How to Design a Web Site for Your Art Yourself

Creating your own web site for your paintings

woman on laptop in art gallery
Blend Images - John Lund/Marc Romanelli/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Starting to Design and Learning the Software

Wouldn’t it be great if you had your own website? Just think of people from all over the world looking at your art. Imagine the excitement if you received a good review or when you saw your name appear in search engine results. Who knows, somebody may even want to buy one of your paintings…. If only you could afford a web designer. If only you were a computer genius.

If only…if only….

Just three months after my wife and I were thinking these very same thoughts, we had a website (www.echostains.co.uk) up and running on the internet -– and all with little knowledge and little money!

How Much Computer Knowledge Do I Need to Design a Web Site?
Basic website design is quite easy to learn if you’re comfortable with computers. As your website develops, so will your knowledge. I’m still learning things now and am forever changing things on the site when I discover a better way to do it. The site had been live only two months when I designed version number two. I decided to change the first version after reading an article called '10 Things to Avoid When Designing a Website' and realized I had used eight of them! But so what, the web site was on the internet for anyone who wanted to look at it and, at that time, we both thought it looked fine.

Where Do I Start to Learn Web Site Design?
Forget for the moment about HTML and JavaScript (codes used to create web sites) and all things computer.

Your most important initial tools are a pencil, paper, and your imagination. Think about how you would like your site your look. Do you want a gallery page for your art or do you want different galleries for different subjects? Will you include a resume of yourself and your work or an artist’s statement?

What about a links page to list your favorite sites or a guest book? Take your time and write down the kind of things you’d like on your web site.

Once you’ve compiled your list, take a good look at each item on it. Do you really need those 10 galleries? Or that chat room? Or that feedback form? Start to trim your list down to the basics -- no more than four or five. These are what you’re going to do for your first design of your website. The other things can wait till another day.

Okay, now draw a square on a sheet of paper. Congratulations! You have just started designing your website. Seriously, this simple square will become your home page, the front door to your web site. Your visitors will want to find their way around as easily as possible, so make it simple and clear. Write ‘Home Page Title’ at the top of your square. Now sketch in the elements you want on your home page, for example, a particular painting and a brief introduction. Add the navigation buttons to get around your site.

From each button draw a line and connect another square to represent the web page that will be linked to it and as before roughly sketch in the contents and how it's going to look. Do this for every page until you’ve got your whole website mapped out.

When you are happy with the way your web site looks on paper, it’s then time to reach for your computer and make it for real.

What Web Design Software Will I Need?
You are going to need some web design software. There are plenty to choose from, some costing a small fortune and some easier to use than others. Most software companies put out trial versions for you to test out before buying; these are fully functioning programs that are free to use for a limited time. This is a great way to test if you’re going to get on with a program or not.

The first design for Echostains I created used the 30-day trial version of a programme called Dreamweaver, which was included on the cover disk of a computer magazine. It can also be downloaded for free, but as it is quite a big programme this is going to take a while if you use a dial-up modem to connect to the internet.

Providing you have worked out your site on paper first, the 30-day trial should be ample time to get your site made. Dreamweaver can seem confusing at first, but the Help section deals with everything you need to know.

You can even design web sites using Microsoft Word -- you just save your page as HTML and you can view it in your internet browser. But you will be better off with a purpose-built programme using a process known as WYSIWYG (pronounced ‘wizzy-wig’). This stands for ‘What You See Is What You Get’ and does away with need to know any HTML code. You just type as you would normally and the WYSIWYG program converts your words into HTML, the code used by web browsers to display web sites. (Next time you are online, click the right mouse button on a web page and select ‘view source’ -- you will now see the page as it really is a mass of words and symbols that the browser converts into the web page you see.)

Adding Photographs and Getting Online

You are going to need a way to get your works of art onto your web site. Unless you own a huge scanner, the best way is to purchase a digital camera.

It doesn’t have to be an expensive, million-super-mega pixel, super-mega-expensive model, just a basic cheap model as images displayed on your website need a resolution of 72 pixels per inch (PPI) only, anything more is just wasted. While 72ppi looks pretty poor if printed onto photo paper, for web sites it looks fine. The digital camera I used to take all the images on the Echostains site cost 50 pounds ($30) and I reckon that a camera half that price would be just as good.

If a digital camera is out of the question and you own a scanner you can just take some normal film photographs of your work and scan them onto your PC. Drop the resolution of your scanner down to 72ppi -- most scanners have the default set around 150 – 200.

Once you have the images of your art on your computer, you need to make two copies of each, one a small thumbnail image about 120x90 pixels and another larger image around 600x400 pixels.

(Pixels is a unit of measurement, think of it as the computer version of millimetres or inches.) There are lots of free software programs (called freeware programs) available that will make thumbnails out of your images and arrange them into a gallery as well. You just state how many images you want in the gallery and what colour you want the background to be and the programmes does the rest. What you end up with is a ready-made web page that you can preview in your browser.

How Long Will It Take To Design My Web Site?
Providing you’ve got everything organized in advance -- your sketches of your web site design, all your images on your computer and all the software you require -- you can have a basic rough version of your web site running on your computer in less than a day.

When it comes to putting your site onto the internet, you don’t want a rough site where links lead nowhere, so make sure you test everything in your own browser. When you click the ‘My Gallery’ link does it open your gallery page? When you click on a thumbnail image, does it open the larger version of that image -- or a different image? Most web-building software have link checkers that will tell you what links don’t work, but you can’t beat checking yourself in your own browser; you know what you want your pages to do, the software will do only as you tell it.

Sure it can be tedious to check and recheck everything on your site, but I’m sure you know from your own experience how frustrating it can be when things on a website don’t work as they should and how it reduces the chances that you’ll visit the site again. So, with a bit of patience, you should have your site running smoothly on your computer in about a week -- and you still have 23 days left on the trial software to try out some of your other ideas.

How Do I Get My Web Site Online?
The web site you always dreamed of having is about to happen. So far it should have cost you next to nothing, so let’s try and keep it that way. Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs or the company you use for your internet connection) allow subscribers free web space. Check with yours to see if they offer this service. Even a small amount of web space should be enough to hold your site.

When we first started looking into web site hosting companies -- and there are hundreds to choose from -- we went for a package allowing us 500mb of space hoping this would be enough. Little did we know that the current version of our site uses just 12mb, so we could have gone for a much smaller package. Even so, the package we bought was not all that expensive, costing us about five pounds ($3) a month.

Also consider registering a name for your site, for example, a web address such as www.echostains.com looks and sounds better than the address offered from your ISP which will also include their name and the folder they store the sites in! To register a name cost just a few dollars a year, but you need a name no-one else has thought of first. If you pick a name like ‘myart.com’ the chances are it’s already being used by someone and will not be available. So go for something snappy or use your full name, you will then have exclusive rights to that name and can even arrange an email address with the same name. Just think paintings@<your sites name>.com.

When you set up your web space, you will be given a user name and a password which you will need to upload the web site files from your computer to your web space. This process is known as FTP (file transfer protocol). Most web-design software includes FTP, but once again there are loads on the market some on limited trials and others totally free.

Getting Visitors

Creating your own web site and getting on line is the easy bit because the software does everything for you. By far the most difficult aspect of any web site is promotion. How do you get people to look at your site when no one knows its there? Okay, so you will tell everyone you know the web address of your site and they can all go and enjoy it, but what about the rest of the world?

I mistakenly believed that the search engines would find it – wrong. Even the search engines don’t know it's there because you’ve not told them. You will have to visit the search engines yourself and submit your web address but they offer no guarantees that they will list you. The big search engines like Yahoo currently charge several hundred dollars a year to guarantee that you will be listed; you can submit your site for free but they will take at weeks to maybe list it if they can get around to it at all.

There is submission software available that will submit your site to hundreds of search engines for you and thousands of sites that will also do it for you some for a price and others for free. Some will also bombard you with emails offering you other offers. One particular site that we tried sent about 10 emails a day full of useless information and I’ve heard of others that will send you hundreds of emails so be careful. But in the meantime visit as many search engines as you can and look for the ‘Add URL’ or ‘Submit site’ link and submit to the free section if they have one.

Web Site Meta Tags: What They Are and Why They’re Important
All your web pages will need to have what are known as ‘meta tags’ hidden on the page -- the web-design software will allow you to insert these. Meta tags are basically a means for search engines to list your site correctly and include a brief description of that particular web page and key words for it. These keywords are very important as these will be the words that people will type into the search engines when looking for a specific subject. Try to think what words you yourself would put into a search engine if you were looking for a site like yours.

Believe me, it not as easy as it sounds, as you don’t simply want to be listed in the search engines results, but also within the first few pages -– there can hundreds of pages of search results and most people bother only with the first couple of pages.

The whole process of web site promotion is a science in itself and one that even I am struggling to master. At present the only time we come top of the search results is if we do a search for our site’s name ‘Echostains’. But, let’s face it, unless you know the site’s name in advance you are not likely to enter it into a search box. However, things are improving slowly. At first, we were not even listed and then came the great day when we showed up for the first time.

The more web sites you can get to link to or list your site, the more search results are returned. And the more your site is accessed, the greater your page ranking becomes and you will move nearer to the front of the queue. However, like I said before this is a whole subject on its own and to begin with you will be happy just to let your friends know your web site address so that they can view your work wherever they are in the world.

Website Designs Tips and Tricks

Here are just five the tips I’ve picked up while designing our Echostains site. If I'd known these when I first started designing the web site, life would have been much more straightforward!

1. Keep it Simple.
Don’t put too much content on your pages. Web sites that use flashing banners and dancing animations are all well and good, but can take an age to load for poor dial-up users. Your visitors will get tired of waiting and will just go off to another site if your page takes longer than 60 seconds to load. The first version of Echostains had a great animation of a collage which I had made to build up piece by piece. Although we thought it was cool , it was taking around 4 minutes to fully load!

2. Keep it Small.
Save your images in the format known a .jpeg or .jpg. This type of file can be compressed into a smaller size to quicken up the time they take to load. Remember, the larger the file size, the longer the image will take to load. If any of your images are showing their size in megabytes (eg2mb or 1.2mb) they are way too big. You need to get them down into kilobytes (eg 500kb ) by making them smaller with your image editing program.

3. Don’t Splash.
Another mistake I made at first was to have a splash screen. These are the web pages that say ‘Click here to enter’ or just have the site’s name which you click to enter the main site. These are great fun for the web-site designers, but really all you are doing is putting a barrier in front of your site. If people are visiting your site they are doing so because they want to see you work and not to be faced with another obstacle to cross before they get there. The more things visitors have to click to get to the part of your site they want, the more they are likely to tire and go somewhere more accessible. Every page of your site should be only a couple of clicks from your home page. This is why it is so important to design your site’s layout on paper first.

4. Get a Domain.
I would recommend that all of you who decide to have a go building your own site register your own distinct name. Your site will then feel like an entity in its own right as you will be the only person in the world who has this unique name. You can even download a certificate to prove you are the rightful owner. You can register a domain name through loads of sites on the net but I would recommend registering it with the same company that you choose to host your site. Guess what? We didn’t and had to pay extra to have the name transferred over to our hosting company, so be warned.

5. Name Your Pages.
As you save your pages onto your computer, take a few seconds to give it a proper name otherwise your pages will have names like untitled1.htm, untitled2.htm etc. It’s much better to see names like ‘gallery.htm’ or ‘drawings.htm’ in your browser’s address bar. Try to avoid spaces in your titles as well, they look fine on your computer but when shown in the address bar once you are online they appear quite different. For example, the link to our links page comes up as http://www.echostains.co.uk/Links%20page.htm -- the part that says %20 is how space appears in a browser. I will get round to changing it and maybe it’s just me being fussy, but once your site is up and running you will probably find yourself becoming this way too.

Well, I hope that I have inspired some of you to have a go at starting your own web site and you have realized it’s not as difficult as you may have first thought. If you have a computer and can type -- albeit with one finger like myself -- then you are already half way there.

Written and copyrighted by Steve Roberts