Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Art Forums - the ins and outs

Peonies - a work in progress
8" x 10", coloured pencils on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Lots of artists who blog also participate in one or more of the art forums that exist on the Internet.

Here's a quick overview of some of those art forums - with some comments from my perspective. That means it's just my view - you may have a completely different view. Please comment if you have something useful to add.

First some tips about useful things to keep in mind when visiting an art forum for the first time.

Checking out an art forum

Some tips for checking out an art forum prior to participation.
  • Forums usually provide numbers for threads and comments in each sub-forum. Checking the size of those numbers gives a very good sense of what type of art is popular on the forum as a whole and/or how established a forum is.
  • Try and work out whether a forum is active or tending towards dormant. A very active forum will have lots of new threads every day and lots of people commenting. One that is dying on its feet and in need of the art vet tends to have lots of very old threads with very few comments. You can check activity by looking at the dates and times that new threads were started and when the last comment was made. Less active forums also tend to be the ones with least active moderation.
  • Identify if the purpose of the forum is clear. Is any statement of purpose actually fulfilled by the content of the actual threads in the forum? Forums which are clear about their purpose and keep 'on topic' tend to be less muddled and more helpful. Some sub-forums on some sites have clearly lost their way over time - again a sign of moderation which isn't working.
  • if you're interested in learning more about media or technique, can you find out what you want to know really easily? There's lots and lots of good content on various art forums - but they differ very markedly in how well they signpost its existence to new members and, in some case old members as well!
  • If you think you've found a forum that you're interested in then check the membership agreement and rules about how to post carefully and you won't fall foul of the 'do's and don'ts for that forum.
Forums I visit

I participate in various forums on Wet Canvas (WC) from time to time although much less than I used to since I started blogging. WC is a very large forum and some of the sub-forums can be very enjoyable and/or stimulating. However some - including me - would characterise the site as a whole as 'sprawling'. It's recently changed hands and is now owned by the F&W Publications group - who are the people behind North Light Books and some of the major American art journals. They're currently in 'listening mode' in terms of finding out what members like and dislike about the forum. WC has a variable level of involvement by companies which are partners and/or sponsors. Some is good - for example I always enjoy reading the well-informed and helpful views of Howard Metzenberg from Dick Blick.

Forums that I look in on now and again are:
  • Art and Artistry - This site was started by a small group of ex-Moderators from Wet Canvas and has a small but apparently devoted following. It describes itself as an educational art forum. It recently changed its structure and I personally think it now makes a lot more sense. Interestingly this has shifted the bulk of traffic to the 'your artwork' forum. Hopefully this should lead to some productive exchanges between artists using different media.
    • the media forums are now oriented towards technique rather than the display of art
    • the subject forums are now oriented towards subject specific issues (common to all media) rather the the display of art
    • the 'your artwork' forum has been created as the place to (1) seek advice, (2) demonstrate a WIP or (3) display completed artwork. It's particularly nice to see forums with clear and upfront guidelines as to purpose.
  • ArtPapa - in my opinion this tends towards a more traditional approach to art and has an educational slant. A.L.Antonov (the owner) leads on the forum for classical oil painting techniques used by the Old Masters. It's also the sort of forum which would be enjoyed by people who like pencil art and are fans of J.D. Hillbery or Mike Sibley.
  • The Society of Amateur Artists (SAA) is a UK art website catering for the hobby market. The SAA Shop manages to negotiate some good deals on painting supplies due to numbers (hence why I tend to visit!). It also has listings for professional artists and art tutors willing to visit art societies. In addition, it has its forums - which are nowhere near as active as some of the larger forums but have some very useful forums not present on othersites eg the UK art course forum is very active at certain times of year.
  • The d'Art community forums have been around for a long time and are fairly active. Every forum has its own set of devotees but I personally find it difficult to find my way round this site and rarely visit. Some of the sub-forums are very dormant. In my opinion, it's looking like it could do with a bit of a shake-up in terms of the model adopted for forum activity.
  • The Artists Network forum has been around for some time but is not very active - maybe because it's quite difficult to find? It's also part of the F+W Publications family which has recently acquired Wet Canvas. It recently added a coloured pencils forum to those focused on different types of media.
Other art forums

These are the forums that I know exist but never visit.
  • This is the forum which comes top when you plug 'art forums' into Google is Concept Art. (The chart in the link below suggests that this may be due to a big increase in traffic recently rather than overall traffic numbers). I don't know anything about the forum but it seems to be oriented towards those working as fantasy illustrators. This is one of the few forums which lists job opportunities - which also might explain its ranking.
  • Deviantart boast about being the largest art forum in the world and certainly seems to have lots of young people as members (which is supported by the chart below). In my opinion it largely caters for people interested in fantasy art. Check the front page of their website and you'll see what I mean.
  • Graphic Design Forum started in 2005 (I think!) and is a small and specialist forum for (guess!) graphic design which obviously has some devoted followers as it's still going.
  • is a UK based art forum (presumably for UK artists) which started at the end of last year and seems to have got off to a slow start. I'd also never heard of it until it came up on the Google search!
Finally - this link is to a chart on which compares the visitor traffic in chart and trend terms of what (I think) are the websites for the top three art forums - deviantart, conceptart and wetcanvas. (I have to confess this is my new toy and I'm afraid I'm just looking for an excuse to compare sites at the moment - although I'm also mindful that Matt Cutts isn't yet convinced of its validity!)

OK - so one more thing while I've got your attention - can anybody think of a good title for my latest work in progress? I'm trying to come up with something snappy to go with peonies! ;)

[Update: For those who'd like to see how the peonies progressed and what the title is go to my next post "Potentially Peonies"]