The Art of J Merilee Adams: Refreshing a Website Old Enough to Drive

I’ve been developing for the web since the summer of 2000. My first official “client” was a dear friend, Ms. Merliee Adams, who wanted a marketing website for her Fine Art. I launched her site in early 2002 and its been online ever since. On the last day of 2017, it got its first major update since it went live!

The old website, still looking decently good 16 years later.

While it wasn’t my first site ever published, it was the first I was paid to do. Back then, her site was a cornerstone of a small portfolio I used to attract artist clients my way.¬†Throughout the early 2000s, we’d update the site with pictures of new art, but by the mid 2000s, I’d started college and a full time job while she put her art career in cruise control to teach art to teens and adults with developmental disabilities.

But the site never went offline. I always kept it alive. It never stopped working.

She and I kept in touch, though sometimes very sporadically, through the years. Late in 2017, she seriously asked me: “can you add new work to my site”? While the answer was technically yes, there was no way I wanted to just update a 16-year-old site.

It needed a full refresh.

Merilee, however, at first, didn’t want to! Even though she owned a website that was old enough to drive made by a punk kid before he was even old enough to drive, she still loved it. But said kid is now a 30+ year-old grown-up who knows there are better options out there. I convinced her to let me move her to a WordPress-powered site, mostly with the promise of “you’ll be able to update it yourself after I’m done.”

The first part of any redesign/refresh is “what can we salvage or reuse?” Often when I update existing sites, I can repurpose lots of old content to get a great head start on the new project, but I struggled to find anything this time.

Since the internet in 2002 was optimized for 800 x 600 low-resolution screens, even the “large” size images on the old site were way too small to use as a modern thumbnail! Also, I unfortunately lacked the foresight to save any of the original high-resolution images from back then, but who knows if they would’ve worked anyway. All I was left with was 1 thing: a color.

Merilee loves bright colors, and I recall grabbing a purple off of one of her paintings in 2002 to use as a key color for the site. When I used it exactly on the new site, the color didn’t work well with the specific shades of gray already present, so I tweaked it a little and settled on a slightly more brighter and redder purple.

The only salvageable part of the original site: a color.

I tasked Merilee with getting high-resolution scans of images of her old art while I got started with a fresh install of WordPress and StudioPress’s Genesis Theme Framework. Given a tight budget, I took the “customized theme” approach, and started with the Modern Portfolio Pro theme. I replaced the fonts and colors with softer versions for a more creative and expressive look. I then dropped in some placeholder content. The result, so far, was great, despite how little effort so far.

The new front page after some content was added.

Now I needed to show off her artwork. Merilee has a deep collection of work dating back to the 70’s and like many artists with a lifelong career in art, her work should be categorized into periods or collections. Most of the portfolio plugins didn’t do this the way I wanted, so I settled on building a custom plugin to display the artwork.

The main CPT index for the artwork portfolio plugin.
The edit screen for a single piece in the artwork portfolio plugin.

I waited a few weeks while Merilee collected the last of her images and in one evening I populated her artwork to the site. A half day later of Merilee doing copy edits and adding data about the artwork (like dimensions and media)–yes on her own–we launched the site on the last day of 2017 at 3pm. Check it out!

This project was special to me for many reasons. Of course, giving a facelift to a 16-year-old website I made was a fun experience and I don’t doubt I’ll be watching this website for a long time more, at least until it can legally drink! I loved helping a friend–again–show off her wonderful artwork. And sometimes I don’t mind a break from my tedious long-term projects to bring a quick project from start to finish.

Ironically, a site that was once a cornerstone of my portfolio will once again take a prominent place, because it is now arguably one of the best examples I have of what can be accomplished with a “theme customization”-type project: projects with smaller budgets ($1200-$2400) that customize existing themes to speed up development while still giving a professional, complete looking site.

If you’re looking for help building a small-business website, feel free to reach out to me. And if you are looking for the new perfect piece of art for over your couch, feel free to reach out to Merilee!