A Simple Beginner's Guide

How You Can Use the Internet to 
Promote Your Art

by Lance J. Klass
President, Porterfield's Fine Art Licensing

    Say the word "computer" to some people and they're out the door. Say the word "internet" to others and they're out the window.  Say the word "digital" and they're running for their lives.

    But if you're an artist or a graphic designer and you aren't terrified when you sit down at a computer, then the internet can quickly become one of your best friends and move you miles ahead in promoting your art and abilities. And if you follow some of the tips in this article, it'll cost you next to nothing to do so.

HERE'S THE REASON

    It all comes down to how you want to promote your art the most effectively and to the most people, without it costing you the moon.

    Without the internet, promoting your art means that you have to have slides, negatives or very expensive transparencies shot by a professional photographer. Then you have to pay a photo lab a small fortune to do many copies of each slide or each custom color print. I won't even mention all the packaging and postage involved in sending out dozens or even hundreds of art submissions to companies all over the country.

    If you're really brave (or desperate) you might pay to have an ad created and then spend a lot of money placing it in an artist's magazine. Or you could buy a few pages in a book of artists, or a double-sided sheet in a packet of inserts, to be distributed to individuals and companies who might (or might not) be interested in picking you out from the crowd. Overall you're looking at hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars spent in making yourself known as an artist.

    Over the past dozen or more years, digitized art - that is, art that has been scanned into lots of little dots and put in a file format which will allow it to be put on the internet or sent via email anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye - has almost completely taken over from printed art in the world of art licensing.  That means that your best and fastest method of getting your artwork out where potential licensees and buyers can see it, is to digitize your art and put it on the internet. Or at least have it in that format so you can quickly and easily email it to prospective licensees.

BASICS YOU NEED TO KNOW

    All the internet really is, as you probably know, is a gigantic network of computers all linked to each other. We won't get into the technical aspects of it as you really don't have to know them in order to use the internet to promote your art, just as you don't have to be an electronics specialist to operate a television set.

    In recent years the number of people - and companies - worldwide that are on the internet has grown gigantically, and no end is in sight. 

    Some of the biggest internet services will give you the ability to have your own personal site - your own art catalog - on the internet absolutely free as part of membership in their service.

    Every week I receive electronic mail ("email") from artists who want to show me their art, and who have sample images on view somewhere on the internet. Sometimes they'll attach sample images to their emails or include links to their sites. I'll then check out their site and their art and get back to them in about five minutes. These inquiries come in regularly not just from the United States and Canada, but from all over the world. That's the extraordinary power of the internet - to communicate rapidly and at next to no cost with people everywhere.  Where once our mailbox would be full with mailed art submissions, now we receive very few by mail - perhaps a few every month.  Compare that with the three or more emailed art submissions we receive every single day.  That's over a thousand artists contacting us for representation every year.  Many of these artists have art portfolio sites online and they direct us to those sites to see what they've created.  Others just email us small digital scans called jpeg's.  No fuss, no muss.  Clearly, digital is the way to go.

HOW TO GET STARTED

    The first step, of course, is to make sure you have a computer and internet connection that are fast and efficient and don't cost you the moon. You'll want fast email service that allows you to send and receive images, and you'll want fast access so you don't have trouble getting online or have to wait "forever" to load an image or a new page from an internet site. 

    At Porterfield's we have internet access through a cable modem which allows us to load pages and images really quickly.  If there's a good cable TV company in your area or some other service that can hook your computer up to cable, go for it. 

    Many internet services that provide free sites to subscribers try to make it very easy to create your own pages.  Instead of loading photographs of your art, you'll load "digital scans", much like the screened shots that printers have to make of pictures to enable them to print them on a printing press. The difference is that digital scans are extremely detailed and precise and, if you have your own scanner (good ones are available for well under $200) you can make your own scans at home or in the studio.  Or if you're a very good photographer, you can shoot digital scans of your paintings by using a good digital camera, then upload those scans into your computer, clean them up a bit, and send them out.

    Yes, there will be a lot to learn, and it may involve your purchasing your own scanner, learning a simple computer program to be able to scan your art yourself, or having someone else shoot a picture of your art with a digital camera and provide you with scans on a little disk. And yes, there will be time and effort involved in learning how to create your site, make it look attractive, and load your art onto it, but that's part of the game - and often part of the fun.

    The end result will be an online catalog of your own artistic images which you'll be able to update when you want to, at next to no cost other than your own labor. In the process you'll learn about email and how to attach small copies of your art to email letters that you can send out to interest people in your art.

    The computer program we recommend to artists is called PhotoShop and it's produced by Adobe.  This program will allow you to crop your images, enhance them, make changes, change colors or textures or re-arrange images entirely.  You can even create your artwork totally on PhotoShop if you wish to do so.

HOW TO FIND ART SITES, AND OTHER ARTISTS AS WELL

    Perhaps the best way to find good art sites is to use a big search engine like Google or many dozens of others, which allow you to enter a word or group of words and search for sites that feature the subject you've entered. Thus if you enter a broad-subject word like "artist", a typical search engine will come up with many thousands of ways to find "artist" sites. If you narrow your search by making it more specific (like "art association" or "art gallery"), then you'll come up with a more manageable list of sites. Click on any of them, follow the links, and off you go.

    As you move around the internet and find good sites, be sure to save, or "bookmark", their addresses on your computer so you can find them again easily. And as you get to know sites and get to know people, you'll find out about lots of great places for artists. You'll also find "bulletin boards" and "chat rooms" just for artists, where you'll be able to swap stories, contacts and problems, get to know other artists, and learn from their experiences.

    Once you become expert at building your online site, you'll also be able to pick up graphics and images and even backgrounds from sites that make such things available to whomever wants to use them, most often for free. 

    Many companies online that offer free or paid hosting for sites will provide you with a selection of templates that you can use in designing your site.  Others, like Blogspot, will offer you free space to write your own web log ("blog") into which you can put whatever you want, including pictures of your latest artwork.

WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR

    There are two major problems you might run into while surfing the internet, and while one is a nuisance, the other can be quite costly.

- "Spam" email - this is "junk mail" that may start filling up your incoming email each day. Most often the spam mail will promote either pornographic sites or some get-rich-quick scheme. People who send out spam either have special programs that can search the internet for email addresses or they rent or buy lists of often hundreds of thousands of email addresses. While major email carriers are trying hard to limit spam mail, it still exists and it's a nuisance.

    One way to cut down on the chances of receiving spam mail is to give out your email address only to those companies or associations or newsletters that you really want to hear from. Think of your email address as you would your phone number. Don't just sign up for everything you come across or you're likely to get your address on lists that will wind up in the hands of spammers.  Another way to avoid spam mail is to not visit questionable sites.  Many sites have the ability to capture your email address; they'll then bombard you with emails or even sell your address to spammers and the next thing you know, you'll be getting email from Nigerians promising you a cut of millions of dollars if you'll just send them your bank account information.  Don't go there!

- paying for questionable advertising - just as there are companies that sell advertising space to artists in books and packs to be sent to likely prospects for their art, there are lots of sites on the internet that try to do the same thing online. Here's how it works. The company agrees to show four or six or a dozen or more of your pieces of art along with the works of perhaps dozens or maybe even a hundred other artists. You'll pay the company a monthly or annual fee to have your art on their site in the hopes that it is visited regularly by people from companies or galleries that are seeking new art and new artists.

    This is just another form of advertising, and like any advertising, there's no guarantee that it will work. And it can be very costly. The best thing you can do before spending any money on such online services is to ask artists who are using such sites what their own experiences have been. How many inquiries have they received from their listings? Did the inquiries come from companies that were seriously interested in licensing their work or commissioning them for art? And how much money have they made back from their advertising? That way you'll get a real idea of whether the advertising has a chance of succeeding.

HERE'S WHAT I RECOMMEND:

a) Establish your own portfolio site where you can show your own art;

b) "Network" by contacting other artists and art associations and establishing mutual links to and from their sites;

c) Join online art groups that might bring the right people to your site;

d) Check out "social networking" sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, where you might find others with similar interests;

e) Send a sampling of your art to Porterfield's and have us take a look. We may decide to offer you representation, which means that we'll do most of the work for you and you'll be able to focus on creating more beautiful new art. You can email us at Porterfield's.

    But by all means, use the qualities of the internet to further your career as an artist.  You'll spend a lot of time, but you won't spend a lot of money. In the process you'll discover that there are lots of artists on the internet already. Many thousands of them have their own sites. You'll find meeting places for artists, artist "chat rooms", bulletin boards, newsletters, news groups, organizations and associations on the internet -- all for artists like yourself.

    You'll be able to "meet" other artists with common interests, talk with them about how to market your art, learn from their experiences, and even make good friends with the same interests and experiences. By linking to their sites and having them link to you, you'll find that people will start visiting your site and checking out your art. You'll even attract people who are looking for good art and who will come upon your site just by "surfing" (browsing) the internet, a favorite pastime for literally millions of people around the world.

    As a licensing representative for artists, I have a large site on the internet (the one you're on right now) that attracts artists from all over the world who are seeking representation. They'll often write me a brief email note, perhaps attach a few pieces of their art, and most often direct me to their site - in the US or India or China or wherever - so I'm able to see what they do. And all it will have cost them is their time. Some of my best and most successful artists have come to me this way.

    So the choice is up to you. If you're still riding a horse to get around, refuse to type on a typewriter, and hear all your music on the radio, perhaps you should run to the post office and buy a lot of stamps to send out big packages of your art.

    But if you want to reach the right people quickly and at low cost, maybe it's time for you to look seriously at promoting your art through the internet. You'll be very glad you did.
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Lance J. Klass is President of Porterfield's Fine Art Licensing, with many years of experience in the licensing field and expertise in promoting the works of artists seeking to increase their income and establish their names in the world of commercial, licensed art.  An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Artist and Graphic Designer's Market. If you're interested in having Porterfield's review your portfolio of art, be sure to email us first.

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Porterfield's Fine Art Licensing is a full-service international art licensing agency, online at www.porterfieldsfineart.com. Visit our blog for artists on The Business of Art Licensing at www.art-licensing.biz and our Art & Licensing News Page at www.artlicensing.org.

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