What does it take to be a successful artist online? Hard work? Unique art? Good networking skills? Yes, yes, and yes, but if you’re looking for something a little more concrete the following list includes seven helpful tools and three essential skills which I believe every online artist should try to acquire.
1. A good digital camera
If you want your art to look as good as possible online (as every artist should!) you’ll need a high-quality digital camera—I’d suggest 8 megapixels or higher.
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And of course, a good camera is important not only when taking photos for your online portfolio, but also when capturing images for your art blog or emailing a client pictures of the progress you’ve made with their commission piece.
2. Your own art blog
In my opinion, blogging is the single greatest tool for any online artist. It can feel like a full-time job all by itself, but it’s the absolute best way for ONE artist to reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of people—and it doesn’t have to cost you a dime.
Art blogs are great for showing works-in-progress, daily paintings, and posting art thoughts and opinions, but if you want to show off your art a little more “professionally,” a personal portfolio website will do just that.
There are lots of providers of portfolio websites. . . naturally, I’m most familiar with my own company, Foliotwist, which provides simple art websites (and marketing tools) for artists, but there are many kinds of websites for artists out there.
Whether you need to adjust the color in a photo or just resize your images for the web, theprofessional’s choice for image manipulation is Adobe Photoshop.
Photoshop is expensive, however, and has a fairly steep learning curve so you might want to consider Photoshop Elements (a cheaper, lighter version) or GIMP, a free image manipulation program (which is also tricky to learn, however).
5. A free PayPal account
This one’s almost a no-brainer: PayPal takes all major credit cards, it’s reliable, and it’s extremely easy to set up and use. Yes, there are other options for collecting payment online (I’ve used ProPay as well) but PayPal has the lowest fees and it’s also well-known around the world.
6. A mailing list and monthly newsletter
This can be as low-key as you’d like (here’s my newsletter sign-up) but it’s very important that you give interested people a way to stay informed about your art.
All you have to do is include a short sentence somewhere prominent on your website that goes like this: “If you’d like to receive email updates from me about my art, write to me at-” and end with your email address.
Over time your mailing list will grow, and you’ll be able to use it to promote new artwork, upcoming shows, or anything else. And if you’re new to newsletters, here’s a lot more information on how to increase sign-ups for your newsletter as well.
7. A Google Analytics account
Once you’ve got your own art blog or website set up, you’ll probably want to make sure all that effort was worth it. With Google Analytics you can keep track of how many visits you receive each day, where your visitors are coming from, and a lot of other helpful information.
Google Analytics is absolutely free even though it’s a professional-grade program with some serious power behind it. Google’s also done a great job at making it easy to use and understand, so you’ll experience the practical benefits right away.
8. Decent writing ability
You don’t have to churn out prize-winning literature to be a successful online artist, but knowing how to string a few words together is a definite plus. Using a spell-checker is always a good choice (they’re included in every word document program, so why not?) and just spending a few extra minutes to self-censor doesn’t hurt either.
In the end, writing ability isn’t something you can buy, but it IS something you can learn—mostly by doing. And trust me, it’ll come in handy as you describe your art, email collectors, network with other art bloggers, and in many other ways too.
9. A basic understanding of HTML
I know programming HTML code isn’t for everyone (I honestly never thought I’d be coding my own website) but it certainly is the artistic “medium” of the internet, and whether you’re copying and pasting a PayPal button next to each of your paintings or just creating html links in your art blog, the more you know the better off you’ll be.
If it all sounds too daunting, here’s my advice: just learn as you go. When you need to know how to do something, just type your question into Google, like, “How to make a link in HTML?” or, “How to change a background color in HTML?”
That’s how I learned, and so far it’s worked well for me.
10. General knowledge of search engine optimization
SEO (or search engine optimization) is a way of writing and organizing your website or art blog so that search engines like Google will send more visitors your way.
There’s a LOT more to it (too much to explain here) so if you’re interested I’d just recommend checking out the SEO for Artists section for more information.
And there you have it. . . 7 tools and 3 skills to be a successful online.