Top Mistakes Artists Make on Websites

Your website. Before you made the decision to become a full-time, working artist it’s entirely possible that these are words you never imagined you’d put together. Let alone put in practice. These days though, in order for a profession of almost any kind to be taken seriously, it’s vital to have a website. This is a landing strip for your audience as well as a launch pad for your own ideas and of course a gallery of your art. Here you can show off your work, tell folks what you’re up to, and just generally stay in contact with the people who make your financial world go around. There are some caveats when making a website though, common mistakes made by many artists at this for the first time or even mid-career artists. Let’s unpack a few and talk about why they matter.

Artwork Overkill

Have you ever clicked on a website only to find that it is so cluttered upon arrival, you couldn’t really distinguish any particular message? Some sites have far too much going on, whether flashy banner ads junking up every available side bar or just too much content. This is a definite risk for you as an artist eager to display your work for the online community. Sure you’ve done nearly two decades of intense art making and sure you want to make certain the world understands where you’ve come from and how you got to where you are today. But before you go ahead and upload your entire archive, think about those cluttered websites and ask yourself whether you want to overwhelm your visitors.

It may seem impossible to pick and choose, but your website should be nothing more than a snapshot of the work you are doing now. While it’s OK to have an archives page (we will discuss pages in just a little bit) in general, your site should house a just few quality images that are representative of your larger body of work.

Pages and pages and pages

Similar to not scaring off potential site traffic with too many images, you also don’t want your website to be so dense your audience doesn’t know where to begin or where it all ends. You don’t need many pages on your website, a few will get the point across quite nicely. Generally speaking, you should have a Home Page where your audience lands when they click the link for your website. You should also have an About page where you offer up a concise biography of you as an artist. This should be kept short and to the point, aim for no more than 150 words and stay on topic. If it isn’t relevant to you as an artist, it has no business in the bio no matter how interesting a tale. A bio also shouldn’t be a C.V. though it is OK to include a page for just this. You’ll want to have a Contact page where site visitors can send you an email or glean any other contact details you wish to divulge. And of course, a Blog because, as I have said before and will surely say again, blogging is absolutely one of your best tools when it comes to keeping your audience in the loop. Finally, as I said before if putting up older work is very important to you consider a dedicated archives page.

Speaking of Staying in Touch…

Another element every website must have is someplace where your guests can sign up for your email list. What is an email list, you ask? I will go in depth in a future post discussing the basics of an email list and some platforms to use, but for now, in brief, an email list is a great way to reach out to your visitors on a regular basis and keep them engaged in what you’re up to. A natural spot for this is on the Contact page, though it is reasonable to consider putting a place for this on your Home Page just for ease of access. Remember, attention spans are short. You’ve got literally seconds to make an impression and give your audience a way to stay in touch. Use them wisely.

Your website is a snapshot. Of you, your work, where you’ve been and where you’re headed. It should represent these things but it doesn’t need to tell your entire story in full depth. When designing your site, don’t be afraid to take a look at other sites you visit frequently. Notice what they’re doing that works and notice what they’re doing that doesn’t. Be mindful of audience attention spans as well as the danger of trying to cram too much in a small space. Let a few of your favorite pieces represent the rest, rotate your stock if you want to display more than seems workable at any given time. This way you ensure that your work gets the spotlight it deserves rather than being packed in like artistic sardines grappling for attention. Less is definitely more when it comes to designing your artist website.

Which platform to use?

You are reading this on a wordpress self-hosted site, which is a popular choice but not the most user friendly. If you have a site that you need a webmaster to update, it’s time to pick one that you can easily manage. Squarespace is one such platform that is elegant, responsive (meaning it looks great on a phone or tablet or anywhere) and it is easy to use and set up. There are many other platforms as well, like Wix, OtherPeoplesPixels and more, but the mist important aspect is that you have total control over the site and can update it yourself. More to come on email list programs!

15 COMMENTS

    • Pick a topic you are passionate about and just start blogging. Don’t overthink it or you will never get started. If I was starting today (I started blogging over 10 years ago and have had many iterations of WordPress blogs and topics) I would still choose WordPress for blogging but not necessarily for my e-commerce, for which I now use Shopify. The key to blogging, as with most things, is consistency and focus. Be clear abut WHY you are blogging. So pick a topic and create enough posts and images to cover several weeks in advance. You can schedule them to post at your chosen interval, be it weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. You can also Google “starting a blog” and you will find tons of tips about how to get started blogging. Getting started is actually very easy, building your audience and maintaining momentum is a lot harder. It takes time and patience any you can do it. Good luck.

  1. Hi Brainard
    Your advice completely affirms my experience.
    I’ll keep the story short but due to a lot of focussed efgory I managed to get an interview with owner of a Gallery I admire they are in N.Y., L.A.,and London. The interview was going very well, they had pulled up my site were going through the images, owner had called in a couple of her staff all three asking me questions if was now over half an hour. I was feeling good about this, until they kept going and going back into my archive which goes back more than ten years. Capable work yes but is landscape based and they focus on VERY contemporary work. I tried to dissuade them but ‘oh no we like to see where people are coming from’. I could see them losing interest and by the time the hour was done it had all cooled into kindly explanation of not quite what we look for.
    So as you astutely advised beware of the Archive …mine was sadly overloaded.
    I designed my site but have now just found a designer to work with and will completely upgrade it next month.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Brainard.

    I totally agree on the less is more approach. Doing so provides just enough context for the viewer to get the gist of what the artist is doing, yet maintains enough cerebral space for curiosity and mystique. Additionally, doing so will shorten webpage loading times, which ultimately will improve the visitor’s experience.

    Personally, I use Squarespace for my website and I would recommend them to anyone starting out. WordPress is great, but has a steep technical learning curve.

    • I also think squarespace is an awesome platform, very clean, and I would suggest to download their free blog app so you can easily blog from your phone 🙂

    • I’ve been a WordPress user for 10 years and it’s actually quite easy to set up. I love WordPress. However it does require understanding that you can’t just set it and go, you have to maintain and extend it with plugins. Setting up e-commerce on it was too much hassle for me, so I prefer to use my WordPress for just blogging. Now I use Shopify for my art sales site and WordPress for my blog… and because I’ve been blogging for many years now my blog drives traffic to my sites. My blog is called nickyjameson.com and I blog about things connected to my art – and about the art itself, my inspiration, my mission, my thoughts etc. I’ve recently started using the blog within Shopify (I have an app that pulls in my blog posts into my website) but honestly I find blogging from my blog hub drives more traffic to my site. Most of my site traffic is now coming from Facebook… but I have resisted the temptation to focus solely on Facebook because FB changes on a whim. All in all I have found the platform matters less than ability to drive traffic to it. I have tried them all. My sales come mostly via my email list, followed by Facebook and both require targeted effort.

  3. Thank you Brainard & everyone for their input. I am just doing my website and I have made the too many pictures mistake. I currently have almost 300 images, how many are you suggesting would be enough? I work in both painting and photography, would you suggest having two sites or just one site encompassing the two? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I tried Squarespace and could get nowhere with it. Not being a graphic artist I was lost trying to figure it out. I have since abandoned it and am about to let Vistaprint have a go at it with their new social media marketing tool. I just want something very simple that can include a ‘buy & pay on-line’ option.

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