Site Revamp + Artist sites should be more fun maybe?

So I’ve been lowkey revamping my website/portfolio, which had increasingly become liminal in a Not Good Way since its last major revamp in 2015-2016. Since 2021’s a year of studio-dedicated work (aka no Professional Jobs) and a year of reshifting my career goals, I finally found the excuse and the time to clean up, making the site more functional and more importantly, fun to me.

More thoughts below on how I redesigned and compartmentalised my website, which may be helpful to other artists out there who are looking to do the same thing.

There’s been a lot of talk from the artist community about moving away from social media. I mean, you all who read this blog know it.

things i would like to see return in full force instead of instagram etc:
– rise of person blogs
– webrings
– links pages to recommend all your friends’ art
– oekaki boards
– online illustrated novels

shivana (@toastasaurus) Dec 23, 2020

Rather than letting this remain a fantasy, I’ve revamped my entire site in the style of artist portfolios from the late 2000s, full of personality, rabbit holes, blogging thoughts and archives of artwork that aren’t entirely geared to obtaining future work or attracting SEOs. The revamp wasn’t difficult since that was what I had been doing intermittedly anyway (the reason it became liminal in a Not Good Way). Now I’ve committed to the gig. And I’m very pleased with the result.

There were always two main sections of my site:

The Very Formal Artist Portfolio: it’s clean, efficient, meant to show my best work (or the work that I want to do), and designed to the needs of an art director/editor/professional client. This is what most artist sites are like now, with good reason.

My Actual Internet House: which comes into conflict with the portfolio. Since I learned how to customise websites as a teen, I yearned for a casual space online where I could display all my art over the years, have fun with my own site-based projects (designing banners! icons! layouts!) and exude personality. The ease of social media negated such ambitions, but man, have I been unmoored ever since.

Originally the house existed awkwardly inside the whitebox art gallery, which may or may not have affected my job prospects (lol). But I wasn’t going to get rid of the house either, or move it to another URL in a free hosting service such as neocities or carrd, because the house is meant to be for guests – casual fans, friends or the random internet traveller – to stumble upon and get lost in my universe. In a way, it’s part of my “brand” as an artist and author, hence why it has to be attached to my name. Also having two separate URLS to link to is a pain.

So what’s the solution? How do I clearly demarcate the two spaces while maintaining their connection? And how do I make these spaces easy to access?

A landing page!

The landing page went out of style a few years ago. I remember the reasoning being that art directors/editors/clients are in a rush and don’t have time to click more than 2 or 3 times to get to what they want… which is, ok, legit, but also, a shame.

So I’ve brought it back for myself. My landing page has 6 signposts, so depending on who you are and what you want, you only have to click once to get to where you want to go:

  1. For Industry Clients (Portfolio): if you’re here to see what I can draw for your business/imprint/brand and possibly pay me for it, this is where you click. It takes you to a separate portfolio page, which also gives me the option of being able to skip the landing page by directly linking this portfolio for residency applications, jobs, etc.
  2. For Casual Readers and Visitors (Personal): this is for the rest of you who follow me on the internet, or who found me through my books. Clicking here takes you to the first page of a fun adventure.
  3. Media Kits, FAQ & About: For everyone, specifically for interviewers or anyone who wants to know details without having to dig through the art first.
  4. Buy My Books: A page where I list all my books and link to where you can purchase or read them.
  5. Seasonal Portrait Commissions: For private clients who want to buy personal commissions from me.
  6. Read my blog: For obvious reasons.

And below these are links to my social media.

So the landing page is doing a lot of work. I broke my site into 6 signposts based on my needs (I’m an author who makes books; a freelance illustrator/designer who likes being paid to make things; and a blogger who makes resources and process posts), and the needs of my clients/audience over the years. Each of the signposts will eventually link back to the others, but the most important thing is that they provide the information a visitor needs. And I don’t have to worry about whether things are confusing.

The Very Formal Artist Portfolio

Originally my portfolio was mixed with my archive (which isn’t really an archive, it doesn’t have all of my work). I used to break it into 6 sections, since I did 6 types of work… which apparently is an inadvisable thing since apparently, it is confusing to clients. What do you actually do? And like, that’s also a legit question, but I love doing my 6 (now 5) types of work, and I wanted to show the adaptability and strength of my style.

For the portfolio revamp, I decided to stick with 3 types (illustration, comics, illustrative design), add a new one (digital outreach, which will have its own page), and leave the rest to the archives (found in the personal site, linked in resume).

I used the Kondo-style in determining what projects I want to showcase. What sparks joy? And which clients do I want more of?

Underneath I set up a catalogue of my own comics, since people primarily know me for this.

The navigation bar is customised specifically for the portfolio section. It looks different in the personal and general areas of the site, which you’ll see below.

My Actual Internet House

Now this is where I live! Since this section is personal and casual, I don’t think too much about the amount of clicks, because the clicks are the point.

This section is big and ambitious, so it’ll always be a work in progress. I have a few ideas of the kinds of pages I want the rabbit hole to have:

  • A page to display old, old, old art. Like, from the Neopets and Deviantart days.
  • An archive of (most of) my work since I began professional freelance.
  • Short comics
  • Webrings of things I like, friends, and stuff.
  • A hub for resources and process posts, since I make a lot of these on different platforms and they deserve a centralised place.
  • Some special projects (involving my main webcomic, and a comics analysis blog)

Media Kits, FAQ & About

I collapsed all of this into a single page since I’ve gotten to the point where that sort of action is required. (Interviewers, please don’t ask me the same basic questions!!)

The media kit is a new thing for me, and I’d recommend this to other comics creators if you intend to promote your comic actively on podcasts/news sites or if you keep getting requests for images from press. I’ll probably make a post on how to set up a media kit, but for now, I’ve just dropped a link to Dropbox.

And everything else…

I placed the other 3 links for my own reasons, but really you can treat your landing page like a Linktree. Link to your store. Your webcomic. Your list of recommendations. Whatever. I mean, if you already have your own URL, you may as well use it? Especially if the place you use to design your website allows you to make pages of anything you desire. There’s so much freedom and control to craft the image you want, and best of all, there are no ads, data harvesting or any obligation for virality. Speaking of which…

Incoming skippable ramble:

If artists are so eager to have the old internet back, why is it not yet a bigger thing?

Not subtweeting or anything, but my multi-part theory for why, despite all this talk, the longing for personalised homes has remained a desire and not a reality:

The internet environment/culture has changed alot since the late 2000s. We don’t dominantly present ourselves within the private sphere of self-owned domains or community forums anymore, instead existing in the public square of Twitter or Instagram. Much of what we now see as ‘success’ and ‘visibility’ is on these platforms, which are guided by audience size, algorithms and the tinklings of developers to obtain the most engagement or profit. But that’s the root of the problem isn’t it? All of these things are slowly chipping away our ability to control how we present ourselves and interact online, and convincing us that they are key to our value as artists.

It’s a lot of work to create and control your own website, especially when you can’t go viral with it. Speaking from experience of creating my website AND running this blog for three years, 95% of the time you get no comments, likes, reblogs, etc. It’s posting to the void. And if my understanding of the discourse is decent, a lot of artists depend on virality now for livelihood, which is both true and its own terrible thing to unpack. Some have gone to the point where virality (or at least, audience response) has become a measure of value (is my project valuable? am I valuable?). If you’ve been in this environment for a very long time or very deeply, it’s a difficult mindset to break. That’s proof of how successfully social media is designed. It’s meant to get you to stay on the platforms for whatever reason so that you and your audience will become nice numbers for their VC grants or ad views or something. (Hm)

Which is why every time I see someone saying “I want to get away from this platform because it’s taken away my agency”, they are always following up with “I’m waiting for another platform to jump to”. Despite the fact that, for most Gen Y creators, we’ve been jumping platforms a bit over 10 times now, getting burned each time. Personally I kinda lost hope in depending on a new social media to save us, but I understand why creators would do this. It’s a lot of work to make an independent space for oneself for little audience gain. And even if you want to do it, you have no idea where to start, because it’s an uncommon endeavour.

I’d argue the mental health benefit of no longer feeling like you’ve eyes constantly on you or that you’ve to curate a specific, narrow, squeaky clean image outweighs any lack of audience engagement. If nothing else it’s good to have a side project which is public, but unconnected to any algorithm, expectation or pressure. After putting in the investment on my website and blog, I’m very happy with it. I feel like I’ve control again of my internet experience.

And I want more creators to feel that. I want to see yall’s blogs and rabbit holes. Plus it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing. It’s something in addition to all the social medias we already have. You know?

/End ramble.

Some more resources and inspiration on making an independent artist online space

In the spirit of the old internet, here are some rabbit holes to fall into to get inspired on making your own site

My favourite artist sites, which I’m basing mine on and expanding upon:

Shaun Tan (his old layout, which I like), Loish, Peter Brown, Neil Gaiman, Nathalie-Lete, Alexander McCall Smith

Not an artist site, but the layouts are amazing and I hope someone else does this for their own space!!:

Cafe Frida, The Dollar Dreadful

The IndieWeb community

Neocities – it’s fun to explore the kinds of sites that are up there. Very retro.

Building A Digital Garden – a concept of using the internet that I’ve been moving closer to lately, though I call it “rowing off to an island away from the eyes and monkey dances of social media”. It’s a concept focused on creating unpolished, uncorporate, customised repositories of the self and the stuff we’re interested in.

Best illustrated websites list – see how developers are making fun and interesting layouts with illustration as the primary design focus. We’re artists – we can make our own thing!

Some tips when you’re googling and doing your research:

  • Use the keywords “web trends [insert year]” and “best [insert genre] website/blog design” to gather material for the site you want to build. Genres that are applicable to artists are: “illustrative or illustration”, “vintage”, “retro”, “handdrawn type”
  • Restaurant websites are great to take inspiration from, since they have to use a lot of photos to promote their food! Oddly enough, they also tend to use handmade elements more: illustration, typography, etc.
  • Look up artist portfolios from other fields
  • If you’re like me and you also write, look at author websites and how they organise text-based information and provide extra materials for their books. Children’s book authors are the best for this.

Ending note:

I hope this helps give an idea of how to make a space! There’s no right way to do it, and there are a lot of possibilities. I’m still constructing my website, and it’ll be a work-in-progress for a long time, but that’s the point! Your website first and foremost should grow and continously bring joy to you, and reflect the person you are now and the person you aspire to be in the future. 😀

But more than anything, again, I just want more artists having fun with their own URLs. Let’s make it happen!!

Anyway!! Feel free to share your sites. I wanna see. (insert eyes emoji)

Hello, hello

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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