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Go Forward, Move Ahead
It's not too late.
Last week I did a soft launch of my newly redesigned website, which in and of itself isn’t all that unique since I’ve redesigned my website dozens of times over the years. What is unique—or at least different—is the overall focus of the site and the process I went through putting it together this time around. I started by asking myself a relatively simple question: do I even need a website? The most common answer is “Yes, of course,” which is often followed by “especially because you’re an artist.” But I actually know quite a few creatives who don’t have their own websites. Some rely on a strong social media presence, some have gallery representation that drives sales of originals or prints, and others just have a storefront so that a dedicated personal site isn’t really necessary.
When I started to really think about it, there was already a ton of other stuff swirling around in my head around what I did or didn’t want to do creatively moving forward. And they were big questions. Things like do I want to keep podcasting or do I even want to keep painting? And to what degree do I want to do those things and what does the output even look like? I also looked at where the writing side fits in because I really would like to do another book, but what does that look like? I know it doesn’t want to be technical like Photography by the Letter, but I don’t know that I have the chops for fiction. So there was a lot and I think first I had to try to figure out the what and the why of my own creative practice before I could begin to think about how to present it and whether that meant a website and if so, what kind of website.
I think over the past several Iterations, there’s been an evolution in how I’m starting to see myself and what I want to be doing—and what I don’t want to be doing—rather than what I’ve convinced myself that I should be doing. In fact, I’m really trying to take “should” out of my vocabulary. According to many psychologists, “should-statements” are a type of negative thinking pattern that contributes to fear and worry and if there are two things that I definitely need less of, it’s fear and worry.
I made a list of all of the things that I really love to do, and not just the things that can make money—that part can come later, if at all. For now, I was just concerned with the things that came to mind that bring me joy. For example, I love listening to music and have even been dabbling in making music of my own, but I have no illusions of it becoming any sort of career. That said, I have a ton of great stories around music that might make an interesting podcast. I mean, how many people can say they made cappuccinos for U2 and Madonna? And if you know me at all, you know I’ve already got the name and designed the show art. I know Sean teases me about it, but graphic design has always been near the top of my list in terms of things I love to do, which is why I’m always designing t-shirts or stickers for the projects I come up with, regardless of whether the project goes anywhere or not. It’s just a thing I love to do.
I won’t run down the whole list, but I will say that there are two themes common to pretty much everything on it: design and conversation. What about my art? Even though I’ve reluctantly referred to myself as a painter and I use paint as a medium, I see most of my visual work as design. I’m an assembler. “Painter” is simply a convenient shorthand that carries less baggage and requires less explanation than “artist.” As for conversation, for the past 15 years, that’s meant podcasting or some variation on it. Regardless of what form it takes, it definitely doesn’t mean video, at least for the conversation part. I still think there could be a place for video, and briefly I toyed with the idea of doing video interviews, but I am an audio guy. I may have grown up watching people like Huell Howser, Johnny Carson, and Charlie Rose, but the countless hours I’ve spent listening to Studs Terkel, Joe Frank, and any number of other DJs on late-night FM radio have left an indelible mark on me. Podcasting lets me do my own version of that and while I don’t think I’m there yet, I have some ideas, which is why I decided to reboot Process Driven and am developing a new show around conversations with everyday working folks. I love stories. I love listening to them. I love being able to share them and I think one of my superpowers is being able to create space so that the people that I’m talking with feel comfortable enough to tell me their stories. I want to lean into that. Actually, as so many of my friends have pointed out, it’s one of the only things that I seem “called” to do.
With the what and the why at least somewhat sorted, I started thinking about the how. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using a single-page platform called Carrd [affiliate link], but because I want to present a broader overview of what I do, as well as add a store for originals and prints, I decided to take another look at Wordpress and Squarespace. I used Wordpress for years, but just got tired of the maintenance side. Updating one plugin would sometimes break the functionality of another and the design and layout engine was often too limited for what I wanted to do. In version 5.8, they adopted a block-based editor, which uses widgets to make page layout more flexible. Unfortunately, it still feels really clunky—especially going from desktop to mobile. I like the idea of the block approach, but because blocks beyond the core are third-party plugins, support and functionality are still a mixed bag.
As for Squarespace, I hadn’t looked at it since version 6 when they were a sponsor of On Taking Pictures. After less than an hour in the backend of the current 7.1 version, I knew it wasn’t going to work for me. In fact, I feel pretty much the same way about it now as I did six or seven years ago. If what you want is what it does, great. But the minute you want to start customizing, it can get sticky pretty quick. The new drag-and-drop Fluid Engine sort of works (unless you’re on an iPad), but I just felt like I was fighting with the backend to make things work. And why you need to write custom CSS for something as simple as a drop shadow on a button is beyond me. They also tack on additional fees for things like scheduling and membership, which feels goofy for a platform that wants to be all things. Add value, not just features.
Carrd, on the other hand, is simple to work with and is deceptively powerful. Its biggest “limitation” is the fact that it’s mainly for building single-page sites, but there are workarounds that can give visitors the same experience as a true multi-page site. For the store side of things, I’m going with Shopify. Commerce is what they do—and it’s all they do—and they’re trusted by some of the biggest brands in the world. I’ve used smaller platforms and solutions and they all left me wishing I would have just gone with Shopify from the beginning. When it comes to dealing with money and things like credit card info, I don’t want to worry about plugins and security—nor do I want to host any of that on my side. I’d rather pay someone who specializes in it. As for a blog, that’s basically what I use Substack for. It’s the best of both worlds in terms of a blog and a newsletter and the things I write get delivered straight to my readers. I love the platform and they keep adding features that make sense for both readers and writers.
Getting this new site up has been terrific experience. In terms of the actual build, I approached it more strategically as a series of smaller, sequential milestones, rather than lumping everything together and only seeing a giant mountain of work. One thing follows another and now that the site is done, I can focus on the next thing, which is photographing my work and getting the store built and launched. Once that’s done, I can move on to the zine, which has to wait until the work gets photographed anyway, and then to some of the other projects that are on the books for next year. I’m also approaching potential guests for the relaunch of Process Driven, which I’ve dedicated an entire section of the new website to. Overall, I love how the new site turned out. I think it looks great, but more importantly it’s focused on what I want to do and the things that bring me joy: making work and sharing stories.
Thanks so much for reading.
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