Hello there, and welcome! I put this information together because I often have fellow artists and readers ask me about starting their own art website and/or blog.
I think an art blog is one of the best jobs in the world, but launching a productive and successful website is not to be entered into lightly. As any self-employed professional can tell you, building an online presence takes extreme effort and serious commitment.
Before we go any further, please understand that I am NOT a pro!
I have a BFA in visual and mass communications, worked for many years as an editor, and managed websites and social media platforms for businesses (including the New York Times and other major publications) in the past. However, Scratchmade Journal was begun as a labor of love. It would be wonderful if this site continues to grow and makes me massively rich, but I created Scratchmade Journal because I enjoy encouraging others.
However, that's not to say that I don't work like a dog in all of my free hours to eventually (hopefully!) make this site successful, but I have a long way to go.
Unfortunately, I don't have the time, knowledge or resources to advise you on whether or not you should start an art website or blog, how to go about doing it, how to do affiliates or SEO, who to use as a host or server, etc.
However, I will gladly mention a few things that you may want to consider.
Really Big Things to Consider Before Starting an Artist Blog
Does a website business suit my goals, skills & personality?
This is the first thing that anyone contemplating an art website and/or blog needs to ask themselves. Just because you love painting, drawing, etc, doesn't mean that you should begin a blog. Hosting a website goes waaaayyy beyond just liking art. You'll spend most of your time in administrative duties, so it helps to be organized. It also helps to be a fairly decent writer and communicator.
Skills can be worked upon, and if you host an art blog, you'll always be looking for ways to increase your skills in this area. A firm knowledge of website design and promotion that includes things like HTML, SEO, CSS, and other weird sounding acronyms is really helpful, but you don't need to know it all at first.
But yeah, when your site breaks, you'll either need to know how to fix it or who you can call to pay to fix it. It happens.
FYI... I'm not an extrovert. In fact, I'm 98-percent the opposite. Crowds and noise give me hives. If anyone can have zero desire to be famous or attract attention, it would be me. You don't have to be *outgoing* to have a successful artist blog. You do have to have a heart for people and their struggles and desires.
How long does it take?
A blog business is a marathon. After two long, industrious years, I'm very happy with the way things are going with Scratchmade Journal, but as I mentioned before, this site has a long way to go to be profitable. Most bloggers work for years before they see any real revenue because it takes a lot of time to build content, search engines to start ranking you, people to find you, etc.
I'm also a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother to multiple children so some weeks I can only work part-time... and some weeks barely at all. You may have much more time to invest than I do, and if so, you may see returns more quickly.
Can I make money?
It depends. I would look at making any sort of income from a blog as a 3-5 year plan. Yep, that's a long time of 20-60 hour workweeks with no pay, so most people simply use a website or blog as a way to grow their business, not as their sole business. Again, you may move faster toward more productive income, but that's the rare exception to the rule—not the norm.
How do I make money?
Revenue generated by product sales, sponsorships, affiliates, and advertising are the main ways that website and bloggers make money. I don't do ads. They irritate readers. Heck, they irritate ME. And revenue varies with ads though it can be profitable for some. Currently, I've also made the decision to forgo sponsorships. (IMO, it's impossible to write an honest review if someone else is paying for it.)
My sole income is through affiliate sales (aka commissions; google "affiliate marketing" to learn more than you'll ever care to know but PLEASE don't ask me to advise you about this). I would love to sell more art and products and host more workshops. However, my free time is extremely limited right now so I have to carefully choose where I spend my time. Since I can do website stuff from my home while I also raise my children, that's what I do.
Should I host a blog or a website?
A blog is NOT exclusive of a website or vise versa. You will be running a website that has blog on it. That's really important to know because you'll want your site to be way more than a blog. You may want to sell your artwork, share printable tutorials, host a gallery of your paintings, etc.
Being able to branch out on your own site without depending on other platforms (i.e. Etsy, Shopify, etc) is a great way to diversify and increase your income. You'll always come out ahead hosting your own products and skills instead of going somewhere else. Your goal is to get people to your website, because this is how you increase traffic and connect with fabulous people. (How can you do that if all your sales are on Etsy? Hmmm...)
As with any business, traffic is the key to success. Never send people off of your site unless it will enrich their lives and your content. I rarely even link to other bloggers unless I know they have been around a long time and I can trust them. I'm very particular about that!
What platform do you use?
After you define your goals for your website (i.e. what you want to accomplish with your website), then look for a platform that supports what you want. This is the most important step! Some artists really only need a website that hosts their gallery and sales. Some artists really need serious e-commerce sites.
When I was thinking about starting Scratchmade Journal, Husband convinced me to try Squarespace. I did their two week trial and never looked back. I now have two sites on SS (see www.scratchmade.com) and am planning to launch a third this summer. SS has been amazing, and I highly recommend them!
By the way, I make no commission or brownie points or anything for referring you. I just really like Squarespace, but while we're talking about brownie points...
Before signing up with companies (servers, hosts, etc) that online blog advisers recommend, please do a lot of research. Many of these bloggers only recommend companies who pay them commissions. These bloggers don't care about your desires, your needs, your specific situation, current skills, or you. Remember that you're not just setting up a website, you're starting your business, so take time to do the homework.
Okay so I won't be a millionaire, but it's all about the positive vibes!
Yes! Well, mostly. ANY website with heavy traffic will attract some... eh, let's just say "interesting" people. At first, things were really positive, but it didn’t take long for the crazies to find me. (Sorry, I know that's not a politically correct term, but it is what they is.) Unfortunately, way too many people believe that they are obligated to share their opinion. I've had to ban people from my site and social media pages for being negative, rude, or constantly off topic.
It really does bother me sometimes, especially when readers are critical of my artwork, my writing, my site layout, my hair color... yes, really. But God has a way of sustaining a weary heart! It always seems that right after something negative happens, I'll receive a word of encouragement. And I save every kind email, card, and comment that I receive. If I'm feeling a bit worn down or fed up, looking through those will often keep me from feeling like giving up. Good, kind people outweigh the bad about a 1000:1.
The main thing that keeps me moving lovingly and gracefully forward is to remember why I'm doing this and Who I really seek to please. I think St Francis summed it up well, "To inoculate me from the praise of man, He baptized me in the criticism of man until I died to the control of man."
May your baptisms be light! :)
But I will get lots of free art supplies, right?
Well you can, especially after your traffic grows. But the question is, should you? My number one priority has always been my readers. It is nearly impossible to accept every corporate offer that comes your way and keep your readers a main priority. At some point, you'll need to decide if product or truth is your priority.
Yeah, that's pretty blunt but there's no way to effectively evalute and recommend a new product every week. I work at this nearly full-time and I have plenty of sketching and painting experience under my belt. Yet, I can only truly evaluate about one new product a month. Any less time than that is NOT an evaluation. It's playtime.
And the next question is, do you really want to? Do you want to draw and paint or do you want to try out products? I enjoy both, so since I still want to draw and paint, I have to say no to many things including many cool tools that are offered.
How do you protect yourself and your artwork?
Unfortunately, I can't. Once you put yourself and/or your art out into the cyberworld, the thieves come calling. I've found my entire website—images and printables and all—in Russian. I've had major companies use my artwork without permission to sell their products. I've had folks totally copycat my paintings, share them on social media, and take full credit for them. I've found my images, stripped of my copyright, showcased on nearly every social media platform.
If this scares you and you don't think you can let the copyright issues go (because really, the government is not your friend and won't help you; they can't even control the price of postage) keep your artwork off of the www.
This sounds a bit negative...
I promise that I'm not trying to be negative. I'm trying to be honest.
What you may have 'Googled' is how to start an artist website or blog, which might have led you to this article. What I wish you could have done is sat down with me over coffee or tea and asked, "Do you love it?" Oh heck to the yes! This site is an awesome creative outlet similar to painting or sketching. Not only that... it's a calling. SJ humbly allows me to teach and encourage others, and I'm extremely thankful for it.
If that's you... if you have this voice inside of you that will not be quiet until you share with others about how to find the joy and beauty that you've discovered through art, then by all means, go forth and do this job well. I'll not only applaud you, I'll probably become your best art blogging groupie ever.
Best wishes to you in all your endeavors!