The Art of an Artists Blog

Blogging your way through art...

Picture of coffee cup and flower art
The Art of an Art Blog...

I regularly write a new article for members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artist Hangout, The Artists Directory, and The Artists Lounge. This week, we take another look at blogging as an artist, the good, the bad and what to expect when you pick up a pen for the first time in what could be a very fruitful new twist in your art career!

Still Relevant...

Whatever else the current crisis has done to the world there is no doubt that it has both sharpened the thinking of artists and made us all a little more creative in how we reach out to our audience and markets. In a new age where I expect that personal connections are going to be challenging but vital at the same time, we certainly need to figure out how this new normal thing will work when trying to connect with our markets to sell our work.

I must have taken at least a dozen phone calls from artists over the past couple of months to ask about how they take their art online, and despite me writing over and over for the past few years that you need an online presence, I’m always surprised to hear that many of my artist friends still prefer the traditional way of connecting with buyers face to face.

More than a few of them have never once engaged with social media either, and for that, they have my complete respect, but it can be problematic for those who rely on social to provide a platform to surface their new work. When I transitioned from a face to face business to one that was primarily online, it wasn’t because I had some premonition that the world would become reliant on technology to do almost everything, it was simply because everyone else had already started to make a move that way and I didn’t want to be left behind.

Most of what I did before making the move into the virtual world was typical of every other artist, shows, exhibitions, and more than a few arty parties, although, honestly, never really a fan of the latter. But those exhibitions and shows remain important, they’re how we become found or emerge or whatever the term is these days, but the real importance of doing them is the connections they give us to the real people who buy our work. By the way, and just to interrupt proceedings, the art accompanying this blog is available to purchase from my website if you would like to buy mine!

I think that the next major leap we need to make is going to be around how we replace some of that kind of activity, as we enter whatever that new normal everyone is talking about, is. I have been working with digital platforms for years and I can tell you that you don’t get anywhere near the same buzz or connection that you get when a client sees your work in the flesh for the first time, or the inspiring little chats we often have about why we painted the work and the how we did it. That kind of interaction just doesn’t work anywhere near as well online and neither does the tactile nature of the show where you can (sometimes) feel the texture of work or smell the paint or catch a whiff of prosecco and canapes. Those are the things that car dealers might call, kicking the tyres.

So what do you need to take something online that still maintains that personal connection as much as you can? Surprisingly, and this might seem a little 1990’s, blogging is still one of the best ways of connecting, but oh my, it’s really hard work. 

Notice how I quickly added that caveat, I can’t stress this enough, blogging really isn’t easy and you need to be committed to doing it, and if you are doing it right, you will be committed from doing it, probably to some institution for the worn out and exhausted. Don’t forget, you still have a duty to be creative and paint every single day too alongside running your business and maybe going to work.

That should filter the wannabe bloggers out and if you are still with me, blogging gets so much easier the more you do it. Who am I kidding, no, it really doesn’t. Nothing in art should be easy, it’s in the rules. It’s fine, now we can be sure the wannabes have gone, but it’s still hard.

artwork by Mark Taylor
Adrift Under The Northern Lights - Available from my Pixels Store!

Blogging, I have written about this particular subject a few times before because I like to think that after six years of writing a post pretty much every week, which by definition means writing every single day, but let’s not count the kidney stone period or the time I was forced by my family to take a two-week vacation onboard a cruise ship without Wi-Fi, although I’m not sure that counts because I did upload a short one from a Mc Donald’s opposite Saint Peter's Basilica on a day trip to Rome, so in short, blogging, it is something I know a bit about. It has taught me how to seek out free WiFi in one of the world's most expensive cities too.

In fact, before I began writing my pearly snippets of wisdom here, I blogged and managed a number of websites in my quest for global domination of the blogosphere in a life-long mission to hawk my art. I wasn’t doing this out of some desire to become an internet hit, you kind of need more than six readers to be one of those, and I certainly wasn’t doing it for the money because I refused to go down the click-bait route even when it was an approved way of doing things. I was doing it to connect with the people I care more deeply about, those who buy my work and those who support what I do and to put a little something back into a community of independent artists who produce way better art than anything I have seen in a mega-gallery, ever.  

That’s the thing with blogging. I have toyed with the idea of YouTubing, but I neither have a face for TV or a voice for radio, and because there are just so many people doing it, unless you are appealing to some pre-teens and can mime the words that you didn’t write to some soundtrack that sounds like anything but music, the chances of earning a cent, are little to none. When a cat on YouTube can make more in a week from ad revenue than I can earn in a lifetime, that kind of sets a bar that I’m too old and too long in the tooth to jump over. My biggest fear beyond Covid is that self-service checkouts become sentient beings and by November they’ll all have a podcast and a YouTube channel, if they do I will give up.

I digress, blogging, is actually one of the best things you can do as an artist aside from creating art, that’s why so many huge organisations are doing it once again, and that’s what the marketing teams within those organisations are telling them to do, and they’re telling them based on research of their respective markets. It’s a way to offer a connection, perhaps, a behind the scenes get to know me vibe, it’s a way to build up trust and it’s a way to promote what you do that doesn’t just appear briefly in a timeline.

That’s a real problem with social media, we have to make sure our posts connect and resonate, we have to make sure that they’re appearing at the right time in multiple time-zones, and we generally have to be a little more careful about not upsetting some algorithm. With a blog, it’s there to see, it stays there as long as you want it to, and you can add as many links as you need, to calls to action without being bombarded with notifications that your post could do much better if you paid.

It’s also a slightly slower pace of life, social tends to be much more in the moment, and a blog can be whatever you want it to be, and as short or long as you need. It gives you time to breathe both in terms of the time it takes to write something, and because a blog hangs around, it will continue breathing as long as you keep telling people its there. Equally, you can speed the process up and write more, or slow it down and write less, there is no magic formula.

There are plenty of positives with blogging, but there are plenty of negatives too. The downside is that you need to work really hard to build a following, really hard on keeping up a regular post schedule, and very hard on coming up with new things to write each time, oh, and it also helps if you can broadly be who you really are, all of the time.

In short, it might be hard work but it’s very much a trade-off if you want to become deeply rooted in your audience in a way that social alone won’t allow you to do, blogging just doesn’t fit in with Facebook no matter how many Facebook bloggers tell you that Facebook is a great platform for blogging. No, it’s not, it’s easy and quick, and there is no organic reach. You need a specific platform that can be accessed by those who don’t do social too.

What social media can be, is a conduit to drive some traffic to the blog, which in itself should be in at least some way, a conduit to drive people to your art and ultimately to your sales channels. It’s a long way around but it is significantly more effective in the long term so long as you stick with it. Most don’t.

It is said that 99% of blogs will fail. Yeah, the odds of getting anywhere aren’t great folks and that’s definitely another downside, and out of the millions of blogs that are started each year, usually around January 1st, the majority will die a very slow and often painful death and many by January 5th.

At the start, most bloggers go through a period of time filled with hope and optimism, looking for a new way to become financially independent and convinced that everyone will listen to what they have to say. Build it and they will come, except no they won’t, that line has killed more businesses than you would ever guess. Nothing happens soon enough, there are no visitors and the definitive truth is that no one cares. That’s because mostly, they don’t. That might also be very difficult to hear!

I’m not sugar-coating this, it serves no purpose to dress it up and tell you that blogging is going to be the answer and will bring in lots of new buyers, and while we’re not glossing over things, neither will you make any money. At least until you have found your feet and got over the excitement of joining the ranks as a blogging cadet. In fact, you won’t make any money until you join the ranks of blogging superstar. If blogging was a business start-up, then you would be planning to make money in about year three, with blogging it might take until year five, occasionally year ten, it’s certainly not tomorrow.

This might seem hard to reconcile, you spend hours every week preparing some epic words that might make at least a little sense, your enthusiasm knows no bounds, and it might not even matter that you are having to run a side job along with your art job as well as looking after the family while you do it because your enthusiasm is carrying you through. The rewards surely should be immediate because I’m super-excited about this. Trust me, it’s great that you are and I am excited about your enthusiasm, I really want you to succeed, I am sat here rooting for you, but honestly, the reality really is that nobody else cares.

Or at least they don’t until you tell them why they should, and you have to keep telling them why they should. Of course, if you are telling them that and they do check it out, you need to back your bold claims up with great content that provides at least some value in reading it. It is a simple formula, if I can get great content here why would I go there? That message is now your job.

adrift artwork by Mark Taylor
Adrift and Finally Free by Mark Taylor Now Available from my Store!

So what will you get from day one or day two? What you might see early on is that your audience begins to connect, they might just engage a little more and you might see some shoots of financial success in your sales outside the blog, but I can 99% guarantee that the money won’t be coming in from the blog alone, it’s simply another tool in a much bigger toolbox and as essential as a screwdriver is to drive in a screw.

The real value in blogging might not be anything of immediate financial value, it’s about giving the market something they can’t necessarily get anywhere else. That could be information, it could be a behind the scenes tour of your studio, it could be your story and why you chose the subject you paint, it could even be a funny dialogue about how good or bad things went on Tuesday, and other days of the week are available too.

It could be your process, or tips to clean your brushes, blogging doesn’t have to be linear, it can be varied, just as conversations in real life can be. I think the way to sum this up is that blogging can make you human.

So why do you do it?

I make no promises that anyone who takes up blogging will go on to be financially successful, I think I can prove that, but what I can say is that I have been doing it, probably not even that well for years and I haven’t given up on the dream of getting the 7th reader yet.

 Okay, there might be quite a few thousand more than seven of you, but the numbers I have today took me a long time to get to, and I’m unnaturally persistent, or at least that’s how my wife describes me. I write a blog to put something back into the creative community that I am proud to be a part of, in terms of business, I run separate websites for my artwork, and while I do mention my work here too, and there’s no doubt that over the years I have been writing it, it has helped with the business side of things too, my business is mostly separate. My other websites are more focussed on that side of things and this is just a model that works well for me, other models might suit you much better. If you blog solely about your art it makes much more sense to blog alongside your art.

I don’t monetise this blog, a donation or the cost of a takeaway coffee to help towards the cost of running it and developing content is always welcomed, you can do whatever you can to trim costs but inevitably, nothing is ever truly free and it’s surprising how much money you can burn through either in lost creative time or subscriptions or hosting, or a multitude of other things that you end up paying out for while you are writing, which I think is another reason why many bloggers give up too soon. This post is sponsored by copious amounts of coffee which can be replenished by clicking the Go Fund Me link at the bottom.

You can monetise blogs but it’s difficult, I removed adverts because they had a tendency to interrupt the flow and there was no way to prevent huge mega-galleries advertising for pennies on the dollar on these pages, or nefarious characters giving the impression I somehow endorsed them, and besides, no one clicks adverts these days and on most modern browsers they won’t even display if you turn the adverts off.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t or can’t monetise any blog you create, but my advice is that any blog is, or at least should fundamentally be about creating a meaningful connection with your audience. If you can pull that off, that’s when people start to care and that’s when you reap the rewards.

I could never convince anyone who takes up blogging that they are guaranteed to firstly, succeed, and secondly, do financially well out of it. A little like the art world, becoming a superstar blogger or a superstar artist is rare. What I can say about blogging is that you never know how it will go until you start and you persist for a while before calling it a day.

Blogging has been a big part of my life for years, and has it been worth it? Well, I haven’t got to the point of actually giving up yet. But, believe me when I say that there have been a few times when I have come very close to it. The weeks and sometimes months of researching a single article only to find that six people read it, and the probability of them actually reading it could be even lower, who knows if they left their browser on while they went to make a cup of coffee. Or, the times when all you seem to have to deal with are spam comments that say how wonderful your website about comic book hero’s is and here’s a link to my security guard course and you will lose count of the number of promises to get you ranked on page one of Google’s search results for the grand old introductory price of whatever, all you need to do is give me your password and logon credentials.

It’s enough sometimes to drive anyone insane, and to an extent, if you blog for any length of time and fail to reach your own unrealistic expectations which I think every blogger I have ever met set at one time or another, you could easily become bitter and twisted about it, but it is what it is. The internet, like I said earlier, is like the wild west, there’s no dressing this stuff up, but there are tools we can use to tackle some of those problems, the rest is down to faith, a keen eye, learning about SEO and not going too deeply down the rabbit hole, but what keeps you going more than anything is the odd appreciative nod to say keep going my friend and thank you.

The phases and truth of a blogging start-up…

When you first start blogging with all that enthusiasm, maybe a little trepidation, and a head full of good ideas, you will throw everything you have into it. You publish your first post and while only six people saw it, you got good reviews. The next time you get eight views and think you are heading towards going viral, it’s a false sense of security that you don’t recognise and so you carry on. You publish something every single day and then you notice that nothing is happening, the tumbleweed is rolling across the virtual hills and you are already worn out. You ask the question, what is it that you want from me and all you hear in return is the echo of your own voice. That my friends, succinctly sums up the early days of blogging.

Some will get bored at this point and the blog will die, others will give it another couple of weeks and then the blog will die, others six-months, and then the blog will die, but a few who break past the six-month barrier will make it to twelve months, a minuscule gaggle of bloggers will push through the pain barrier and push on through twelve months, and this is when the chances of sustaining a viable blogging model really begins to improve as will the traffic. The thing is, hardly anyone who starts a blog gets anywhere near that close.

Most of the people still won’t care, they need three things from you before they do. Firstly, they need great content, that’s a given and so difficult to sustain but hey oh, eventually we’ll work it out, secondly, they need consistency, that’s difficult to do too because we all have a life beyond the blog, and thirdly, there has to be some passion in the mix somewhere.

Notice how I didn’t specify where that passion comes from? Ideally, it helps if you, are passionate about what you do, that’s a given, but if you are blogging with some business goal in mind, what you really need is an audience who are passionate about what you do. The likelihood is, and as difficult as it is to hear, your passion alone probably doesn’t have a big enough audience to pull it off, you need your readers to be passionate and engaged about what you do too. That my dear friends, really very super-hard.

Glow Over A Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor
Glow Over A Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor, Available on my store now!

So how do you do it?

First of all, forget blogging using a platform that’s not designed for blogging. Facebook is social media and it’s just not got the flexibility you need. Blogger is a good and easy one to start with but ultimately, either Word Press or ideally your own website is the best long-term way to go.

Blogger is undergoing a facelift at the moment and lots of new features and some great tools are beginning to appear and if you are after a first-time let’s try it and see platform, it is probably one of the best. It’s free, but you will want to consider getting a unique web address, and here’s a tip, purchase it through Google and they will manage it for you, it’s often a little cheaper too.

Once you have identified a platform things get a little more complicated. You need a strategy, something I didn’t have until around three years in on my first blog. You need this because you need to have some direction, and you’re not really be going to get any of that direction from anyone else. There are plenty of blogging tutorials online, hey there are even courses for the introductory price of however much the offer is (probably the same offer as last week), and whilst many of them point out that it can be a long arduous slog, they’re frequently generic and read by everyone who failed to get past the six-month barrier which should tell you all you need to know.

If you are thinking about jumping on the blogging bandwagon, go right ahead, the only thing I would say is that you will need to find your own way and then be guided by your readers, and be patient. I have no idea but I swear some of these generic blogs and courses might have been written by those who didn’t break past the six-month barrier. There are some good resources around using the tools on each platform though, learning how to implement things like jump breaks, and mixing HTML elements might sound a little alien, it’s usually a five minute tutorial on the academy of YouTube followed by a lifetime of practice.

Once you have a plan, a little direction and you have figured out your niche, you have to work on your USP. Universal selling point, as in, not the same as every other blog, as in, don’t be redoing what’s already been done. I mean you can if you do it better, but how do you even keep that up, it’s so much easier to be you.

The reason I put some value in being you, is that there are literally millions of blogs already out there, and millions of people who don’t really care. All those people really care about is stumbling on a blog that they can care about. I really can’t stress this enough, blogs are by their very nature wordy, not everyone does wordy, but you can’t be everything to everyone.

So, you have a USP, you have a platform, the world is now your oyster. What you also have is a population still eager not to care and no readers. Great, what a winning formula. All you need now is a constant flow of new traffic, and you might want to listen to this bit, it’s super-super-very-hard to bring traffic in from Twitter or Facebook, and besides, although we don’t really know for sure, Google doesn’t like traffic from social media.

Today I get a few more than half a dozen readers, quite a few more and I thank each and every one of you, but to get that far I have had to constantly do things that I have been historically uncomfortable in doing. Networking, promoting the site in the far reaches beyond social media, and doing everything I can to attract organic finds. I’m not big on numbers, as I said earlier, it’s not really about becoming some kind of blogging superstar for me, it’s about building a connection and trust, and is hopefully helpful to the community I love, but you absolutely do need some numbers.

How do you do this? By building relationships, great content and giving those who don’t care, something to care about. Some blogging blogs suggest leaving a comment on other blogs to draw attention to your own, I wouldn’t recommend this because the community of bloggers I hang out with all do the same as me, we delete the comments if we don’t have an existing relationship that has been nurtured by both sides. When we talk about building relationships, those relationships have to be genuine.

There’s one of those pesky elephants in the room too, it’s the one of money. Never underestimate that at some point you will have to dip your hands into your pocket. Advertising is kind of inevitable, but don’t jump in before you have worthy content, and there are all sorts of hidden costs, not forgetting the biggest one, your time. One blog a week for this site usually equates to 30-hours of work every two weeks, and you need to be a few posts ahead. Other bloggers I know spend 20-minutes on a post, some spend a couple of hours, but this is ultimately time that you can’t commit to being creative.

Once you do get your own hosting maybe by going down the WordPress route, you might want to pay for a theme, promote the blog with online ads, but even then, the best way to gain organic traffic is still going to be a strategy to deal with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and building those genuine relationships. Just a word of warning about online ads, if you don’t know what you’re doing, save your cash.

Adrift art collection by Mark Taylor
Adrift art collection by Mark Taylor - Available now on my store!

Great content…

Great content can be written on the back of a stamp if it provides value to the reader. There’s no prescriptive way to create something that’s great, but you can bet your bottom dollar that readers will be able to spot it a mile off. Great content can be a paragraph, a single image, an interactive whizzy experience, or a single sentence that provides the context to the rest of the content. 

If you are blogging about a topic, great content needs great research. Check the facts, validate what you are saying, and build up a network of people who can run through your ideas. Research also comes in another flavour too, checking out the competition to see what’s working for them and what’s not. Not with an eye to copying but with an eye to replicate some success but figuring out before that if that would even work for your audience.

With art, there are millions of great subjects to cover, as I said earlier, you can pretty much cover what you like as long as the context flows with what you are attempting to achieve and resonates with the audience. Personally, I read blogs about experiences, visiting different places, seeing art I would never get exposed to while I stay indoors in a leafy shire in England but I also avidly read blogs about processes, and the blogs of the big corporations that I am invested in, not usually financially, but blogs from the organisations who produce the tools I use.

Research where you are going…

Plan everything and make sure you plan to move upwards and onwards when the time is right. Net neutrality is a major concern for bloggers right now, it should be a concern for everyone with a website, and there’s always a concern when you rely on individual platforms, you have to have a backup plan. What happens if you blog on Facebook and you lose access or readers, what happens if one of the big blogging platforms falls over, and you need to plan to exit. When will the time be right, at some point you will want to move on or circumstances will change but you might not want to lose all of the hard work you put in.

How to start blogging…

If none of that has put you off then you are probably itching to have a go. I didn’t want to write this post to see you fall at the first hurdle, it’s important if you are serious about building a blog and growing relationships that might help you with your art business that you understand that there are pitfalls, and there are things that you will need to think about to make some of those pitfalls a little more avoidable.

Like I said, there’s no point dressing any of this up and telling you that it’s all prosecco and roses, it’s more likely to be 3am and coffee, but when you begin to understand that these things are just normal and that millions of bloggers are doing just fine and coping with the same things, it becomes easier to stop worrying about the little set backs and focus on your blogging. If you do that, then the intent to drive your readers to the ultimate goal of buying more of your work becomes massively easier to do, it’s still a character-building exercise though.

And that’s exactly the reason why you should be doing it. If you can do it and still appear human, someone will connect. If it adds value to your art, there’s another good reason to jump right in, and if you are doing it because you want to add value for your clients, that’s reason enough to start too. If you are doing it as some kind of get rich quick scheme, there are a million easier ways to earn a living. If you are doing it just to test it out, that’s the scope of what you are doing, don’t push it out further until you are sure it’s what you want to do.

If you do think that this is going to cause a sudden burst of commercial activity on your store that you mentioned fifty times, yeah, that’s probably not going to work either. The biggest reason to do it, to build relationships, build up trust, and offer some kind of value to someone and hopefully someone who will ultimately buy into the art you create.

Be careful of politics, religion, and anything else that can cause a split, that’s not to say that controversy should be entirely avoided, there are blogs that are and continue to be successful covering these kinds of subjects, but this is art, you are an artist, so unless you absolutely know who your audience is, who your market is, and how to read the room, you could end up putting buyers off and word of mouth spreads faster than any viral social media campaign you had probably hoped you’d already had by now.

Sometimes you have to sign an NDA with yourself and make a pinkie promise not to go down the rabbit hole of controversy, unless that is, of course, the entire point and your core business, or you have a following for creating art that already follows that path. You might get a response, you might get a million responses but even worse, you might get none at all.

Fall Wall art by Mark Taylor
Fall Wall by Mark Taylor - Available on my Pixels Store Now!

Stay safe, stay well, stay creative!

I could write for months just on the subject of blogging, it’s becoming an essential skill and it has regained some popularity of late, certainly with the big organisations who are clambering for new ways to appear human. With art, it is a unique opportunity to connect with buyers, explain the process and replace some of the interaction we just don’t seem to be having at the moment. You might get a spark of interest right at the beginning, but it won’t be anything like the spark of interest you will get a few years down the line, and if nothing else, it can provide great experience in building up your communication skills.

Remember too that you are not alone. I’m always happy and willing to help those who are serious and need either an ear or some advice from the many times I have tripped up and fallen over. You don’t have to do this in a silo either, collaboration with other artists is definitely something that is worth looking at, it’s yet another model, and maybe one that can be extended to a range of artists to provide something fresh and new more regularly, but the caveat with this is that while collaboration in the arts is seen as some Holy Grail, it all too often ends up with one person doing the work of the many. You have to absolutely know who you are about to jump into the blogosphere with.

Collaboration is probably a blog all of its own, as are things like SEO, preparing images with Alt Text, proof-reading (get to love Grammarly), mind-dumps, titles, tags, and search terms, major and minor headings, and a lot of stuff that not all of us bloggers do, they’re all useful things to know about when it comes to blogging, thankfully there are some good resources out there that aren’t generic here’s how you start to blog courses!

Should you do it, only you can decide how deep you want to go. You could at least try it out but you might not get a flavour of it until you begin to do it a little more seriously. For some, it’s totally a side interest, kind of feeds into a wider strategy but doesn’t necessarily do a lot for sales, for others, blogging has become a sole source of income that can be done from your own home and for others, it is a tool that needs some level of skill to use effectively. I think though what it really is, is essential in some way in whatever a new normal turns out to be.

Whatever you do, good luck. If you do go down the blogging route, leave a comment below and let us know, we’re all rooting for you!

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here  

 Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything! You can also view my portfolio website here

 You can also follow me on Facebook here where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest here.

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so at my new Go Fund Me link right here

Any donations received will be used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists as my art sales via Pixels and Fine Art America and donations via Go Fund Me are the only way I monetise these pages so I don’t have to fill them with irrelevant ads or ask you to sign up via a paywall!


Comments

  1. Blogging ain't easy but it sure is fun. I have seen blogging elevate all my other platforms. But mark speaks the truth in this article. The motivations have to be in the right place.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks my good friend, it’s the most fun you can have when it comes to running any kind of website, and definitely an elevator, now I might have to tryout the podcast before the checkouts take over!

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