There are plenty free or paid out-of-the-box options for creating an art portfolio site: DeviantArt and ArtStation are both popular communities for posting artwork, and nearly every other personal portfolio site I see is hosted and designed by Squarespace or Cargo Collective.
While these can be good options for those looking for quick solutions with little hassle, if you want to present yourself and your work more professionally, or you want more options for customization, you can easily create your own website for very little cost.
Creating an art portfolio site in WordPress
While there are plenty of content management systems (CMS) out there to choose from, my focus here will be on WordPress. It’s what I use and know the most about. It’s powerful, reliable, and it’s open-source with lots of developers creating new software for it all the time.
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
There are two different versions of WordPress:
WordPress.com is a free hosted version of the software similar to Blogger, and Tumblr. It gives you a few limited templates to choose from but beyond that you have little control over the presentation of your blog. You don’t have control over your domain name either. You’ll be limited to _____.wordpress.com.
Go to wordpress.org and download the WordPress software for free, which you can install on your own server. This version of WordPress will give you much more freedom and control over you new website.
Domain & Hosting
You can purchase a domain name from a service like Namecheap. Alternatively, most hosting services offer a free domain when you sign up.
There are lots of hosting options but Bluehost is the one I see most often recommended, even by WordPress. Bluehost offers a free domain, 1-click WordPress installation, 24/7 support, and is optimized for use with WordPress. It’s also very affordable. If you click this link you can sign up for $3.49 a month.
Choosing a domain name
There are a few general guidelines to follow when choosing a domain name. Ideally your domain should be short and memorable. Avoid hyphens, weird spellings, and numbers. You want it to be simple enough that if you were to tell someone your web address, they would be able to understand and spell it out.
Also consider that if someone is trying to look up your portfolio they will probably Google search your name. With this in mind, try and secure your name as your domain name. This isn’t always possible since someone might have gotten it first, but you can always add modifiers to help distinguish your site. If yourname.com isn’t available, try yournameart.com, or something similar.
I’m going to assume here that you’re using Bluehost, in which case installation is a breeze. Just follow the instructions on this page.
If you’re using another hosting service like Hostgator or GoDaddy, setup is pretty similar. Just click on the ‘Install WordPress’ icon in your control panel and follow the instructions.
Choosing a Theme
Okay, this is where things might get confusing if you’ve never done this before.
In WordPress, Themes are what determine the overall look of your website. The format, color scheme, font, and certain functions are all determined by the theme you choose.
As a general rule it’s better to stay away from free themes. It’s tempting to use them to save money, but there are several drawbacks to going cheap. For one there’s no technical support, and they can contain malware, or leave your site open to it.
Currently I use Elegant Themes’ Divi for both Art School Database and my portfolio. When I first started making websites with WordPress, I wanted a theme that offered a lot of flexibility in altering design elements without the need of knowing HTML and CSS. That initially lead me to the drag and drop theme builder Headway, which had an (mostly) intuitive interface that allowed for a lot of customization. Unfortunately there was never much third party support for Headway and eventually the team behind it stopped updating so I began looking for alternatives. Divi offers all of the same flexibility that I liked about Headway but with a much better interface and fewer headaches when dealing with bugs. There’s a much larger userbase which means lots of third party support in the way of child themes, plugins, layouts, etc. It also comes packaged with all of Elegant Themes’ other, well, themes and plugins, some of which are very very useful.
If that doesn’t interest you check out themeforest.net where you can browse to find a theme that suites your taste.
Once you’ve installed WordPress, you can navigate to the Appearance tab in your dashboard and select Themes. There, you’ll be able to select from themes you’ve uploaded. Wordpress comes preloaded with a few but they won’t do you much good if your goal is to showcase your work.
If you want to adjust your theme go to Appearance => Customize. This will show the front end of your site with options to adjust font, color, headers, etc. depending on the theme.
There are a few essential plugins that should be installed with every WordPress website:
Google Analyticator will give you some understanding of the traffic coming to your site. Google XML Sitemaps will help search engines to better ‘crawl’ your website. Askismet comes with WordPress but you have to activate it. Basically it prevents spam. Limit Login Attempts is self explanatory. If someone tries to repeatedly login to your WordPress account they will be stopped after a certain number of tries.
So that’s it for getting started.
Obviously there’s a lot more you can do with a WordPress site but it’s better to start simple and learn as you go.
If your theme doesn’t come with a good option for creating image galleries there are lots of plugins out there but to be honest I haven’t found any I like. That’s part of the reason I like Divi so much.
There’s also the issue of selling your work using your website which is a topic I’m planning on covering in a future article. If you’re interested in getting started however, I would recommend The Abundant Artist. There you’ll find plenty of information on how to market and sell your work online.