Galleries : Heather Goff Weaves Art And Technology
Complex computer technology, even for some younger artists, can seem like a mystery better left unexplored. Yet many Island artists and artisans are now finding that the web offers an ideal way to show their work, create an image, and maintain contact with potential customers throughout the year - long after summer visitors have reluctantly returned home.
Heather Goff, owner of goffgrafix, a website design and programming business in Oak Bluffs, has built a name among the Vineyard art community as a translator - someone who can turn the web into an accessible, easily conquerable marketing and selling tool for even the techno-averse. Her secret: she speaks both languages.
"I always knew I wanted to be an artist," says the soft-spoken Ms. Goff. "I took my first life drawing course at 11, studied ceramics in high school and continued my fine art studies through college both in the U.S. and in Italy." During a stint as owner of a thriving custom tile business south of Boston, she recognized the value of developing a website.
"I was interested in designing my own site," she explains, "so I took a series of courses at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. I soon found myself more intrigued by developing the site than I was by producing tile."
Ms. Goff returned to the Vineyard where she had spent her teenage years and created goffgrafix, a state-of-the-art website design and programming business.
Eleven years and more than 250 websites later, Ms. Goff can converse with even the most techno-savvy. But her real skill, she admits, is her ability to collaborate with artists to create websites that reflect their individuality and creativity - and, perhaps more importantly, are easy to operate.
"A website can be a perfect vehicle," she says. "It allows an artist to create a 'gallery,' update it regularly with new work, communicate with customers and create a distinctive image."
Even artists who are represented by galleries often choose to develop their own sites. Marjorie Mason, a Vineyard landscape painter for the past 27 years, launched her goffgrafix-built website in late July. "I show my work at Edgartown Art Gallery," she says, "but the season is short on the Island. I thought the web would be a way to keep my work accessible throughout the year. I'm delighted with the whole thing and only wish I'd done it sooner."
Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Heather Goff's websites for Island artists seem to be popping up all over. Two key reasons, according to both Ms. Goff and the artists interviewed: ease of use and affordability. Unlike other website designers, Ms. Goff specializes in creating content management systems that allow even the most unseasoned of users to add photos, update text, and communicate with customers. And, while other website designers often charge several thousand dollars to develop even relatively uncomplicated sites, goffgrafix is up-front about its fees. Ms. Goff's own website, goffgrafix.com clearly spells out five packages for artists, starting at $600.
"Affordability is a huge consideration for artists who don't have endless funds," says Renee Balter, a painter whose acrylic canvases capture the colorful Victorian architecture of Oak Bluffs. Although her original work can be seen at Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs, she recently decided to develop her own website when she began producing less costly giclee prints. And because she finds selling her work far more awkward than creating it, the web offers a safe bridge between the two. "My website allows people who have seen my work to contact me. It takes the onus off the artist - it's a wonderful 'in-between' step."
Ms. Goff's reasonable rates are no accident. "I deliberately keep my prices down to help support artists and galleries on the Island," she explains. Although they comprise only one-quarter of her business, artists' websites have clearly captured her heart.
Jeri Dantzig, Island restaurateur-turned-fused-glass artist, speaks reverently about the website goffgrafix created for her three years ago. "Heather made it user-friendly for me so I can change the items and information on it," she says, before admitting that she approached it with a certain degree of trepidation. "Some people don't love vacuuming," she says, laughing at the analogy. "It's not that difficult but I wasn't comfortable with the idea at first."
Ms. Dantzig is now gearing up to spend the fall updating her site with new works, and she has already seen the pay-off. When she spent a little time working on it two weeks ago, she received five new orders as a direct result.
Because she shows her colorful tableware at the Vineyard Artisans Festivals in West Tisbury and at an artist's cooperative in Woods Hole, Ms. Dantzig views her website's ability to sell direct to the customer as another opportunity to maintain her profits.
Sarah Young, owner of Vineyard Sky Bead Design, a jewelry designer on the Island, developed her website with Ms. Goff over three years ago. After designing it to function as a visual showplace only, Ms. Young is now revisiting its purpose. "People want to sit in their jammies at home, sip a glass of wine, and, at midnight, order that pair of pearl earrings they fell in love with on my site," she says. She has returned to goffgrafix to add an actual purchasing function. Customers will now be able to fill their virtual shopping carts with her jewelry and buy online. Until now, they could see images of the work, but they had to call or email her to actually make a purchase. "I like having my customers standing in front of me" she says, "marketing is a necessary evil, but the web makes it a lot easier."
Stephanie Danforth exhibits her paintings, collages, etched metal works and hand-painted boxes both at Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs and at The Field Gallery in West Tisbury. Although a reluctant convert to computers (she bought her first one just over a year ago), she decided it was time to get up-to-date.
"When I first talked to Heather about website development I wanted to cry and run out of the room," Ms. Danforth says. "But she's amazing to work with. She made it doable. And my 22-year-old daughter helped me upload my images. Now selling and marketing is a kick. I love being able to tell people to look at my website to see my work. I don't want to compete with my galleries, but a typical show lasts only two weeks in the summer. The website gives me a presence well beyond that. And I'm hoping it will help me find galleries off-Island."
Nancy Shaw Cramer, owner of Shaw Cramer Gallery in downtown Vineyard Haven, maintains her own Goff-designed website and sees the value in those maintained by individual artists. "I use websites to preview new artists' work," she explains. "I also think artist websites can be a great adjunct to a gallery's own marketing efforts."
As for the biggest change to keep an eye on in website development, Ms. Goff suggests search engine optimization. If you don't know what it is or how to achieve it, you may need to join those Island artists and businesses that have already been "goffgraffix-ed."
"I love working with artists, Ms. Goff says. "I encourage them to use their sites to give people insight into their personalities, their process, their lives. People enjoy finding out about the individual. An artist is a person first, then a person who is trying to sell something unique."
Karla Araujo is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Times.