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From Computer Illiterate to Award-Winning WebDesigner: A Visual Artists's Journey

An artist steps out into the world wide web by designing her own site and exploring her fears and identity.

For years we had a computer room in our house, which I avoided at all costs. Rarely venturing into the room, I wanted to be as far away from this alien machine as possible.

I am a visual artist and always thought my place of work was in my studio. Life began to change one-and-a-half-years ago when I decided to design an online exhibition space to feature the “Wave Series,” an ongoing painting project that incorporates mixed media. The events that transpired during the next twelve months were also a surprise; the website won nine awards.

THE SAGA BEGINS:

A few years ago, I pulled out my beloved typewriter to do a mailing. One day my husband coerced me into “the room.” My mouth fell open in awe as the computer shot off dozens of letters in minutes. I was instantly converted.

One thing led to another: I took a basic computer class, followed by Word and PageMaker classes to learn how to create a flier. Inspired by these courses, I eventually moved onto the “harder stuff”-Photoshop, Illustrator and Web design. And there I was in the thick of this new technology. Only a few years prior, I could barely use an answering machine!

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED:

There are two main software programs for creating a website: an HTML editor program and a graphics program. With the HTML program, the good news is that you don’t need to learn HTML! What you do need is a software program that will convert the design/layout of your Web page into HTML. These types of Web authoring programs include Adobe GoLive, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage.

A graphics program will manipulate your images and perform various tasks such as sizing and color correction. Adobe Photoshop is awesome and is highly recommended if you can afford it. If you have budget constraints, Photoshop Elements is effective but it has fewer features than Photoshop. Once you develop a working knowledge of the HTML editor and graphics program you can create your own website.

WARNING: Creating a website is time-consuming and at times the technology overwhelming. A relentless and diligent mind-set will serve you well in order to pass the challenging learning curve.

BUT THERE IS HOPE -- if I can create a website, almost anyone can. If you have a good design sense and a crisp, logical mind, you can create an attractive site.

To begin, make an outline of your ideas and/or a flow chart. This will help create a site that is unified, well organized, and easy to navigate. Simplicity rules supreme, since you want your site to focus on your artwork and not distract visitors with annoying flashing lights or the latest gizmo.

A good design concept is very important. I based my concept on Sea Ranch, a small community located in the North Coast of California. I intermingled “Wave Series” with photographs of the coast. Your concept might be based on a place, a person, or even a favorite pet. The key is to connect the theme to your artwork in a meaningful way.

My website also contains a semi-hidden diary with photographs, links to favorite art sites, and comments about exhibitions. The diary adds a personal touch and people seem to enjoy it. Including a unique element or elements can enhance the site and ultimately lead to a more satisfying visit.

MORE TIPS AND COMMENTS:

- A resource page offers numerous free things, such as e-cards and valuable references. A links page lists links of selected art sites and enables you to partner-up with other sites. A resource page and links page helps draw more visitors and encourages people to return to your site.

-Many artists use their own first and last names for their website address. Avoid long, exotic and funky addresses that contain unusual characters (such as “~”). Using your name as a website address adds a professional touch.

-Keep your images small because you want the loading time on each page to be fast, ideally within eight seconds.

-Leave room for expansion-websites are fluid and organic and will be ever-changing. You want visitors to return, so update your home page with a new image and/or text every three or four months.

-Be sure to attach a Copyright notice © on your Website with the applicable information. Visit Copyright Website http://www.benedict.com/ for details.

After your site is completed and has been uploaded onto your server, submit it to indexes and search engines. Many Web submission services are available and finding the one that best meets your needs involves some research. The site http://www.selfpromotion.com/ is an excellent resource for an overall understanding of Internet marketing.

Website Awards http://websiteawards.xe.net/index.htm lists award programs and ranks the awards in a professional manner. Most award programs do not require entry fees, and professionals in the field evaluate sites. Judges are looking for originality and creativity in content, and overall excellence in design and navigation. The awards will not make you rich but they will give your site credibility.

There are many advantages to creating your own website: Total control over the content, and being your own Webmaster will save you money -- perhaps hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Hiring a website designer can be expensive, and after paying for an initial design, there are usually additional fees for updating the text and images.

My site serves as an artist’s portfolio. While the site has made few sales, there have been other benefits. For example, several art consultants and online galleries discovered me on the Internet and now represent my work. In addition, my site has helped me to network with other artists and art lovers, and this has lead to more exposure and connections. Over time I have developed a cyber community of people from all over the world. My site now receives 2400 visitors per month.

FINAL WORDS:

Creating a website has been transforming and empowering. I proved that I am not technically-challenged, and my own identity has shifted. The experience went beyond designing a website and winning some awards. I view others and myself in a new way, and realize that the potential in each of us is monumental.

Artist Elizabeth Hack has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions at galleries throughout California. She has been the recipient of nine awards for the design of her web site http://www.elizabethhack.com . The awards include the prestigious Golden Web Award from the International Association of Web Masters and Designers (IAWMD) and the World Web Award from Artspace 2000.


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