Friday, June 22, 2007

A new owner for Wet Canvas

The reins have changed hands at the biggest global on-line art forum. F&W Publications have aquired Wet Canvas from Kerri Eustice. So what does this mean?

First some facts. The Wet Canvas Forum was founded by Scott Burkett in 1998.....
to help artists connect, collaborate, learn, get inspired, and sell their art over the Internet. (Welcome page - Wet Canvas)
Wet Canvas (WC) is one of the 100 largest bulletin boards on the net and boasts over 100,000 members although this number includes all those who've registered in the last 8+ years and many are no longer active. The announcement of the change is contained in A New Chapter for the WC Community and there's also a Meet and Greet thread.

F&W publications publish special interest books and magazines. Most of you will be familiar with some of their key brands such as
Their website indicates that their interactive media division is a growing and profitable area of their business - so the acquisition of WC must make complete business sense for them. Both the Pastel Journal and The Artists Magazine have recently started their own blogs ( see below for links - and, as an aside, I'm pleased to say that this blog was featured in the Pastel Journal blog's first post about other art blogs last week!)

Here's a link to a video of David Pyle, the Group Publisher setting out what it means from the F&W perspective, emphasising what he describes as a stewardship role and an initial focus on asking and listening. The page also links to an associated survey. Below is an extract of the text of their announcement - and another link to the survey seeking views. Three lucky respondents will receive a free subscription to The Artist's Magazine and a $100 gift certificate for North Light Books.
Welcome WetCanvas.com!
We are excited to share the news that WetCanvas! is now part of the F+W Publications family. WetCanvas! joins our Fine Art group which includes The Artist’s Magazine, Watercolor Magic, Pastel Journal, North Light Books, and the North Light Book Club. WetCanvas!, launched in 1998, quickly became the best-known site of its kind with a large, passionate community of more than 100,000 artists.

If you haven’t already, why not visit WetCanvas.com! now?

And if you are already a member of the WetCanvas! community, we’d be grateful if you’d take a minute or two to pass along your thoughts on what you love about WetCanvas! and what you’d do to improve it.

Please take our survey, now!

We will do all that we can to serve, support, and maintain the qualities that make WetCanvas! so compelling. We will also invest in the site, offering new content, events, and activities.

(F&W Publications)
I've completed the survey and it asks a lot of interesting questions. It suggests to me that there may well be a number of interesting new initatives in the pipeline. The interactive and video aspects look particularly interesting - speaking as somebody who already subscribes to both The Artist and The Pastel Journal and owns far more North Light books than I care to confess to!

The survey also wants to know our views beyond the questions asked - so what do I think?

I've been wondering about the future of Wet Canvas ever since the blogging explosion began. People continue to very much enjoy the community of artists aspect of WC and it is still an excellent starting point for many people who are new to art on the interent.

Here's what I think are some of the challenges that need to be considered by the new owners.

Traffic and participation - and the challenge of blogging

Although Wet Canvas continues to be active in overall terms, I think I've noticed the turnover of members increase in some areas. Statistical data about the number of active members is not well publicised but it must be much lower than the total number registered since typically between only 1,500 and 2,000 are online at any one time - although many of these freely confess that they stay on-line all day! It reminds me of the blogosphere where a vast proportion of people don't continue with their blogs after an initial taster. Nothing ununusal in that but it would be nice to look at the site stats in Google or Technorati currency terms (eg only counting links in the last six months).

In my opinion, some of the WC Forums have begun to look and feel a tad staid compared to the individuality and freedom offered by blogs. The blogging community is also very much peer driven rather than paternalistic (membership rules/moderated by others etc). Plus those who blog regularly and connect with some of the formal and informal blogging communities soon discover that there's an even bigger community of very active artistic bloggers out there.

A lot of WC members now have blogs and post on those on a regular basis AND on Wet Canvas AND also in other community blogs - and that's before taking account of any posting they also need to do on e-bay sites or other selling sites they also post on. My experience has been - and I believe this is shared by others - that once one has started to blog the tendency over time seems to be to switch more of your time and effort to your own individual blog. This inevitably tends to reduce input and exposure to Wet Canvas.

The nearest analogy to starting to blog is the buzz you get when leaving home for the first year at university. You start in a new place on your own and knowing nobody. Before you know it, you become part of a new community and end up going 'home' less and less. I know I've 'met' lots of really nice people through the medium of this blog (and theirs) and I've also very much enjoyed seeing some sorts of art which don't often surface on Wet Canvas. I now also get much more traffic for my art on this blog than ever happened on Wet Canvas.

I think the challenge for the new owners will be to recognise and cater for this new trend since it won't be possible to change it - growth in blogging and other similar sites is still explosive and exponential. Over and above the development of new initiatives not currently offered elsewhere in the Internet, I personally think that it might be interesting to explore the scope for the Wet Canvas site to host art-related (and free) blogs which would operate under the same membership rules as existing membership. It might be a really smart move.

Accessibility and ease of navigation - and a plethora of forums

Another challenge will relate to the number of forums which currently exist. So far as I am aware WC has "grown like topsy" and has never done much to rationalise its structure over the last 10 years. Would anybody design it "as is" if they started the site now? I don't think so!

According to Kerri's announcement
they have expressed to me their desire to keep all guides, moderators, and forums intact and to use their print publications and conferences to make WetCanvas! even better. A New Chapter for the WC Community
If I was taking over Wet Canvas, after a period of seeking views (complete the survey!) and getting to know the place, I'd be wanting to ask questions about whether the current forum structure actually maximises benefits for members, sponsors, advertisers and the owner. It's always difficult getting an optimal balance for all the different interests but I'd have thought that some of the forums which have a seriously low level of activity need to be reviewed and rationalised. Certainly the gateway into the different forums could usefully take account of the very different levels of activity.

Some of the forums are incredibly active(eg the Watercolour, Drawing and Sketching and Glass Art Forums). However the level of activity in some of the other forums has slowed to snail's pace (eg Illustration, Composition and Design, Studio Paintings from Plein Air Reference) while others can fluctuate quite wildly in levels of activity on a seasonal or daily basis.

I've also observed very many individual art blogs around the blogosphere (and I'm talking 'ordinary' bloggers here) being much more active than some of the WC forums in terms of posting and comments.

The plethora of forums also, in my opinion, makes navigation difficult and probably means it is less rather than more likely that people explore the site as a whole to find the bits that interest them. Members (and Moderators) remark from time to time about discovering bits of WC only after being members for a long time! So for me, the writing is on the door - the time has come to rethink the structure of the forums to make its navigation simpler and content more accessible even if that may cause some pain in the short term.

For example, would it be a good idea to recognise the biggest area of art which generates the most revenue for artists (landscapes)? Might it be sensible to have a dedicated area which links under one roof the existing landscape forum, the plein air painters, the plein air hall of fame, the people producing studio paintings from plein air references, those painting from photographs in whatever medium, questions about composition and design relating to landscapes, lessons from the master landscape artists of the past plus all the relevant sponsor forums? It could be a real powerhouse forum and yet at the moment all these related areas of activity are fragmented across the site as a whole.

So - what do you think?
  • Is this change good news - or do you have concerns?
  • What do you like about WC and what do you dislike?
  • ....and what would like to think about changing if you were the new owner?
[Note: I should add at this stage that my comments on the change and the questions posed here are wholly independent of both WC and F&W - it's one of the delights of being a blogger!]

Link:

19 comments:

Laraine said...

I appreciate your comments about Wet Canvas and believe you are right. I have been active for periods of time but can't sustain it becaue it takes too much time from my own work. I'm relatively new to blogs. Are you able to make money directly from Making a Mark? Or is it advertising for your art work and classes? Thanks for spreading the word about WC.

Katherine said...

Laraine - I guess this is the point at which I have to confess that making money is not the primary aim of this blog!

Seriously - if I wanted to earn income from this blog that would be very easy. But you'll note the absence of adverts.......

Similarly, it generates a fair bit of traffic for my website. I produce my art largely for me, I exhibit to a degree and I don't feel any need at all to do a lot more than that right now. However should I want to the blog could be very effective at helping me do so.

That's not to say I won't change tack in the future but right now I do this because I enjoy it. I happen to think sharing information is a 'good thing'.

Also I've already set up a blog for selling from should I ever decide to go down that route. It does pay to grab the name you want early! ;)

Now Laraine - I've never ever had a comment before from anybody who has as little information in their Blogger profile as you have - which intrigues me. So who are you and what's your background/field of interest?

Elio Camacho said...

Katherine,

I am very new to the blogging world and love the information you provide. Keep it up.

E

Nicole Caulfield said...

I'm not concerned about it but am very intrigued at what will happen!!

Lin said...

K - As a relative newby to visual art, I use wet canvas as a fantastic reference -- photos, art instruction, inspiration. However, I have always found the forums to be a bit cumbersome and difficult to navigate and so have shied away from any interaction there. Your comments are so well formed and appreciated! I hope the new owners keep the information, library, and 'flavor' of the site .. it has been tremendously helpful !

Laraine said...

I created an account so that I could ask you a question... who knew about profiles! I'll take a look. My work can be seen at www.larainearmenti.com

I "met" you in the sketch thread at WC. I applauded and envied your intrepid spirit for the New England sketch trip. I grew up in Concord, Mass and live nearby so it was a thrill to see your art from the places you visited. You've inspired me to sketch in the moleskin more often.

Your consistency and quality of information on the blog are terrific. Thanks for responding to the financial question.

Katherine said...

Laraine - thanks for the response - much appreciated. I'm not very keen on comments by people who appear to be wholly anonymous. But I also wondered whether you knew what your profile looked like.

Think of blog comments as being a bit like meeting people face to face for the first time. One tends to exchange a few details by way of introduction - and the profile is extremely helpful in this respect.

Also I find that names don't always carryover from WC to the blogging arena - plus I'm not so good at remembering them these days! ;)

Thanks for the comments on the sketching - much appreciated. My cousin, who I was staying with, lives in Littleton - and I left my drawing board there so I'll be back!

Laraine said...

No of course, too many screen pages later. Drop a line when you head off on your next New England road trip. I stumbled through setting up a blog this morning and posted a sketch at larainearmenti.blogspot.com. Thanks for your inspiring energy and out reach.

Plein Air Florida said...

Katherine, One of the problems I find at WC are the restrictions on commentary which are not a problem with blogging. I like to announce my studio happenings, products I use, workshops and so forth and that is not allowed at WC. There seems to be an inconsistency about it there too with it being perfectly all right for someone else to come in and talk about a workshop that someone else is teaching, and so forth. For that reason, I like the freedom of blogging.

I think WC is great for beginning and emerging artists. Not so great for more experienced ones. I do try to post there often in hopes of helping others. I also agree that it has far too many forums now.

Love,
Linda

www.linda-blondheim.blogspot.com

Katherine said...

It's interesting how often the comment about numbers of forums/difficulties of navigation is coming up.

Every time I've raised it within WC it's not been favoured with a positive response. I guess people will always tend to like protecting the status quo - and their own particular bit of territory. However I do think it means that one can lose sight of the big picture and the nature of the experience for newcomers.

Just as a matter of interest - how many people have come across the product review system within WC? (or maybe I should be asking this in a new post?)

Dave said...

It's not surprising that something that has grown so large should have a lot of different forums, though I do think it's confusing. If I paint a watercolour landscape en plein aire, I've got a choice of at least three places where I could post it. In my experience, it is the forums based on mediums rather than subject-matter that are the most lively, probably because they are more natural places for people to share advice and tutorials.

It will be interesting to see how it develops, and it will be interesting to see how its new owners will develop it so as to fit in with their print publications.

David Pyle said...

Katherine -

What a balanced and cogent review of some of the issues that we face with WetCanvas! The question regarding whether or not WC! would have been designed originally to take on its current form is particularly instructive. And it illustrates that, given the opportunity, the process of Darwinian evolution applies to online 'organisms,' too.

WetCanvas! has evolved into something very dynamic, highly engaging, and just a little bit messy. Kind of like people, eh? I worry, however, that if we attempt to eliminate the messy and inconvenient bits, we might also strangle some of the qualities that make it a living, breathing thing?

I don't know. And we're not going to rush to judgment. We're under no illusions that we know everything we'll need over the next weeks and months to nurture and support this community. There were, of course, business reasons that this move makes sense. But it only works long-term if we do what's needed to support WetCanvas! as a living, breathing, dynamic, engaging, free-flowing, learning-based, and sometimes messy thing.

So, we'll take our time and learn.

I am, however, going to print out your blog post and tape it to my wall!

Thanks again.

David Pyle

Group Publisher
The Artist's Magazine
Watecolor Magic
The Pastel Journal
WetCanvas!

Katherine said...

David - thanks for commenting. I'm tickled pink by the idea of my a copy of my blog post being on your wall!

I guess the question I'm asking is if you eliminated some of the forums which attract very little support would many members actually notice?

Katherine said...

see also my comment about Art Forums with debates sub-forums - which don't actually debate art-related issues - in Art forums - the ins and outs.

Katherine said...

Just popped in to say "Hi" to all those people from Wet Canvas who have been arriving recently to take a look at what has been said in this blog post.

For those who are new to blogs and blogging, I hope you find the time to take a look around and get an idea of what this blog is about, why it exists and how it works with a lot of other sites around the blogosphere and internet - both major and minor. (That means lots of links folks!)

My emphasis is very much about fostering and sharing learning about art and art careers and applauding achievement.

I sincerely hope that this blog's relationship with WC can continue to be positive and constructive - as indeed it has been on so many occasions in the past.

Anonymous said...

Hi Katherine,

I just read your post about F&W acquiring WetCanvas. There is a new online community for artist called FineArtAmerica which you may be interested in writing about.

It has many of the community features of WetCanvas plus much more (i.e. print on demand, etc.).

Brian

Stardreamer said...

I am leaving WC! because of the fascist state it has suddenly in the last few weeks with the new owners. I am also going to be writing every single ad member I can think of that deals with them and let them know what I think about them doing business with WC!

Chatting, gone
Debates, destroyed and changed
Reference Image Library, gone
Tutorials, mostly gone.

What's the point? A nice pat on the back since you are not allowed to speak your mind or help people anymore.

Oh, and >insert deity here< forbid that you have a thread over 3 pages, it just might get closed now.

Anonymous said...

I was a guide in the abstract contemporary forum and a participant in the debate forum. I joined in 2004 and had 17,000 plus posts. made a lot of art and friends in the largest on line art community. F&W have for some irrational reasons has been doing things to drive away long time contributors to the various forums. freedom of speech and it's many expressions are obviously not treasured by the management.

Cst said...

Wetcanvas, for professional artists, is totally useless except for the professional to present their knowledge and experience to the artists who are flogging along.

However, with moderators being the 'flogglings' themselves, and who teach outdated and often wrong information such as 'add more darks' which would be rediculous in a painting of mist or a painting such as Impression Sunrise by Monet.

When offered an opposing solution other than 'value contrasts' then an ensuing argument can force the professionals off site.

The inability of WC to have a wide variety of moderators...those who can not get past value contrasts as being key to a painting....throwing away other possibilities which the master artists have employed for centuries of color contrasts as being more emotionally charging than value contrasts.... is like giving a child a nail to suck on instead of helping him to LEARN something.

Unfortunately F&W publications seem to feature just that same thing....mostly high value contrast REALISTIC paintings which are mere copies of photographs. Zerox has the batallions for doing that...so why have that in a magazine as being mostly what 'good art' is?

It is because the writers, the artists and the owners of F&W Publications hasn't been taught any better. Low value contrasts are effective in an artist's 'message' and even BETTER describe an emotion than value contrasts. Value contrasts describe the object....and the subject matter.

As I said...Zerox can do that but a real artist uses the whole gamut of values OR LIMITED VALUES w/ color temperature contrasts....to infuse the painting how they feel.

Want replication? Use Zerox
Want a fine art painting such as the master's produced...use ALL the tools as suggested by Margaret Livingstone PHd, Harvard,in her book, "Art & The biology of seeing".

Can you tell why I was kicked off Wetcanvas? LOL.....the people at F&W see the same as the nit witted moderators....looking MOSTLY for high value contrast paintings which are all about WHAT....instead of WHY.

Realistic paintings with high value contrasts are probably the best for grabbing the eye but near value color contrast paintings grab the emotional strings between painter and viewer.

Ok...that's it. I do wish that F&W would provide a forum for professional artists since there is no where on the internet for such. WC's professionals are biased and can only see 'one way' and that is not ART. Art is a changing breathing thing that morphs with new inventions, new mediums, and new thoughts and experiences.

Too bad WC drives away professional because of a bunch of jealous amateurs who are Moderators, admins and owners.



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