About two years ago I started blogging. I had read author/blogger Michael Hyatt's book "Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World." My intent was to start a blog to share my law enforcement cartoons. I bought the domain name "Policetoons.com" and learned how to build a Wordpress website/blog. It was a painful process, since I was not very technical or website savvy.
I later discovered the website service known as Fine Art Studios Online, or www.FASO.com. I liked that their websites were fully maintained, so I wouldn't have to deal with Wordpress plug-ins, upgrades and such. I moved my cartoon site to FASO and also began a second website blog for my fine art paintings. I bought the domain names JohnPWeiss.com and www.JohnPatrickWeiss.com. For many reasons it's preferable to use your own name for your website, if possible.
Over time I discovered many other successful bloggers, including author Jeff Goins. I ended up reading a few of Jeff's books and even traveled to Franklin, Tennessee for one of Jeff's very first workshops. I learned a lot and enjoyed interacting with Jeff.
I started a third website using Jeff Goins' Wordpress "Tribewriter" theme. This site was my www.JohnPatrickWeiss.com site, which I created to write about my law enforcement experiences and share some hard earned "cop wisdom." With the help of a photoshop savvy coworker I created a few different "headers" for the top of my website. And I experimented with different "tag-lines" which basically describe in one sentence what the site is about. Here are what some of the headers looked like.
There was another one, with the tagline "Cop Wisdom" but I'm not sure where it is in my computer. Along the way I experimented with different newsletter approaches. For awhile I shared cartoons and funny notes that I left in my son's school lunch boxes. I called it "The Lunchbox Letters." Here's the logo for that:
I also wrote and illustrated two eBooks that I used to give away for free whenever someone signed up for my newsletter. One eBook was titled "The Cartoonist's Guide To A Better Life" and the other was titled "An Artful Life." I still have both these short eBooks and will likely source them for a more comprehensive eBook in the future.
It wasn't long before I figured out that running three websites was crazy. What's worse, I offered a free email newsletter on all three sites. Keep in mind that I was doing all this while working as a full-time Chief of Police. Talk about burning the candle! So, I decided to consolidate down to two websites. I dropped my policetoons website (which I had renamed "Weisscartoons.com" ) and consolidated the cartoons into my fine art/landscape painting website, www.JohnPWeiss.com.
I kept writing my police related blog at JohnPatrickWeiss.com but found that my true passion was painting, cartooning and writing. So, I moved many of my inspirational posts over to my art site and consolidated into one website. I "re-pointed" my Wordpress domain for JohnPatrickWeiss.com to my FASO art site at JohnPWeiss.com. Man, I'm exhausted just writing about it. But then I later ended up needing more functionality, so I once again changed from JohnPWeiss.com to this current site at JohnPatrickWeiss.com. Phew!
I should note that along the way there were some successes. I had written a post about the author Diana Gabaldon's TV series "Outlander." My wife read all her books and we watched the TV episodes. My article was a tongue and cheek piece titled "Outlander-A Men's Survival Guide."
The post went viral and I had over 28,000 hits on my website. Diana Gabaldon posted a link to my article on her Facebook page. Within a day I received hundreds of emails, newsletter sign ups and requests to re-post my piece in various media outlets and even different countries. The post was also popular because I illustrated it. The post originally appeared on my old website, so when I transferred it to this site, I lost the nearly 400 comments. You can read the post here.
My Outlander post led to an invitation to write for www.goodmenproject.com. I went on to write several articles for them, which was a good experience. Unfortunately, it didn't result in much traffic back to my website. Further, my website writing was increasingly about art and inspiration. As luck would have it, the fine folks at the on-line art and marketing site Fine Art Views invited me to become a regular contributing writer.
I had been submitting blog posts and they often used them. So now I have the privilege of being the Saturday columnist for Fine Art Views. This has given my writing some exposure and attracted subscribers to my free email newsletter. And, because I'm an artist writing about art and inspiration, I am consistently writing within my niche. Fewer people unsubscribe from my newsletter now, because they like the consistent, art related content.
As you can see, writing a blog can be an evolution and learning process. There have been ups and downs along the way, and more than once I thought about giving up on the whole venture. But then I started a public Facebook page, as well as a Pinterest and Google + page to help share my art and writing. I found the immediate feedback on Facebook to be very helpful. I started learning about copywriting and what makes a good blog post. I hired an excellent copywriter who works for Copyblogger.com. His name is Demian Farnworth and his website is www.thecopybot.com. Demian helped me refine my work and learn how to write for the Internet, where attention spans are limited.
I also learned how to find and use the best stock photographs. I subscribe to Dollarphoto.com and also use a lot of free images from www.unsplash.com. I love using my own photos and art as well, but sometimes a piece calls for a specific image I don't have. If you want a professional blog, you have to use good images. Further, I began experimenting a little bit this last year with video. I did a few shorts of me cartooning, which I uploaded to Youtube and then shared on my site.
In order to write quality posts, I had to discipline myself and manage my time well. On my lunch hours at work, I often read on-line articles or books. I keep a journal and write down ideas. I also save pertinent links on my computer. I write on a MacBook Pro, but also utilize an iPad and iPhone. I save links and notes in my computer notebook and typically compose articles directly into my FASO website dashboard.
I used to write two posts a week and sent out a newsletter to subscribers every time I posted. But when I started writing for Fine Art Views, I had to slow down to one post a week on my blog, or one post every other week. Accordingly, I now send out my email newsletters two or three times a month.
I try to include images of artwork I'm working on, interesting photos and links to my latest articles on my blog and Fine Art Views. Subscribers seems to be happy with my newsletter frequency. Sometimes sending too many newsletters tires people out and they lose interest. The key is to create good content that fellow creatives will enjoy and look forward to.
This last year my goal was to become a better writer and painter. It was also to improve my newsletters and grow my subscribers. I was successful in all three endeavors, but there was a cost. I didn't achieve the level of physical fitness I had strived for.
Late nights at work cut into my evening runs, and my weight lifting was erratic. I maintained mostly a Mediterranean diet, thanks to my wife's terrific chef skills. On the down side, I'm sure I needed more sleep. Like a lot of you, I have other goals for my family life and such, but that's the basic recap regarding my on-line art and writing.
Plans for 2016
Retirements and changes in my law enforcement world mean that this will be a challenging but exciting year. Retirement is also looming for me, and my son will be graduating from high school and starting college in the Fall.
My law enforcement career has taught me volumes about life, people and human nature. It has informed my writing and world view. But I have always had the soul of an artist. I have long talked about writing a book titled "The Accidental Police Chief." I look forward to transitioning in 2017 to the life of a full time artist and writer.
My main creative plans for 2016 are to continue my Fine Art Views columns and personal blog posts. I am working on crafting some schedule changes to refine my exercise habits, as well as time for painting and cartooning. Of course, all of this hovers around family and work first.
I plan to compile my best work and create a book (and eBook). The book will include some of my art and cartoons. I will also be experimenting with more video this year. I am learning how to edit video on my computer's iMovie feature, but I need to spend more time on it. I think readers will enjoy short video segments.
I also plan to do some shorter blog posts, with studio images, sketches, quotes, videos and brief things of interest.
Down the road, I plan to offer other books and possibly instructional videos, be it for cartooning, painting or how to craft a more artful life. I am a growing fan of minimalism and simplicity, and this is a theme I'll explore more this year. I think artists and creatives will find tremendous value in adopting a minimalist approach to their lives and art.
For example, over the holidays I simplified my art studio, which was already pretty minimalistic. I went through hundreds of art magazines, using my iPhone to photograph images I liked. I saved those images to my Pinterest page, so I have one place to refer to for inspiration.
Then I boxed up all those art magazines and donated them to the Goodwill. I also donated some old pochade boxes. I removed all paint thinner/solvents from my studio and have moved entirely to Walnut Oil, which is safer and works great for oil painting. Here's a picture of my studio the day I went through everything.
I emptied out all of my art and cartoon books and gave my son the cabinet I was using for my books. Here's a shot of my emptied out cabinet.
Once I'd made my trips to the Goodwill and toxic waste station in the county, I traded my old cabinet for my son's Ikea book shelves. He needed a little more space and I wanted to create a sleeker, cleaner look to my studio. Here's what my updated studio looks like now.
A simplified, uncluttered work space for your creative efforts really helps you focus on your art. I know some people thrive in a messy or cluttered environment, but I believe a simple and tidy space works better.
To conclude, I wish to thank the nearly 500 newsletter subscribers I have to date, as well as the over 2,300 people kind enough to "like" my Facebook page. I love hearing from readers. Your comments often contain great wisdom and insightful reflections. If there is anything you'd like to see more of in my newsletters or writings, please email and let me know.
I'll leave you with a few recent paintings I've been working on over the holidays.
Thanks again for your support and interest in my work. I wish you good health and success in your creative pursuits this year. Let's do everything we can to make 2016 a terrific year!