directly to the public, a personalized website with a shop area is generally the first stop for anyone wishing to support an artist directly.

However, beware! Running a forum, blog, etc DOES take time! You're not required to go that far in the making of your website, but it's a smart idea if you have the time and intend on doing much of your marketing mainly through the internet (which I do).

Examples:
-- My Main Site
-- My Blog
-- Shadowscapes
-- Pat Schories

Designing for Art Directors: If you wish to build a website with the intention of showing your work to art directors, I recommend building something small and simple without the bells and whistles. Art Directors don't have the time to wait for massive loading time or to look at every single piece of work you've ever done. It's best to pick a few of your best works (no more than 10-15) and structure them in a simple gallery format where they can click on the thumbnails and load the full picture. A note about the size and medium along with a little intro page about your skillset and your contact info might also be prudent.

Personally, I build a simple portfolio page using Photoshop's automated gallery feature where you just tell Photoshop where your pictures are and it builds you a page, complete with html and images, instantly. I gear each portfolio page to the company I'm soliciting and link them to the appropriate portfolio, which I store in a subfolder hidden within my web server. These simple portfolio pages are not connected at all to my main website, which is geared towards the general public. That way, I have a choice in sending any client a simple page or something a bit more fun and personable, like my main website.

Example: Simple Portfolio Page (EDIT: This example link used to link to a very simple gallery page generated by Photoshop, but I have since changed the link to point to a DeviantART Portfolio instead. It's just easier for artists to build and maintain, in my opinion.)

Get FRESH!
And by that I mean keep your site updated! Both art directors AND the general public will get bored if they go to your website and find that there's nothing new to discover or explore. Give them a reason to keep coming back, be it a new blog post, new discussion at your forum, or new pieces of work. If you are a slow worker, you can always titillate your audience with work-in-progress shots of your latest painting or talk about your methods.  You can also include an RSS feed of a blog or other journal with new content showing up in a sidebar to show that you're still active.

In Conclusion:
Do art directors not care about your personality? That's not always the case and some of them may enjoy a glimpse at your personal website and what it says about you. The biggest difference to keep in mind between types of viewers is the time factor. Most art directors do not have the time to peruse a large gallery while casual surfers may be more able to let themselves be lost in the tide of creativity, but still require tidbits of interest to keep them going.

When in doubt, you can always include links to both in your cover letter or email.

Next Up: Domain names - What's in a Name?