Not long ago I did a post here on MyInkBlog called Elements of a Great Band Website which discussed the must-have elements that you should always include when designing a website for a band. The reason behind the post spawned from the fact that as a designer you never know who your next web client is going to be, and what kind of site they are going to require from you. In the theme of that post, I am taking a look at another client type and site request. The artist and their portfolio!
As someone who lives in a small little artist community tucked away in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, I have worked with my fair share of artists, and designed a few portfolio sites on their behalves so I have a bit of personal experience in this area. In working with the various artists I have found some common elements that the sites seemingly need in order to successfully achieve their purpose and intent. Though the artist and their styles may vary, each being unique in their way, their sites still need those common elements that make it work.
So if an artist portfolio project comes up, here are some elements that you should consider including. Also, you will notice that scattered throughout the post are a few “artist highlights” where I showcase some finely crafted artist portfolios that are up on the web.
The first element that is a complete must-have, and should basically be a no-brainer, is the gallery of the artist’s work. After all, the site is their official online showcase, and they need a presentation fitting of the style and tone of their artistry. Which means that it is up to you, the designer, to evoke the style and mood of the art to the viewer, through the design and presentation of the artist’s work.
Given that this is going to be a major element of the site, and that every artist portfolio is going include one, you are going to want the artist gallery to stand out from the rest. You want their voice to speak through the site as poignantly as the work that is being showcased in order to entice the visitors to browse the gallery, so being in touch with the voice of their work is vital for making this effectively transfer. The gallery has to be presented in such a way that it steers people toward their work, without detracting from it.
Keeping the design from taking away from the message of the site you should always be a priority, but in this case, the gallery has to be on par with the work without overshadowing it, so there is a balance that must be sought.
- Adequately and accurately display the art in thumbnails so that the viewer can get an idea of what is it they will be browsing.
- Using an attractive lightbox highlights the art extremely well, without taking away from the work at all.
Calendar of Artist Shows
Another important element to include is a calendar of shows and events where the artist is going to be featured or showing. You will want to provide every available outlet for the site visitors to connect with the artist, and providing an accessible, up-to-date calendar of places that they can unplug and see the artist’s work live is a fantastic way to improve the reader’s reach.
This can help the artist in a couple of different ways, with regards to their readers. It can provide an easy way for them to keep their site current and relevant to a growing fanbase, which in turn can also help them generate a positive revenue stream from their work. With more fans and followers aware of where the art can be seen and often times purchased from the artist themselves, the more opportunities the artist has to make a living from their work by connecting them to an audience they may otherwise not be reaching.
Any extra avenue that you can create for the online audience and the artist to connect is a positive, so if the client is not talking about the inclusion of this calendar you may want to take an opportunity to impress upon the importance and benefit of adding this element to the mix.
- Even if the artist has no current showings, they can still use this space to advertise that they have pieces ready to show.
Artist Contact & Social Media Info.
Speaking of extending the reader’s reach to the artist, and making them more visible among the visitors to the site, being sure to include the artist’s various means of contact is another must on the artist portfolio checklist. Including contact information on a website is hardly a revolutionary idea. I know this is not groundbreaking stuff here, but it is certainly a must-have, even though some artists can be very leery of including contact information on the web.
This is where your expertise and guidance need to attempt to steer them towards taking advantage of this outlet to its fullest extent, and that tends to mean opening up to the idea of at least creating an e-mail address specific to the site for reaching them and nothing more. Though, more would certainly be better. Including dialing the visitors of the site in to the various social media networks that the artist is active on, and perhaps the artist as well so that you have some active network connections to promote.
The more insight the visitors can gain into the artist, is generally the better for the fanbase. Social media offers that unique glance into the person behind the art so working this into the contact page and incorporating it into the site overall, is a win for all.
- If the client remains leery of putting contact info out on the web, you can always create them a custom contact form for the site so that visitors still can reach the artist.
About the Artist
As long as we are talking about offering insights into the ever-present question that lingers on a lot of the reader’s minds, the who, an about page is another element that is near a necessity in the design. And though most sites do include some sort of behind the scenes peek at who is running things, some might not think it that necessary on a portfolio site that is meant to highlight the art. However, part of showcasing the work, is shining the spotlight on the artist.
From the influences that shaped the artist’s style and form, to their individual path to finding their unique voice, there is a lot of personal information that they could offer the readers via the about page. Once again, you want to make sure that all of the information is presented in an effective and interesting way, and this is not an area to turn a blind eye to that mission. Where the rest of the site should be reflective of their artistic style, the about page should work to incorporate more about the individual and less about the work.
Though most of the sites we design have an about page, the layout and style do not tend to stray much from the overall site style and layout, but in the case of an artist’s portfolio site this page should feel a bit apart from the rest and embody more of the artist.
- This is naturally an area where you will need a lot of input from the artist to pull it off, but you may want to consider doing a short interview with them to build the about page from.
In the interest of giving the site more of a personal touch and insight, not to mention keeping the site current and easy to update, a blog is another element that is a complete must-have when designing an artist’s portfolio. Blogs are extremely popular these days, so selling the client on the idea of attaching a blog to the site might be easier than some other elements that you want to include. But no matter how warm they are to the idea, this is an issue to push for.
This is another opportunity to break from the normal style of the rest of the site and get a little creative with building the blog into the site. Though you may have some freedom with regards to flexibility in the formatting here, you still want the blog to retain the same tone and feel as the rest of the site. This is not necessarily a separation from the site as much as it is simply an extension of the portfolio itself. So be sure that however you stray from the design of the main site for the blog, be sure that you do not stray too far.
As I previously mentioned, blogging is catching on and so many are tapping into the blogosphere to get their work out there, so this may be something that is already requested, but if not, a blog can be beneficial to an artist in so many ways that I cannot list them all here.
- Make the main column width sufficient enough for providing a large enough of an image that the detail comes out so the artist can share other works they produce that won’t necessarily end up in the portfolio.
Overall, Don’t Overdo It!
It is important to remember that while breaking some of the usual design rules is completely acceptable, especially in cases such as these, usability still needs to remain a key focus at all times. So don’t go so far that the users are instantly confused by the site and have no intuitive ways to begin navigating it causing them to throw in the towel and leave. So keep the usability in mind and keep the readers around.
That is all on this end
That just about wraps up the post, but the discussion is just beginning in the comments section below. Chime in with what elements you think are must-haves for an artist portfolio, or just share your thoughts or experiences on this topic.