Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wordpress & Artists: Final Thoughts

After the latest redesign of my website using Wordpress' content management capabilities, I've let my thoughts percolate for awhile on my final impression of its effectiveness and usefulness for artists. So far, my impressions haven't changed much from the original Pros & Cons listing that I did previously. Here are a few thoughts that might help you come to a decision of whether you want to use it or not.

The Trouble With Wordpress... that it's definitely not for beginners, as far as online management of content. You must know how to install a database, backup a database, and upload files. If you have a Geek on call that can help you with all this, than all the better! I learned how to do this all myself and it's technically not that hard once you get the hang of it. Get yourself a good FTP program (I use Filezilla) and play around in your website's control panel until you're familiar with it. I killed my own website a few times before I finally learned how to make a backup properly. Luckily, Wordpress is insanely easy to get running again! I restored my site to basic functionality from scratch in just a day after nuking it.

Taking Risks with Plugins & Upgrades

Another issue of concern for me is that plugins are always being upgraded and sometimes they might be borked in the upgrading. There is a dialog menu that pops up before you download and install a plugin that tells you whether or not it has been tested with your version of Wordpress. Pay attention to this because it could spell disaster if you haven't backed up your site recently! Plugins and upgrades to the core of Wordpress are a calculated risk in my opinion. I'd much rather deal with that than going back to my old way of doing things (Photoshop, html, and building everything by hand). The Wordpress community also seems very tightly knit and there's always an ear out for troubleshooting, if you post your concerns on a plugin's webpage.

Code Makes My Brain Hurt

I did end up grating my brain a little over certain CSS programming that was required to make my website look the way I want, but generally I found that for everything I wanted to tweak, there was an online tutorial showing me how to do it. Be careful with following tutorials, however, as sometimes they might be for older versions! (I found this out the hard way when I nuked my site following a database backup tutorial). Pay attention to the date of the tutorial and try to find the most recent ones.

Easy to Use Gallery Functionality

Updating my galleries has never been easier with the NextGEN Wordpress plugin (you just upload, tag descriptions, and go!). It's saved me so much time with my website's upkeep, particularly where galleries are involved, and also provides a sleek looking slideshow integrated with its interface. This is definitely one of the strongest reasons I've decided to bank on Wordpress for my needs as an artist.

E-Commerce Capabilities

I've managed to get a shop running with the e-commerce plugin by Instinct (will review this in a later post). It's not the prettiest shop, but it is free (unless you want to pay to upgrade to a prettier interface with additional payment gateways). I had some bugs during setup, but have managed to get it working to allow me to accept Paypal. As an admin, you can also print packing slips and keep track of orders all in one place. Another randomly useful feature is the ability to make a product link offsite if you have it listed elsewhere. For example, I have many of my products set up so that they link to their Etsy listings instead when you click them.

It's not perfect, but it will serve my purposes till I can afford the premium plugin at $200 for a commercial license for a multiple person business. It's only $40 if you have a single employee. Considering how much I've paid in the past to upkeep an Amazon Webstore ($60 a month) or an eBay shop (approx. $20 a month), this one-time fee is a small price to pay.

All in All...

If you can handle the learning curve and don't self-destruct at the thought of a little coding, than I recommend Wordpress. It's not perfect, but it's certainly functional and easy to manage right out of the proverbial box.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tutorial - How to Make Storage Envelopes for Your Art

There have been so many little tasks on my platter lately, from website building to registration for conventions! I've had to shift modes to figure out just how I'll be transporting my art safely to those art fairs and conventions that are a little farther away from home than I've ever ventured for an event. Watercolor paintings in Georgia/Alabama heat and humidity for hours? Lightly bubble-wrapped frames reinforced with masking tape clanking together in my back seat? Nightmare waiting to happen!

Whilst surfing through the discussions over at Art Fair Insiders, I heard mention of a product called a Gallery Pouch, which is like SUPERPOWERED bubble wrap envelopes that keep your art safe. One thing led to another and I found myself experimenting with how to Do It Yourself by making my own pouches out of things you should easily be able to find at your local hardware store.

This time, I finally hauled out the camcorder to record my efforts! Enjoy and feel free to ask questions!

Oh and should you join up over at Art Fair Insiders, tell them that AngelaRSasser sent you in the referral field!

EDIT: I should also note that I have weather tested these envelopes by leaving them in a car parked in the sun from dawn till dusk and they showed no signs of melting tape or other adverse effects. Time will tell how well they stand up to weathering usage, but I am optimistic about their survivability thus far.

Tutorial - How to Make Storage Envelopes for Your Art - Part 1

Tutorial - How to Make Storage Envelopes for Your Art - Part 2

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Websites & Artists Part 4 - Describing Art Online?

After getting my website live last week, an interesting thought occurred to me. When we're showcasing our art online, is it really necessary to describe that work in detail in a little text clump next to the image? Is it really necessary to talk about your inspirations, how the work came to be, etc? Does anyone really care?

I posed the question to my Facebook/Twitter/social networking groups and received some interesting feedback:

Nobody Cares...
...or rather nobody has the time to read these days. This camp believes the image says it all and that those browsing your art are really only interested in the final product. Basic information, such as medium, the program you used, the size of the image, and the purpose of creation (for a commission, for a company, etc) seem acceptable by the 'keep it simple' philosophy. From the standpoint of the artist, this is also an efficient approach if you don't have the time to sit and write descriptions about your process, or merely have nothing you're inspired to say about your pieces. Many websites for illustrators, concept artists, and industry-focused fields seem to be done in this fashion.

The More, the Better!
This attitude seems more prevalent in the fine artist crowd who believe that process is an important part of the expression. I would argue that it is also more prevalent on the sites of artists who sell a majority of their work to the general public. While Art Directors and the like have little time to read long heart-felt descriptions of a work's creation and inspirational impetus, the general public appreciates learning why that work is 'special' and worthwhile. It all links up to 'implied value', in this case, or how much worth an uninformed individual places on your work from presentation alone when they have no previous knowledge of you or your work.

Things to Think About
From the standpoint of a website designer with search engine optimization in mind, remember that meta-tags are not the most prevalent form of how search engines find a site. Nowadays, search engines like Google index the content, or text, of your pages in order to glean the most relevant results, though meta-descriptions on pages still seem relevant, if you have time to fill that field in for each page you design (meta-description being what shows on the results of any search engine's results page).

But neither should you fake a description! Personally, I think it's not worth it to ramble on about something if you really don't care about it. You only waste your own time and leave fans with a false impression of your priorities as an artist (and the more astute fans amongst us with doubts about your sincerity).

Personally..., I've invested myself as a writer and an artist, meaning there's a bit of poetry or a story behind most (but not all) of the pieces that I do. My site has barebone descriptions right now, but I hope to find a way to include text in a collapsible box so the most ADD amongst us can either skip the fluff or click a plus box to reveal a brief bit of prose.

In the end, I think an artist should consider what their site is going to do for them, who their audience is, and just how much time they have to manage writing long descriptions. Do what works for you and what you feel comfortable with.

How do you showcase your art online? Do you write long or short descriptions? What value do you see in either method?

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

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wordpress & Artists: A First Impression

Have any of you ever wished you had your own personal Geek on call to fix your website? (I know I do!)

An important part of my business as a fantasy artist is my website where I can keep in touch with my fans and friends. From there, people are guided to information about me, sections of my stores on Amazon and Etsy, my social media profiles, and to all manner of odds and ends. Maintaining my website, however, is never an easy task for me with my archaic method of using html tables and images.

It takes weeks at a time to alter the navigation, update the galleries, or add new content. My info is scattered across a forum, 3rd party sites, and various sections with broad organization that requires a lot of click-throughs. In short, my website is a bloody mess to update because I have to do everything by hand.

I build the thumbnails, large and small, every time I want to update my gallery. I build my menu navigation from scratch in Photoshop. When I want to add news, I have to do it by typing in text on the news page and then having to redo all the RSS coding for that page. I dream constantly of a CMS (Content Management System, a type of database powered program that is useful for designing websites) built especially for artists that bares in mind our need for easy gallery updating, dynamic content, and a smooth customizable look.

It may not be specifically for artists, but I've recently stumbled upon Wordpress, a free CMS I've been investigating lately to solve my website woes. Last week, I finished a 24 hour trainer book (in about 3 days at my absorption rate) which really opened my eyes to how much having a php/css powered website can help me manage my website better!

I've only just started playing with it and here are my first impressions:

The ProsThe Cons
Super easy to create image galleries by default (or with handy dandy plugins like NexGEN) A moderate learning curve.
Ability to import blogs and comments, including Blogger, and most major blogging services.Some CSS code knowledge required (but none I couldn't find tutorials for online so far)
Tons of plugins, including ones for forums, easy form builders, social media integration, automatic metatagging, and shopping carts! Updates to Wordpress may cause some plugins or themes to go wonky.
Visual interface that's fairly self-explanatory
Tons of free themes that you can customize for your own look.
Ability to make individual posts or pages private or password protected (IE. Good for giving special subscribers sneak peeks, perhaps?)
Multiple admins and co-admin users allowed (IE. Handy if you have have a studio with multiple people)
Ability to integrate your forum, blog, and website together so people won't have to register a username at all of them separately.
Page editor allows html or rich-text editing (super handy for seeing how your pages look and giving ultimate control over your code)

So far, it seems like Wordpress is going to do everything that I want it to do to help me keep my website updated! Expect a full report once I've had more time to play with all its bells and whistles.