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.
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).
-- My Main Site
-- My Blog
-- 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.)
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.
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?