How Not to Display Your Artwork on the Web

How Not to Display Your Artwork on the Web
In the thirteen years I’ve been on the web, twelve of which I’ve spent doing professional web site design, and the last two of which have sent me to hundreds of artists’ web sites, I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that the thing artists want most when placing their art on the web is for it not to be seen.

There are millions upon millions of bad sites on the web, but artists really work at it. Never have I seen such an array of sites in which artsy designs, misplaced cleverness, highbrow concepts, amateur clumsiness, arrogance and ignorance have been painstakingly employed to drive visitors away.

As a result of this obvious desire of illustrators, painters, comics artists, concept designers and other artists not to be seen, I’ve created a collection of handy tips for how to send editors, art directors, gallery owners, prospective buyers, webcomics readers and casual users hastily clicking away in search of some portfolio site other than yours.

Got your note pads ready?

Use a “free” hosting service that only charges by making your site display pop-up ads. Hey, free is free, right? Besides, everybody loves pop up ads. Don’t bother with real web hosting from decent hosting services even though it can cost $8 a month or less, and don’t bother to look for reviews of hosting services on reputable sites like C/Net. Also ignore the fact that blogs, when used with “pages” instead of “posts” can serve as easily constructed, pre-designed and free web sites.

Don’t take the trouble to get a domain name. Art directors will remember “” much more easily than “” when they go to hire their next artist. Plus “” is so easy to mention in conversation or recommend to someone else, and it looks great on a business card. Don’t consider the fact that domain names can cost less than $10 a year, and are often free with real web hosting accounts. Hey, the good ones are all taken or squatted on, right, so why bother? And if you do get a domain name, longer names that are more closely associated with your name or studio, and might be easier to remember, can’t possibly be a cool as bizarre, clever, short ones that have nothing to do with you or your work.

Speaking of “clever” be sure to use a clever interface design and enigmatic navigation. All art directors and gallery owners love to play guessing games, and they have plenty of time to click around until they’ve figured out where on your nifty “concept site” you’ve hidden your artwork. They’ll be so impressed with your high concept that they’ll feel the art is that much more valuable when they finally find it.

In fact, make them wait a bit in anticipation. Use an Intro Page, especially with a long, clever animated Flash intro that that can’t be bypassed, to make sure they’re in the right mood when they arrive at your fabulous Splash Page, the entire purpose of which is to force them to search for a tiny, almost invisible, “Enter Site” button and click on it in order to get to the Main Page, which should be as confusing as possible and from which they must choose “Creative”, or some other euphemism for “Portfolio”, in order to arrive at the Gallery Selection Page and be presented with choices for which section of the Gallery they want, hopefully named in some arcane terms only you and the members of your fan club would understand, and then choose a Sub-gallery, and ideally a Sub-sub-gallery, before showing them any images. Make them work for it so they’ll understand just how important your images are! Hey, they wouldn’t have gotten this far if they weren’t, right?

Use lots of bright, intense colors in the design, particularly in the gallery area. You want to make sure the colors in your images are suppressed and overshadowed by the design. After all, the web site itself is the important thing, isn’t it?

Use tiny, square thumbnails with a nondescript crop from some obscure corner of the artwork. You wouldn’t want someone to miss the fun of playing “Concentration” when trying to remember where a particular image is; and if the thumbnails clearly described the images, visitors might actually go to one they like in the eleven seconds they have to look at your site.

Even better, why bother with thumbnails or preview images when clever little dots, squares or enigmatic shapes are so much more artsy? Everybody already knows how cool your stuff is, they’ll certainly take the trouble to click through all the shapes to find an image. Plus if they come back looking for a particular image, they have the fun of discovering all over again!

Use “pop-up and close” style gallery navigation. Don’t let them be lazy and click through all of your images with a simple “Next, Previous, Thumbnails” style navigation, they might go through your whole portfolio! Better to make them work for it, open each image in a separate pop-up window and click to close it again before they can click on the next image. Your fabulous art is worth the trouble! For an extra incentive, make them wait for a JavaScript that cleverly re-sizes the pop-up window every time before displaying your image. In fact, the more pop-up windows, the better! Pop up each gallery, gallery subsection and individual image in a separate pop-up window! Wheeeee!

Speaking of Javascript, be sure to use one that makes the user’s browser window reposition itself, or forces it to full screen when they arrive at your site. Nothing says “Welcome” like yanking the user’s browser out of their hands and making it clear you don’t think they know how to view your brilliant design properly because they’re idiots.

Here’s another good trick, use JavaScript on your thumbnails so that they can only see your full size images on rollover, and the instant they move the mouse, change the image. The self-control necessary to keep the mouse steady, or carefully take their hands off of it to view the image for more than a split second will keep them on their toes. You don’t want any slackers looking at your stuff! Plus, this has the added advantage of making them wait for the images to pre-load before they can see them.

While you’ve got the JavaScript book out, pull out the Flash book too. See if you can find some ways to make your galleries hard to scroll, keep the text from being read by search engines and make the images take forever to display, either by long fades, dramatic transitions or resizing display areas. (Ignore the fact that Flash can be used responsibly and effectively if you learn how; that stuff’s for sissies!)

Be sure to put your site in frames! You wouldn’t want someone to be able to conveniently bookmark a page, or send a link to an individual page to, say, another art director. You want them to go through the entire navigation process everytime. Putting your entire site in a single Flash file is good for this too.

As long as you’re coding, make sure your site is Internet Explorer specific. You don’t want any bums using Firefox, Mozilla, Opera, OmniWeb, UNIX, LINUX or a Mac to access your site. If they can’t get a real computer, they should get lost.

Don’t bother to find out how to make your site search-engine friendly. True artists have always languished in obscurity. If you do go insane and decide you’d like your site to be found, don’t take the trouble to go to, or similar sites, and learn anything about search engine optimization; be sure to hire a black-ops, fly-by-night search engine optimization outfit from a country whose name you can’t pronounce, that has sent you a spam email promising to post your site to “hundreds of search engines”. (Those stories about 90% of all searches taking place on the top four search engines? Just rumors!)

Play some tricks! Use nondescript links, that unsuspecting users think are to other pages in your site, to send them without warning to eBay, your blog, a Flickr gallery or to start the unwanted download of a PDF file. What fun!

Wow ’em with sound. If your visitors are in an environment where music is inappropriate, and only have their sound on so Microsoft Word can seranede them when it belches out a document, they’ll appreciate the welcome relief from boredom that your surprise music explosion brings to them, their unspecting co-workers, and their boss, who needs to loosen up anyway. On the other hand, if they’re in a sutuation where music is acceptable, they’re certain to like what you have picked out better than what’s on their iPod, and they’ll appreciate the surprise mash-up of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Dust in the Wind. Besides, your taste in what music they should listen to is obviously much better than theirs. If you’re creating your navigation in Flash to keep it hidden from search engines, you can add bonus sound effects to the buttons! And don’t let some namby-pamby usability expert talk you into subtle little camera shutter clicks to give user feedback when they click on a button; imagine some art director’s deilght at the button for your “About” page emitting a sound like a Star Wars light saber slicing through a jet engine housing!

Don’t learn anything about usability, information design or good navigation practices. If you’re making your site yourself, you don’t want to stifle your creativity with such things, nor do you want to be aware of them if you’ve hired a “creative” web site designer or agency who has promised to make your site “cutting edge”. All that nonsense about making a site easy to use just gets in the way. Make sure you don’t read books on web site usability, like Steve Krug’s Don’t make Me Think. Don’t try to look at your site like someone who’s never been there before. Hey, you know where everything is, if some newbies can’t figure it out, screw ’em!

Keep ’em guessing. The home page is the first impression visitors have of your site, Whatever you do, don’t set aside a space on the home page, or at the top of your blog, to give first time visitors a succinct description of who you are and what you do, or tell them what kind of site this is. What fun is that? In fact, do what you can to make the intro to your site as enigmatic and obscure as possible; this is très chic. Besides, all the important people have already been to your site and know the score; and the newcomers will love the feeling that they have arrived at the gate of a clandestine private club, and will appreciate the challenge of figuring out the puzzle while they decide whether or not to apply for membership.

Don’t focus! Since everybody important has already been to your site, design your home page for their benefit and fill it with the latest news of your comings and goings, or your insightful ruminations on last night’s episode of Lost. Don’t waste that wonderful home page space on introductions for strangers! Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure to cram as much as possible on your home page. It’s the most important page, right? So everything should go there. Make it long and scrolling and squeeze stuff into every corner. You don’t want any wasted white space! The more stuff vying for attention, the better! MAKE EVERY LINE A HEADLINE! Mix colors! MAKE YOUR HEADLINES LOOK LIKE LINKS! MAKE YOUR LINKS LOOK LIKE HEADLINES! Be sure to underline, italicize and bold all kinds of stuff for EMPHASIS!!. Isn’t this fun?! Don’t forget, the computer gods gave you a milliOn fOntS for a reason; it would be a sin not to use them.

And be sure to center your text. It’s a well established principle
of graphic design that centered text is much easier to read than boring old justified
text. That’s why all novels, magazines and newspapers look like wedding

Once you’ve made your images inaccessible, make yourself inaccessible. Suppress any unwarranted urge you have to include a brief bio. At the very least substitute a clever “fake” bio that’s sure to leave ’em laughing. Or, if you must add a real bio, be sure to write a lengthy multi-pager with your entire life story, your views on all aspects of art, religion and politics and the details on your penchant for eating Oreos dipped in Diet Coke at 4am in your Sponge Bob underwear. Don’t include a short description of your working methods, that might be too interesting or informative. Make certain your contact information isn’t available, or be sure it’s presented as some kind of weirdly arranged interactive form, the location of which is hidden and the page for which makes it clear how much you don’t want anyone to contact you unless you already know them, because they’re obviously “fans”, and as such, beneath your notice.

Most importantly, make sure the images themselves are too small to really convey any feeling for your work. Remember – all visitors to your portfolio site are malicious parasitic thieves, out to steal your precious artwork and print it on millions of knock-off T-shirts in China! Don’t give them anything that makes your work look good enough to steal!!   Better yet, keep your work safe by not putting it on the web at all! If your work is in print, you need to write your senators and demand they outlaw inexpensive scanners, which can actually be used to grab a high-resolution, printable image of your art. Now that I think of it, it’s better to prevent your work from appearing in print too. Keep it at home in a drawer so no one can see it but you!

Or just watermark everything. Now we’re talkin’! Make sure your watermark is big and ugly and obliterates any remnant of appeal your tiny images might still allow to be present in your work. The best phrase to watermark across your images is: “I think you’re a thief, you’re not worthy to look at my brilliant work and you wouldn’t understand it anyway! Go away!”

See how easy it is? By following these simple rules, or just a few of them, you too can make your portfolio site as magnificently unappealing as many other artists! So grab your copy of Front Page and have at it!

Addendum: Due to the overwhelming response to this article, and the many requests for information that have stemmed from it, I’ve started a less entertaining, but hopefully more directly helpful, series of articles on the subject of How to Display Your Art on the Web.


236 Replies to “How Not to Display Your Artwork on the Web”

  1. Time for me to update my whole website (yes all selfcoded html with tables!) and I did use an iframe within my pages with thumbs for my portfolio: the AD can bookmark a particular portfolio page and all thumbs open within that page. Since my own browser is so aged (hoping to update my OS tomorrow, browser to follow) I can only hope that it still works (like a steam engine) in most browsers. Cannot one get around the multiple window-openings by having the ame designated target for all? target=”blankb” or somesuch, and thus ALL will open in the same window, ie no gazillion windows to open and close?

    Anyways, I am glad that I don’t do most of these things, still need to tweak a few. I’ve worried that my site doesn’t have enough bells and whistles but is merely functional, and feel rather relieved after reading this.

    I have to add (after reading all the post and all the comments) that I loved the snark, that I found it easy to read and not hard to keep in one’s mind that these are “NOT” to be done. I’m here via a professional illustrators’ list. (yes, us horrid “commercial” artists like that nasty cheap sellout who painted the Sistine Chapel whom you mentioned!) Thanks for a great post.

  2. Hi,
    I’m having a renewed interest in art and designs, and just thinking of renewing, refreshing and adding things in my portfolio, also thinking of having a website to put them. Your article here really helps in giving some insights! Thanks a lot. Wish me luck on my portfolio website project :)
    C ya!

  3. Thanks Charley,
    As you can see from my website address, your what not to do may well apply to my site. Thankfully, ignorance has spared me from the devilment of javascript and flash pop-ups.
    I think the quote about representing yourself in court get you a f_ _l for an attorney may well apply for “artists” who design their own pages….or cut their own hair. Can I borrow your scissors?- Grant

  4. Thank you Charley (even though I am a bit red-faced at one or two of these but all your points are spot on!)
    The worst sin of all in my book is a website that starts playing music at you, because if you are in the office and surfing the net when you should be working, and the site starts playing March of the Valkyries loudly from your computer, the game is up!!!
    I’m really baffled by the use of Flash that I see all the time. Customers don’t like it. Search Engines don’t like it. So really, who is it for? Pretentious website awards?!
    Thanks again and keep snarking

  5. Thanks. Used properly, Flash is superb at presenting motion graphics and interactive presentations; particularly instructional or educational features that utilize interactivity and animation to display information. It is also still the single most practical way to present video on the web for display across a range of browsers and operating systems. The latter is changing, however, with the increasing popularity of Apple’s iPad, which does not support Flash.

  6. Thank you for the well-written, thought-out post. I am a so-so HTML coder who knows enough to make, at times, a truly horrible site. Fortunately, an online art gallery does not lend itself to all the “features” you mentioned so I’m not totally guilty! And now I have your blog as a reference for my next update. I have added your article’s URL to my blog so others can also benefit. -Diane

  7. I wish I would have read this before I suggested my blog site. I will now gradually lift my fingers from the keyboard and try to slip out of here as quietly as possible.
    Thanks for this informative piece. I was fooled by your wit, at first I thought I was doing everything right.

  8. Amazing! The most funny thing is the way you wrote those tips, really ironic and sarcastic! I’ll make good use of them since I’m starting my site with some of my work… But like Ruth Park says its just a blog for now

    Congrats for your blog!

  9. Hilarious. Altho many will take the headlines seriously and not as satire. Reminds me of the 1995-era website ‘Buddugly’, where they put to use every dismal feature of HTML/JS. Remember the Netscape BLINK tag? LOL Keep it up.

  10. Good morning, Mr. Parker!

    I found you while image-searching for ‘Barge Haulers on the Volga’ by Ilya Repin. This page really jumped out of the left-hand navigation because un-usable web-sites are one of my pet-peeves – HAD to see what you had to say!

    and – I love it!

    Assuming that *all* of one’s visitors are on the bleeding edge of technology and know-how is a sure way to leave both money and traffic on the table.

    ~ Karen

  11. Hi Charley,

    Since mid July last year I am onto what you suggest here. Before I never had a host to put my stuff (visual art from abstract all the way down to illustrative) into the web or better say I didn’t even cope with readily designed tamplates. So, I read yours first of all and implemented it since,literally speaking every word of it. Surprise! Meantime stats rise (44% in April on ranking and visitors affluent on the rise, except one month – you did not say much about that effect. Sure, there are month to go till viability. Still – what now? Are you sure there are even better ways? For now I stick with what I learned here and read it over and over.

  12. Your site is interesting and helpful for beginner artists like me. The points made about making your work readily accessible on your site are certainly pertinent and make heaps of sense – not only for showcasing/selling art on the web. I hope that I can get to a standard soon when I will be able to make full use of your advice. At the moment I am very much in the learning phase, working from a few ebooks that I have found clear and productive. They might be of interest to any others of your readers who are at my stage. They can be downloaded here.

  13. First lesson I learned at my puberty party a zillion years ago is copyright anda brief hey you better not and hope they do! Laa la la laaa laaa

  14. What a refreshing post..It seems that you have indeed seen them all. I wonder if all sites would have the description you all listed if anyone would actually stay on viewing the website. Keeping the suspense and the site visitors guessing may not be too appealing for me. I hope it works on others though.

  15. Karin Jurick sent me to your website. This is the first article I read and I am so very glad I had help with my website. Looks like the geek who helped me knew what he was doing. I think we touched every point you made. Can’t wait to go on and read more.
    PS She sent me here because I am looking for webpages for drawable/paintable nudes. Not porn! Hard to find. I’ll look over your site and hope to find a link to something suitable.

  16. Awesome! I’m glad I never stop reading your posts. Protecting artwork is definitely an issue especially that competition today is unstoppable especially on the web. I will definitely want to try that Flash and JavaScript tricks too so that nobody can steal my images (don’t even think about!). Thanks Charley!

  17. Nice tricks here Charley. You know I am just a newbie to site creation and the related tasks. Well of course I know how to safety my content. But I agree that artwork should be hidden coz a lot of bad people in this world keep on looking for this next victim. Thanks for your info!

  18. This is great! Found you through Stumbleupon. So funny and practical I have to sign up to read your blog.
    I sent a link to this page to my tutors. Not just for the practical stuff in this post but for all the useful links to other artists and images for student research. My course is an AB in Fine and Applied Art for mature students and we also have HNC/HND and Foundation courses.
    For myself, I’m trying to build my own site, using a hosted domain name against peer advice. Glad someone smarter can back me up. Thanks.

  19. This had me laughing out loud so many times. Javascript rollovers! Gratuitous flash! Body copy centered and set in Zapfino! Crosshairs for cursors! Dedicated popout windows for images captured with a 4mpx point-and-shoot camera (and unceremoniously watermarked in Calibri)! “About” links that trigger “”! Where is that music coming from?

  20. Thanks. This was done a while ago, so I couldn’t add the advice to be certain your images are on a page for which you must click “Load more” at the bottom; producing — instead of separate pages — a long infinitely scrolling page with individual images that cannot be bookmarked. You wouldn’t want anyone to come back to an image of yours they particularly like without clicking through the entire length of the page again.

  21. Just stumbled onto this site while doing a Google Image Search for a painting by John William Waterhouse. I’m a consumer, not a producer, of art, but I do want to add a ‘Spot On’ of my own to this post. Of course it applies not only to artists’ websites: far too few web designers understand that the mere availability of a feature is not a requirement to use it.

    Permit me to add, in the spirit of this thread, a sarcastic Don’t of my own: Don’t make it possible to read a comment thread from the beginning without numerous clicks and many meters of scrolling.

    Sarcasm off: this is a superb site. Congratulations.

    PS and FWIW: I prefer to read white text on a black background and have so configured Windows 8. No browser that I’ve seen quite handles it correctly. Chrome inverts images along with the text. Firefox doesn’t, but occasionally fails to display thumbnails at all. One or the other seems to cover all cases, but if it’s up to me, I much prefer seeing images against a black background, so that all the light-gathering ability of my 73-year-old eyes is concentrated on the picture.

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