Brilliant art bloggers do not rise up from the sea, fully formed, like Venus.
“If you want to get good at blogging, accept that you are going to endure a long awkward adolescence made up of trial and error,” said Antrese Wood (savvypainter.com), host of the Savvy Painter Podcast.
Most likely, any art blogger you admire, spent years bumping about in the dark, starting one blog and abandoning another until they learned how to write better, or host a podcast effectively — or just plain figure out what their unique gifts were and how to best share them.
It’s sane to ask, why should I work so hard and risk exposing vulnerabilities, if it could take years before I see real results?
Because the benefits of blogging are tremendous. Blogging can help you: become a better artist, uncover your true brand, establish a nursery to grow ideas, explore new technology, improve your writing, and greatly lesson your feelings of isolation, fear and doubt by helping you foster supportive community.
Are you starting, shoring up or wanting to breathe new life into a neglected blog? Here are a few questions to ask yourself that may throw a little light on the path, no matter how far along you are on your blog-building journey.
What is my passion now?
What topic am I so passionate about right now that I have almost a physical need to explore for the next year or two? How exactly do I want to be changed by the experience of creating and working on this idea in blog form?
A big mistake bloggers make is not identifying who they are writing for. We’re all approval junkies, but you can’t be everything to everyone in a blog. Trying to write for a swath of people leads to mediocre content that neither offends nor entices. Blogger Jeff Goins (goinswriter.com) insists, “The more you narrow your focus, the more you broaden your audience.”
As artists we can get a head start on the narrowing by asking specific audience-identifying questions. Try these three to start.
1. Do I want to write for fellow artists?
Blogs focused on serving a readership of fellow artists typically are built around the how of making art. Ask yourself: What would I like my ideal reader to be thinking, feeling or making after she reads my blog?
This type of blog is well-suited to natural-born teachers. “If you are writing for other artists, you’re taking on a teacher role,” Wood said. “Be bold in your purpose, which is to help. You’re leading other artists somewhere. Have a place for them to go. That’s your job with this kind of blog, and it can be a wonderful experience. But don’t expect, that by default, you are also speaking to collectors.”
2. Do I want to write for collectors?
“I have written as if communicating to a collector from the beginning,” said art blogger Kristen Kieffer (kiefferceramics.com). “I do write to my fellow makers at times, but selling my work is my primary passion. So I write from the perspective of sharing ideas of the why as a maker, more than the how.”
Kieffer’s choice of subject and voice allows non-makers a fun, romantic, day-in-the-life glimpse into the studio (and mind) of a professional artist. Here’s an example.
Cup Family Portraits, 2016, by Kristen Kieffer
Kieffer: “I recently unloaded a kiln load of work that included bunches of handled cups and mugs with varying and new decoration, and decided to group them for pix, which immediately and delightfully felt like family portraits. I like the idea of capturing my current cup designs and glaze color palette at this arbitrary point in time. Meet my cup family!”
You may enjoy writing a collector-oriented blog if you want to focus on how you see things as opposed to how you make things.
3. How about writing to both artists and collectors?
One week Australian painter Sara Paxton (sarapaxtonartworks.com) may pen a how-to article for artists (bit.ly/2j9bH6M), and the next week she may publish a post that collectors enjoy — with work that will be featured in a new gallery show, such as her Colours of Land and Sea exhibition held last year.
Some marketing gurus might say having a split-focus audience won’t work. But at 10 galleries, 5,000 Twitter followers and 200 daily visits to her site, Paxton’s blog gives those gurus the ole’ Bronx cheer.
Paxton’s blog works because her appealing art and accessible voice are a perfect fit for the specific audience she’s built over many years. Paxton writes about her work and herself in an honest, accessible way that encourages creativity in others.
It also helps that she has a professional digital marketer for a son: Jack Paxton (paxtonprojects.com), who runs her Twitter feed from Los Angeles. If you don’t have a son like Jack at the moment, and you want help connecting your blog up to social media, you could hire him or check out Robin Houghton’s book Blogging For Creatives.
What if my blog generates zero sales?
The vast majority of successful art bloggers don’t sell a lick of art from their blog. And they couldn’t care less. Don’t worry about sales on your blog.
“I certainly don’t blog to generate sales-because it doesn’t,” said Paxton. “But I find that by building up relationships with people, and building up trust, I think that inadvertently it leads to sales down the road.”
Kieffer agrees. “I don’t sell on my blog, I only sell through my Etsy shop. I still consider my blog an important part of my marketing practice though. It allows me to flesh out ideas more thoroughly than is possible in an Instagram post.”
Worry about your email list instead.
Ironically, freeing your blog from the burden of selling often results in greater sales down the road, but only if you maintain that all-important email list. Repeated exposure to your art via your mailing list can lead to later sales. The more a reader sees your product, the likelier they are to want to purchase it down the road.
Digital marketers call the transition from awareness of your product to the purchase of your product a sales funnel.
Some funnels are short, others long. For example, let’s say you want to buy an inexpensive pair of socks. Consumers can decide on socks in seconds. Socks have a short sales funnel. On the other hand, most customers may need to see your artwork as many as seven or eight times online before they fall in love with it. Art tends to have a longer sales funnel.
By making your e-newsletter sign-up form clearly visible on your site you increase your chance of future sales in galleries and on your Facebook page, by giving readers repeated chances to eyeball your work. Artists like Paxton, Wood and Kieffer, who’ve established authentic connections with readers through their mailing lists, possess thriving email lists and good off-site sales. Paxton has a good example to follow on the “artwork” page of her website, sarapaxtonartworks.com/artwork.
Consider offering an “ethical bribe” to readers in exchange for their email address. Stef Gonzaga gives great examples of things you can create for this purpose at smartblogger.com/email-list-incentives.
What do I write about?
“Initially you won’t really know what to write about, so you start with general posts,” Paxton said. “No one can ever know exactly who their audience is, so I think it’s just fine to experiment, especially when you begin. I did some taping of live demos of art products I loved early on. I went on to do short video snapshots of my paintings in progress. I now turn them into time-lapse videos that show people how I do what I do, from beginning to end. Artists enjoy these, and they’re easier to do than you think.” List articles are also popular with Paxton’s readers, like this one: sarapaxtonartworks.com/10-clever-gifts-for-an-artist.
Blogging is the perfect venue for storytelling, so it’s OK to surprise readers with your own brand of narrative in between rounds of technique sharing.
Let’s pretend you’re a plein-air painter and subscriber to Wood’s original blog (antrese.com). This blog began as a travel/plein-air blog that documented her project, “A Portrait of Argentina.”
It’s morning. You sit down at your computer with your coffee mug in hand and check your inbox. You are subscribed to several plein-air blogs. You parse through your new mail and see that a few new posts from art bloggers have arrived last night. You parse through the subject lines.
What topic would you click on first?
A. How to Depict Rocky Outcroppings In Pastels?
B. I Punched a Llama in the Face Today
I pick the llama too. Here are the first three sentences of what became one of Wood’s most popular blog posts entitled “It’s Only a Llama.”
“I punched a llama in the face today.
I don’t feel bad about it either.
That bastard had it coming.”
When it comes to blogging, all those old ABC “Afterschool Specials” had it right: Be yourself.
Where do the best blog post ideas come from?
The best ideas for your unique audience often come from… your unique audience. “Oddly enough, my most popular post was an article I wrote on how to get oil paint to dry quicker,” Paxton said. (sarapaxtonartworks.com/how-to-make-oil-paints-dry-faster.)
“It was in response to a reader question. Eventually, you figure out to just ask people to email you and tell you what they want to learn.”
In the beginning you won’t have an audience to ask, so comb through great art blogs for inspiration. You could begin by browsing Cory Huff’s “7 Inspiring Artists Who Blog” (theabundantartist.com/7-inspiring-artists-who-blog).
Is it OK to show your soft underbelly online?
You might fear you’ll be laughed at when you display vulnerability in a post, but usually fellow artists can relate to and appreciate it. You may get record responses from posts that tell stories of financial or emotional frustrations that we artists tend to encounter.
I have spoken to several art bloggers who report they were shocked at how popular their posts were that displayed a painting they were having difficulty with. Artist/readers are glad to offer fairly gentle advice on fixing things. Many artists report this kind of feedback from readers has greatly improved their painting. So, get personal.
Just don’t make it all about you.
“I’d suggest having a ratio of 80/20 where — at most — only 20 percent of your posts are personal or off the topic of art, leaving the majority of your blog to be about your art, your process, or about art in general,” writes Dan Duhrkoop founder of emptyeasel.com. Read more here: bit.ly/2jvcnmy.
Most likely, the more you focus your content on the needs of your readers, the more readers you’ll have.
But what if I’m not a good writer?
You may have an advantage blogging if you’re not a writer. Being a writer can dam a whimsical, free-flowing blogging fountain with clods of perfectionism, judgment and resistance.
As Paxton, a self-described “non-writer” explains, “I have never been a writer, so when I started the blog I just wrote what I thought. I didn’t spend hours editing or rethinking it. I let it be. When you do that and keep up at it, you get better eventually anyway.”
But don’t write if you hate to write. Many artists abandon their potentially good blog because they think they have to write it. In this new era of shortening attention spans and multitasking, more of us prefer taking in our inspiration and information via videos and podcasts.
If writing is not your preferred method of communication, read Leanne Regalla’s “49 Creative Geniuses Who Use Blogging to Promote Their Art” (smartblogger.com/promote-your-art). Many of the artists on Regalla’s list aren’t writers and employ all kinds of visual alternatives to writing, to get the word out.
How often do I have to post?
Once a week is great, once a month will do if you post regularly. Consistency will improve your writing and deepen your investigation of why you make what you make. Try to treat blogging as a leg of your art business and schedule in regular times to write and edit your work. If consistency is your stumbling block, Regina Anaejionu’s Epic Blog: One Year Editorial Planner, may be just the ticket. You can overcome some of the initial resistance, fear and nausea by rewarding yourself each time you post on your blog.
Don’t give up.
“I know blogging isn’t easy. I know occasionally you’ll really want to quit,” Wood said. “But I just want to give you one example of why you shouldn’t.
“Seven people heard the very first episode of the Savvy Painter Podcast — six, if you count my mom. Two years passed before people really began to find the podcast, and to care. At the moment Savvy Painter gets upwards of 10,000 downloads — per episode.
“It took years of being awkward, weird and uncomfortable — my hands shaking every time I sent an email asking somebody to be on the show.
But I believe that when you’re authentic and passionate about something and you come to it from a place of, ‘I want to help other artists, we’re all in this together so let’s share information,’ great things are going to happen for you as well.”
Thea Fiore-Bloom PhD(theafiorebloom.com) is an assemblage artist and freelance writer. She specializes in articles that cheer on creatives to be audacious, do what they love, and get paid.