Although I've been looking at artists’ portfolio websites for years, it's only been very recently that I've had a reason to start critiquing artists' websites in a more formal way. Several weeks ago I agreed to review a handful of websites to see if they were accomplishing everything they were designed to do – attract people’s attention, encourage them to linger over the galleries of art, and educate visitors about the artist — in short, to effectively help the artists promote and market their fine art.
At first I didn’t really know how to begin critiquing websites, but as I got into it, I started to develop a little list of elements that I felt were important to examine. I thought this list might be useful to any of you artists who are thinking about refining an existing portfolio website or building a new one from scratch, so I’m sharing it here.
And since pictures are always better than words, I decided to look for a couple of good examples to share, too. Many of these artists are using templated art portfolio websites from FASO, Weebly, and others, which in my mind just proves that you can build and maintain an effective, professional-looking website quickly and inexpensively. DIY heaven.
So here you go — some questions I think are useful in evaluating an artist’s portfolio website:
What does the design tell me about the art and the artist? Right from the first glimpse of the home page, I like the website design (colors, layout, typefaces) to tell me something about the artist's style. Is this work contemporary or traditional, serious or whimsical? That’s why I love the background color of Lorenzo Chavez’s website. At a glance, that distinctive peachy-beige tells me I’m looking at a Southwestern artist. And look at Anne Bagby’s design. The gray background and flush-left navigation bar below the image are very modern, but the serif typeface in her name tells me that this artist is an unusual mix of contemporary and traditional.
Is the design distracting, or does it accentuate the artwork? As important as design is, it can easily be overdone. Too much going on in the background or around the edges of the pages will pull visitors’ eyes away from the artwork. Notice how all of these designs are very simple, and yet they still look attractive and communicate something about the artwork and the artist.
Does the opening image (or images) make me curious to see more? Personally, I like an art portfolio website to open with a nice, big image that impresses me. It should be one of the artist’s best works, and it should be indicative of the rest of the art I’m going to find in the website. But there can also be more than one image. I’ve seen websites that have three or more big images that “rotate” around, and there’s also the idea of pairing one primary image with smaller thumbnails, like Barbara Chenault has done. Those little images are irresistible. I gotta click 'em.
Is the navigation easy to understand? I’ve seen a number of websites where the navigation was hidden, or went into hiding as I clicked around on the sub-pages. I think the navigation should be obvious, and I always want to see an easy way back to the home page. Related to this, I like to see pages that are clearly named. Especially common on artists’ websites, there is often a label in the navigation menu that says “galleries.” Sometimes that leads to portfolios of work, and sometimes that leads to a list of the galleries that represent the artist. To avoid any confusion, I think it’s best to find some way to make the contents of each sub-page very clear, as Quang Ho has done by calling his portfolio page “My Paintings." Perfect. And speaking of portfolios, I’m also a fan of dividing up artwork into several different groups—by subject matter or year created or whatever makes sense for the artist—and giving each group its’ own place in the navigation menu, just the way Nancy Barch has done.
What else can I learn about the artist? Whether info about the artist is grouped onto one page or spread out over several, I really want to learn a little something about the artist. I need a bio, and I think an artist’s statement and formal resume are very nice, too. Photos and videos are even better. Greg LaRock's navigation bar makes it really easy to find more details "About Greg," and I especially like the way he lists his Events right on his home page. Now I know where I can go watch him work!
Is it social? When I find a work of art that I really like, I want to be able to Pin it, share it, or tweet about it, so I like to see those social media widgets prominently displayed, as Greg has included on his home page above. (Plus, as I mentioned in last week’s post, it’s a good way to bump up your website in the search engine rankings.)
Are there any cool extras? As I was researching this week’s post, I noticed a couple of other things that I just thought were cool. Mary Garrish, for instance, uses her painting signature like a logo on her home page. That’s a nice touch. Thoughtful extras like these tell me a lot about the artist's personality, and that's one of the best parts about visiting an artist's site.
So now I’m curious: What do you look for in an artist’s portfolio website? How can we get smarter about using our websites for art marketing? Let’s connect!