Kelly Severns Curtis has written these thoughts from her experience in working with artisans in developing many web pages for the studio arts. She received her Masters of Teaching from Minnesota State University and has been a freelance web designer since 2002. She currently lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, Chad Curtis, and their two lovely children. Her work can be seen at www.kellyscurtis.com
Developing a quality website can be a painful process for the beginner. However, it does not need to be painful if you are equipped with the correct knowledge and tools. This article will prepare you to work with a web designer or someone familiar with HTML code, so you can have all of your ducks in a row, so to speak.
An artist’s website needs to compliment the work as well as the artist’s personality. The initial stage of website development is to figure out the purpose of the site. A website is a way to network with others, market yourself, document or share your work with the world.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your website about?
- Who is it for?
- What do you want it to do?
- Will you be applying for residencies or grants, or just networking with other people?
- Do you want a portfolio, shopping cart, or both?
Photography & Photo Editing
To begin with, it is essential to have professional photos of your work. You do not want your amazing body of work represented with lousy photos. If you cannot afford to have a professional photographer, you will need to learn how or find a competent friend. Do not worry, there are many resources available to help you with this process. It is important to have a good camera, proper lighting, and setting. If you have small work, Google “DIY Light Box”. There are many tutorials on how to create your own light box for photographing your work using very accessible materials.
Once the photography has been done, your next stop is to learn how to edit your photos for the web. I use Adobe Photoshop for this process. However, for editing your photographs iPhoto or Picasa will work just as well for basic editing.
Whatever photo manipulation software you are using, start by adjusting the levels, color, and contrast. I almost always increase the contrast slightly for each image. Photoshop has an automatic feature for this that you may want to try before adjusting them all manually. If you are doing this in iPhoto or Picasa, your adjustments are saved directly on top of the original image. It may be a good idea to make a copy of your images before you being editing your photos.
After you have adjusted your photographs, you will need to change the image size. Computer monitors have a resolution of 72 dpi (dots per inch). As a result, everything you design for the web will have the same resolution. Your images will be small files with a maximum dimension of 1024 pixels.
Lastly, you will need to optimize your images for the web. When you optimize an image you are making the image more efficient for the web. With your image open in Photoshop, open the “save for web” option in the File menu. A large dialog box will open containing you image and other options. This option allows you to select your file format, change the quality and size of the image, and monitor the download time. Usually for JPEGs, I set the quality to 80-60 %
A basic website contains the following pages/links:
- Home/Index page
- Gallery: 1-4 bodies of work up to 16 images each.
- About: a biography or resume, and artist statement.
- Links: list of people and places, resources connecting you to others.
- Contact: as simple as an email address.
To prepare for the web designer, start by researching other websites that have an aesthetic similar to yours. Make a list and write down the web address. Before you exit the sites, scroll down to the bottom and note who designed it. If there isn’t a designer mentioned, go to the site’s contact link and send an email for more information.
Once you have a good foundation of information, start the site design by creating a page containing all of your ideas. This document can be presented to a web designer. In Photoshop, open a new document (width 1024 px). Choose a neutral color scheme, one that looks good with a variety of work. A simple white background maybe the best place to start. Ideally, you want your website to grow with you, and designing a site specific to a body of work might inhibit growth or require you to redesign the site for a new body of work.
- Simple and clean.
- The layout on each page should stay consistent. Do not jump from one design to another.
- Your links should be located on the left or across the top. Moving them to the bottom is a problem for people that are viewing your site on a small monitor.
- Small thumbnails or a numbering system are popular ways to organize a body, or several bodies, of work.
- Photos of your work, not your thumbnails should be no larger than 600-1024 pixels in the largest dimension.
- Have a plan for adding more images or bodies of work to your website. This could be as simple as a numbered system or titles.
- Dafont.com has a large resource of free fonts with the ability to preview your text in the font before you download it. Fonts can be addicting. I would suggest no more than two on your website.
- Google web fonts: fonts.google.com
Domain Name & Hosting
Domain names are also called web addresses or urls. It is this address that someone types in when they want to locate your site on the web. Your domain name points to your hosting account, where your files are stored. Some web designers have specific companies that they like to work with and they may charge you more if they have to configure your site for a different hosting provider.
The following options are alternatives or additions to a portfolio website. And, for the beginner, it is a free way to get started.
Blogs are used for journaling, adding images, and links. In addition, they are great for networking and inexpensive or, often, free. WordPress is one blogging option that is free and can easily be added to a hosting account, or an account can be opened at wordpress.com. If you do not like the look and feel of the blog, free templates are readily available or one can be customized easily by a designer. Commonly, those who use blogs also use Flickr (flickr.com). Flickr is a free photo organization and sharing space. The image slide shows are clean and can easily be linked to your blog or website. Picasa also works well for image galleries and slideshows, particularly if you are already using it to edit your photos.
Documenting is imperative when you an artist. Building a strong foundation of knowledge will greatly affect the quality of your work and your working relationship with a web designer. I do hope that this article has been a helpful resource and has given you some insight to web development and documentation.
Kelly Severns Curtis