And what you need to know.
By Rebecca Mezoff
Why you need a website.
Anyone who wants to have a public platform these days has to have a website. I believe that applies to artists as well. If you have artwork that you want to get into the public eye, whether through showing or selling, you have to showcase it online. Think of it as your portfolio. In the days before the internet we had portfolios that were paper: large-format photos in fancy bound sleeves which we’d show to anyone we wanted to appreciate our work. We had small flip books in our bags for surprise interest at the coffee shop. Remember those?
All that is obsolete now. Your website is your portfolio. You must have one and you should also have a pocket full of business cards that have your name and your URL on it. You never know when someone will ask you what you do and be interested in tapestry. Keep photos on your phone, show the interested party a few, then hand them a business card and tell them they can see the rest of your portfolio there.
What is the first thing you do when you see an amazing piece of work in person or on the web? You probably google the artist if you want to know more about them. You might even do this when you are standing in front of the piece. Now imagine you were a collector interested in buying that piece you just saw and you googled the artist and found nothing. Perhaps you can buy the piece right from the show, but why would you if you can’t find out anything about the artist? Collectors of art are also often collectors of stories and the people that are attached to them. Websites provide visibility. They tell the world who you are and why you create the art that you do.
So now that you’ve decided to put up a website, where do you start?
You’ll need a URL. That is the address where your website lives. You can get them from any number of places. Your website provider (I talk about Squarespace below) probably offers domain hosting. If not, a service like GoDaddy will get you what you need.
What should your URL be? If you have a very common name, it probably shouldn’t be your name only. Have you ever had the experience of searching for your friend Sally Smith on Facebook? There are hundreds of hits for that name and you might not know which one is your friend. www.sallysmith.com is probably already taken anyway, but if it isn’t, a search for your name isn’t likely to bring up your website with all that competition. If you have an unusual name, by all means use it as part of your URL. Otherwise you can think of a clever name for your site or add a descriptor to your name like www.sallysmithartist.com.
It helps if your URL is easy to remember and type. I started my website over a decade ago and used my name. In the meantime I have bought other URLs and linked them to my site (This is a simple redirection procedure. When someone types in the other URL, they land on www.rebeccamezoff.com). When I’m promoting my content somewhere I don’t think people are going to be able to just click and go to my website, I use an alternate URL, www.tapestryweaving.com. Because no one ever spells Mezoff correctly. If you’re a tapestry weaver, you’ll remember “tapestry weaving.” If I’m giving a community lecture with slides for example and I don’t know if people are going to pick up and retain a business card until they get to a computer, using a URL that is memorable increases the chances they’ll look me up later.
I don’t recommend choosing a free website platform if you can afford something a little better. My website is hosted on Squarespace. I chose it because it looks very professional, they have a wide range of templates, and it is easy to use. There are certainly free website platforms out there, but they tend to look dated and are clumsy. Squarespace charges different amounts based on what you want, but the per-year price is worth it in my opinion. It probably costs less than what you paid for your original paper portfolio and you can update it without incurring more expenses.
I have heard concerns from tapestry weavers that people will copy their work if they put it online. I hate to break it to you, but you have to take the risk. Of course, anything that you put online can be “stolen.” But think about it. How likely is it that anyone on the planet is going to be able to copy a tapestry exactly? It is almost certainly impossible to do. This is a concern you have to let go of. Everything on earth has been done before and the art we make is all derivative in some way. I believe it is better to share your gift with the world than to leave your tapestries stored in a closet. Yes, it is easy to take a photo off someone’s website and repurpose it without credit. This will undoubtedly happen. It is okay. Many more of your images will be shared with proper credit and there are things you can do to make sure that happens.
- Title your file with your name and the title of the piece.
- Use captions on your site as these often stay with the image if it is saved to a site like Pinterest.
- And always resize images when you put them on the web. If you downsize them so that they still look great on the screen but are unprintable, you’ve gone a long way to prevent your work from being used in ways you don’t want it to be.
Now the bad news.
Just making a website doesn’t mean people will find it. You actually have to teach the world wide web to hit on your site. This is done by making sure your site is linked other places. Make sure you include your URL on everything. Put it on your business cards, put it in your email footer, mention it every time you write anything online, and have your friends mention you on their websites. Get an Artist Page through the American Tapestry Alliance and make sure your website is linked.
Other ways you can help Google find you is to create content that continually changes. If you put a website up and then never update it or provide new content, it won’t rank well in searches. Writing a blog is a great way to have frequent new content and provide something that people want to see. Blogging is a big undertaking and you do have to commit to keeping it up at regular intervals. I’d suggest no less than once a month and more if possible. If blogging is not for you, at least have a News page where you update information about shows and anything else pertaining to your work and what your website is about. Do this regularly! There is nothing worse than going to a website to see an artist’s latest work and seeing that they haven’t updated it since 2015. Get a Pinterest account and make sure the photos on your blog are pinned. Make a YouTube video and put it on your website. Make sure to link to your YouTube channel and ask people to subscribe. If you use Facebook, find ways to link to your website. Ask people to share your content.
Having a website doesn’t have to be a tech nightmare. There are many people out there who will do the whole thing for you if you don’t want to learn to manage it yourself. This is a more expensive option, but having a website is mandatory if you want to sell anything at all, including art. And even if your goal isn’t selling, having a website is a wonderful way to get your work out into the world so people can share it and talk about it.
When she wasn’t digging in the sand in her backyard in New Mexico, Rebecca Mezoff grew up making dolls out of her dad’s old socks. Now she makes large-format tapestries and is often found weaving in her pajamas which she affectionately calls her “home pants.” Rebecca teaches tapestry weaving online and occasionally leaves the studio to teach weavers in the real world. Her current work focuses on human perception and the long scale of geologic time. Her studio is in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can find out more about her online courses and all things tapestry on her website and blog at http://www.rebeccamezoff.com/.