Saturday, January 31, 2009

Art Space Talk: Dan Duhrkoop (EmptyEasel)

EmptyEasel, founded by Dan Duhrkoop, is an online art magazine that contains practical advice, tips, and tutorials for creating and selling art. The goal of EE is to publish helpful information for both new and professional artists—without any of the vague or confusing “artspeak” common to the art world. EmptyEasel helps new or unknown artists reach a wider audience by encouraging ALL artists to use the internet to promote and sell their artwork. Since 2006 EmptyEasel has become one of the most visited advice sites for artists on the World Wide Web.

www.emptyeasel.com

Brian Sherwin: Dan, EmptyEasel is an online art magazine with practical advice, tips, and tutorials for creating and selling art. The site also features reviews of social art sites and other online art communities. Can you give our readers a brief history of Empty Easel-- how long has the site existed and why did you decide to establish it?

Dan Duhrkoop: Sure—I started EE near the end of 2006, so it's been going for just over 2 years now. My original idea was just to share information about oil painting techniques and feature some of my favorite artists, but I began adding art marketing tips and some business advice when I realized that many artists were looking for information on selling art as well as making it.

Then in early 2007 when several big-name art-startups began picking up steam (Redbubble and Imagekind in particular) I started researching and comparing various internet art galleries in addition to my other articles.

Mid-2007 I redesigned and enlarged the site, and opened up EmptyEasel for article submissions. A lot of folks have gotten involved and I've been posting at least one reader-submitted article just about every week in addition to everything else published on EE.

BS: Who is Empty Easel—as in, who are your writers?

DD: All of my writers are also artists: Dianne Mize has contributed a lot of the recent painting tutorials found on EE, Margot Dinardi explains the digital side of things (GIMP help) and Denise Telep covers art marketing, motivation, and a lot more.

I focus most on where to sell art online and how to optimize your blog for search engines, but I also write the weekly featured artist section and dabble in everything, really. I'm working at lining up a few more writers for 2009 as well.

BS: So how can individuals interested in writing for Empty Easel contact you? Are there any specific topics that you prefer to include on the site?

DD: Anyone can submit an article via our article submission form—it's a great way to introduce yourself to a pretty big audience of artists and art lovers while promoting your art blog or art profile at the same time. Every author gets credit for their article and two links back to their own web page.

Suitable topics for EE range from tutorials on any medium (pencil, pen & ink, oils, watercolors, acrylics, etc) to business advice, art product reviews, or just opinion articles that relate to the world of art. Pretty much anything goes if it's on topic, interesting, and well-written.

BS: Dan, you are an artist with extensive knowledge of selling art online. Do you have any general advice concerning online exposure and promotion for artists? What do artists need to know in order to take full advantage of what the internet provides as a tool for success?

DD: You know, you've hit the nail right on the head. The internet is a tool, not a pre-packaged solution. I guess I have two pieces of general advice for artists who want to start selling online. First, it's not going to happen immediately - it may take months or even years to become successful. That's OK though. . . I'm a big fan of the slow and steady approach, and I really encourage my readers to stick with it and make it work. Second, the level of success you reach has EVERYTHING to do with the effort you decide to put into it. No one else will do it for you, but you CAN do it yourself. That's what's great about the internet.

For example, imagine two artists, one who pays for a premium listing on some big online art gallery, and another who does their own thing, blogging each day, posting new paintings, learning about the internet and search engine optimization, and so on. At the end of the year, I'd put money on the dedicated art blogger, not the artist with the premium listing. Effort gets you farther than anything else will, and I know that both from my own experience with EmptyEasel and by looking at other successful artists who have done exactly the same thing.

BS: With that in mind, can you point our readers to any specific articles on Empty Easel that you think would be helpful?

DD: Well here's an article which shows EmptyEasel's own visitor numbers from 2007 and gives a good idea of what to expect from your own efforts if you stick with blogging for a whole year. A while back I also posted some tips for creating an authority art website that are just as true today as they were when I published them in 2008. Both of those articles are great places to start.

BS: In regards to buying and selling art online do you have any specific suggestions? For example, is there anything that an art buyer should look out for when purchasing original art online?
DD: Just little things. . . make sure you know the size of the piece you're purchasing, whether or not it comes framed, and if you're responsible for paying shipping and insurance. See what the seller's return policy is, too, since some artwork can look different in person. You should always be allowed to return the artwork for a full refund within 7 days, if not longer.
That being said, there isn't (in my opinion) a whole lot to worry about when purchasing art online. Most folks aren't trying to scam you, and if they are, you'll probably know it just from looking at their website. Misspelled words, requests for money transfers to Nigeria, hard-luck stories, and anything else that seems shady should be avoided. If you're an art seller, take a good look at your blog or website to make sure that you're not scaring people away yourself. Accepting PayPal for payments is a good way to ease a lot of fears right off the bat.

BS: Can you give our readers some general advice about starting an art blog? In your opinion, why is it important for artists to maintain an art blog today?

DD: If you're just now starting an art blog, my first recommendation would be to go to Wordpress.org and download the files for your own self-hosted blog. You'll need to buy your own domain name and sign up for a paid hosting plan if you decide to go this route, but it's hands-down the best blogging solution anywhere.

Understandably, a lot of artists are a little nervous about buying a domain name and hosting and uploading files, etc. If that's you, I'd point you toward Blogger or Wordpress.com (note the ".com" not .org). Either of those are extremely simple to get started on.

Once you've got your blog you should set up a consistent posting schedule (3 posts per week, for example). At the same time, do whatever you can to start networking online. This may include joining art forums, Twitter, social media sites like www.myartspace.com, etc. Everywhere you join, make sure to leave a link to your blog—especially in forums and blog comments. These are the basic building blocks of internet art marketing. There's a full-length article at EmptyEasel explaining how to develop your own online art marketing strategy if you want more information on how to go about it.

In answer to the second part of your question, the reason why blogging is so helpful to artists is that it gives you an even footing with the big guys out there. Over the course of a year, for example, your blog could easily grow to encompass 150-300 posts. That's 150-300 chances for someone to find your website, and the more posts you publish the more likely you'll be found. When you think of the millions and millions of searches that people type into Google every day, I'd say that it's nearly impossible for a determined blogger NOT to be successful at gaining traffic and exposure online.

BS: What other advice do you have concerning social media marketing for artists?

DD: Don't spread yourself too thin. After 3-6 months of networking and getting your link out there, pull back to your own blog. You should have some decent traffic by that time (a few hundred visitors per day, perhaps) and you can focus on creating high-quality posts and more art. If you've done your social media marketing correctly, others will now be promoting your blog for you.

Of course, if you find that Twitter, Stumbleupon, or some other social site is working really well, you don't have to stop using them. Just start focusing your efforts there towards a specific goal, like getting people to sign up for your blog's email list.

BS: It appears that sometimes fans of specific social art sites and other online art communities are not always happy with the reviews that you post. I suppose one could say that there will always be controversy with criticism. With that in mind, do you see your site reviews as a form of feedback to help those specific sites improve? Have you been known to change your opinion of a site after improvements are made?

DD: I definitely see my reviews as feedback, and if they help spur a company towards better service and better results for their artists, then I'm more than willing to go back and update what I've written.
Ultimately, however, EmptyEasel has a responsibility to the individual artist, not to the big companies—so when it comes down to either writing what I believe and making some people upset or glossing over the truth just so they're happy, I've got to stick to my guns and point out whatever flaws I see (and how to correct them).

BS: In your opinion, how will the internet change the art world of the future? For example, do you think that brick & mortar galleries will eventually catch on to eCommerce and other aspects of the internet that artists have been exploring in mass?

DD: You know, it might be too late for the B&M galleries. Just like the music industry is seeing a surge of independent, self-marketed artists, so is the visual arts community. The power is shifting to the people now, and although we're just getting started, we're learning fast.

If traditional galleries ARE going to successfully transition to the internet, they'll need to start adapting and listening to what both art buyers and art sellers want. The prestige of being shown in a gallery isn't as important to artists as it once was. Now we're looking at page views and sales. We're looking at reach and engagement of our viewers.

Buyers, on the other hand, are looking for everything—all types of art. The internet is simply making it possible for them to find what they're looking for, no matter how obscure. It's a very different world than what it was 20 years ago. With such a large community of artists online who are determined to figure out how to make things work for themselves, I don't see the traditional art establishment catching up anytime soon.

BS: Finally, do you have plans to expand Empty Easel? Can you give us some insight into your future plans for the site?

DD: Well, beyond adding more articles and tutorials, I do have a super-secret project in the works that will be launching within the next few months (hopefully by March 1st). I don't want to say too much until we've finished it, but as you might expect, it's geared toward helping artists succeed online. Anyone interested in learning more about that can sign up for EE's free weekly newsletter and I'll keep you posted on our progress.

You can learn more about EmptyEasel by visiting the EE site-- www.emptyeasel.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
myartspace.com
New York Art Exchange
London Calling

4 comments:

brian elston said...

I find that empty easel is a great art site for artists. There are many articles that I am reading tonight that especially are helpful. WOW ! What an amazing site ! I am starting an online website selling my art and empty easel has helped with so much in-depth information on many online selling ideas. I am going to read it everyday.

James Parker said...

Great tips, Dan. I don't think people have noticed this interview. I'll try to send some to this piece, cause it's great advice.

Art by Patricia Gillin said...

I am a little late to this blog, but just found EE. What a great site and the newsletter is full of interesting and helpful articles. I am a portrait and courtroom artist and can always use help in bettering my work and bringing in commissions. Thanks for this blog and thanks to Empty Easel for the great job they are doing.

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