WordPress is a great platform for artists who want to display their art and combine it with a blog. I have been using WordPress for a number of years now with a special focus on leveraging the platform to display my art.

Here are the ten things I really wish I had known when I started on WordPress as they would have saved me an immense amount of time and aggravation -which means more time spent creating art.


Ten tips for artists using wordpress

  1. Should you use WordPress? While legions of webcomic artists, designers, illustrators and photographers use WordPress or alternative blogging platforms such as Blogger and Tumblr, the vast majority do not, and an equal majority of artists on WordPress might as well be using a basic and fixed HTML template. WordPress is not trivial to master if you are picky about what your site should look like so make sure you use it for the right reasons. I believe the three reasons why a visual artist should consider WordPress are 1) because they have a vast quantity of visual assets to display 2) they have an interest in using their web site as a creative journal and 3) they need the capacity to quickly change the look and feel (but not the core architecture) of their web site as a key window to the world for their art. The wrong reason to use WordPress would be because your favorite artists did it (hint: he has people managing the site for him, or she happens to enjoy coding and gets excited about debugging).
  2. Pick your theme and plugins carefully. One of the key advantages of WordPress is the theme developer community it has fostered. Thousands of free and premium themes are available for WordPress users, allowing them to get seemingly out of the box solutions for any kind of design you might want. A lot of these themes however should not be used unless you want to make things really, really hard for you down the road. These themes have a small user community, bad documentation, infrequent updates and are typically built on outdated and non-compliant cores. If it sounds bad, that’s because it is -you might end up using a theme for months before running into a major issue that will force you to change and lose the customization efforts you put into your original choice. Make sure you pick a well used, frequently updated theme with great ratings, and run it via a theme checker before you start using it (I use Theme-Check, a great WordPress plugin). Oh, and everything I just said about themes applies to plugins by the way. If you are wondering which theme I settled on -it is the Suffusion theme which has great ratings, one million downloads, a large support forum and great documentation and customization options.
  3. Use Firebug. The Firefox/Firebug combination allows you to pinpoint which CSS elements need to be modified so that your WordPress site looks exactly the way you want it to look. Using Firebug will save you hours of frustration and of wasted time playing around with CSS. If you have no idea what CSS is or have no ambition learning it the hard way then by all means google “Firebug” and spend an hour learning how to use it -you will thank me (and Joe Hewitt, who invented it) later.
  4. Pick your design and stick to it. Playing around with key design decisions is very costly when you are using WordPress. Making your design decisions early in the process and sticking to them will save you a lot of time and ultimately get you a better looking and more effective site. Design decisions include: picking a vertical or horizontal layout; deciding on the number of columns (1, 2 or 3) for your site; keeping key elements above the fold or ignoring it altogether; adopting custom typography or not; minimalist versus cluttered and dark versus light themes. The point here is that you will find great looking web sites that have made very different choices. The key is to make conscious decisions and optimize your site based on your choices -as opposed to letting chance or the latest cool looking theme you run into dictate design decisions.
  5. Get a great FTP solution. It took me two years to switch from a free and buggy FTP client that shall remain nameless to Cyberduck. The $23 I spent on Cyberduck for MAC is among the best money I have ever spent. Free FTP clients are sometimes free for a reason: they are poorly conceived, documentation is non-existent and reliability is a question especially when it comes to respecting directory structures. If you are hosting your own domain, you will no doubt spend a lot of time uploading files to your web site -get the right tool to do so now.
  6. Think Typography: font choices matter when you are presenting your art. The good news here is that choices do exist nowadays with CSS3. Using custom fonts is simple with @fontface -check out fontsquirrel or use Google fonts. You may notice I do not -the reason being that I love typography too much to start investing the time in playing around with it. You have to make hard choices sometimes!
  7. Start the simple way… and stay that way: complexity is costly when it comes to using WordPress. Stay simple and remain happy with the lack of sophistication of your site, knowing that adding a new plugin or going for the latest look will sometimes mean hours spent on the way things look as opposed to what people actually care about: your art. The highest traffic web sites are typically the most simple ones because ultimately people dislike unusual navigation options  or sophisticated user interfaces… but will ignore spartan designs if the content is great.
  8. Know your image SEO: it pays to invest a little bit of time into understanding how Google will read and use the image tags and attributes. If you do it right, some of the images you create will end up ranking high for search terms you might care about, and you also want to make sure that people googling your name when looking for images get presented with the pieces of art you want them to see (as opposed to things you really wish you had not drawn). You can read my top 5 tips for image SEO here.
  9. Love your plugins: with WordPress, there is a great plugin somewhere for every issue you will run into. The risk here is to pick up the wrong plugin (see number 2 above) or end up with too many overlapping plugins that will start interfering with each other or with your themes in unpredictable ways. Spending a  bit of times googling known issues between the theme you have picked and common plugins may save you a lot of time later.
  10. It’s all about content anyway. Finally, I believe it pays to remember what we are good at (creating art) and avoid trying to become web designers instead -there are very talented ones out there and the odds of ever matching their skills are not good. In my case an hour spent learning about CSS (and I love that stuff) means one less drawing to show off and ultimately it is a choice between the two.

That’s my list! It is not the complete list -which would include 11) learn about child themes and 12) don’t pay too much attention to your site statistics but one has somehow limit a list to the top ten. If however you have more -the comment box is a few scrolls below.