Tuesday 22 November 2022

Antique Enamel: A Buyer's Guide

 19th century viennese enamel cabinet

What is enamel?

You might encounter the word ‘enamel’ when you brush your teeth, drive your car, take the train, or cook using your pots and pans. It covers your jewellery, decorates your glassware, coats road signs and insulates electrical wiring.

Enamel, seemingly, is everywhere. Or is it?

When people talk about enamel, they are actually often confusing several, very different, types of material. Tooth enamel is very different to enamel paint, which in turn is very different to porcelain or vitreous enamel, the type of enamel you’ll find on an antique object.

Quite simply, vitreous enamel is a mixture containing powdered, or ground, glass, which is then applied to the surface of a piece and fired. It has the hardness of metal but the delicacy of glass, and it’s colourful, slightly translucent and stunningly beautiful.

Indeed, this kind of enamel – the enamel you’ll encounter on an antique object – is a complex, precious and beautiful material which has a history stretching back thousands of years, and which requires an extremely high degree of skill and precision to use.

Many of the finest and most precious antique pieces in existence feature enamelled decorations: these include vases, jewellery, precious boxes, clock dials, frames, even furniture.

What does enamel look like?

Enamel is a smooth, hard, glass-like material which normally appears on antique pieces as a colourful, decorative exterior coating.

Chemically, enamel has a number of properties which make it especially valuable: it is unreactive, hard, easy to clean, resistant to burning and scratching, and does not lose its colour over time.

Gold snuffbox with enamel plaque by Jean-Marie Tiron

Gold, enamel, and diamond snuffbox by Jean-Marie Tiron. The plaque on the lid of the box is made from painted enamel. © Wmpearl via Wikimedia Commons

The best way to test if an antique piece is coated with enamel is to tap it (softly!) with your nails. It should sound like a particularly delicate, thin, metallic form of glass.

How is enamel made?

One important thing to remember about enamel is that it is a coating, not a base material. Enamel is too brittle on its own, and so it is most often used to cover and decorate metals: iron, copper, aluminium, silver, and gold.

The process of enamelling a metal involves forming a powdered glass paste and mixing it with various pigments to give it a colour. Cobalt oxide, for example, is the pigment which produces the colour blue.

The paste is then applied to the surface of the metal, and fired at a high temperature (normally around 1500 degrees Celsius).

There are a wide range of different ways enamel can be applied and fired, each of which gives a range of different effects. Some are as old as enamel itself, and date back thousands of years, while others have been discovered more recently.

The main techniques for enamelling, and how to identify them, are outlined below. 

Cloisonné enamel

Cloisonné enamelling is the oldest and most highly regarded technique for producing decorative enamel ware.

The cloisonné technique, confusingly, actually predates enamel: its first known use was in Ancient Egypt in around 4000 BC for setting stones into jewellery.

‘Cloisonné’ refers to any decorative effect produced by applying fine wires to the surface of an object to form the outlines of shapes. These shapes are known as ‘cloisons’ and, in the cloisonné enamelling process, they are filled in by enamel paste which is then fired.

 Chinese Ming Dynasty cloisonne enamel incense burner

Chinese cloisonne enamel incense burner from the Ming Dynasty, c.1450-1550. Notice the gold outlines of the flower shapes: these are the 'cloisons' into which the coloured enamel paste is fired

Cloisonné enamel pieces are well-known for their beautiful, intricate, two-dimensional surface designs.

Champlevé enamel

Similar to cloisonné, champlevé enamelling is another old and highly revered technique.

Instead of forming shapes on a metal’s surface using wires, champlevé enamelling involves carving ‘pits’ into the actual surface of the metal into which enamel is poured.

Champleve enamel on copper 'Becket' casket

The 'Becket' casket, in champleve enamel on copper, currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Notice how the exposed metal (the yellow / gold coloured parts) are slightly 'raised' above the enamel (blue and green). © Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia Commons

Guilloché enamel

Guilloché enamelling involves engraving an intricate pattern onto the surface of a material, and then covering the whole surface of the material in enamel paste before firing, giving the piece a stunning glossy, textured finish.

This technique is most commonly associated with the work of the Russian jeweller Fabergé, discussed below.

Plique-à-jour enamel

Plique-à-jour enamelling is one of the most complex and difficult techniques, similar to cloisonné in that it involves the application of enamel into shapes formed by wires. The difference is that, in plique a jour wares, the metal base or backing is dissolved or rubbed away, leaving a translucent panel of enamel.

This technique was perfected by Japanese craftsmen in the later 19th Century, before becoming popular in Russia and Scandanavia.

Plique-a-jour enamel bowl by Namikawa Sosuke, c. 1900

Plique-a-jour enamel bowl by acclaimed Japanese craftsman Namikawa Sosuke, for the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900. Note how there is no backing, and the light shines through the bowl like a stained glass piece. © Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Basse-taille enamel

In the technique of basse-taille enamelling, the base metal is cast into a low relief pattern, and translucent enamel poured into it. The resultant surface is flat, but reflects the light to show the relief beneath it.

The Royal Gold Cup at the British Museum, shown below, is perhaps the prime example of the use of this technique. It was made for the French Royal Family in the 14th Century and later belonged to both English and Spanish monarchies.

The Royal Gold Cup at the British Museum

Detail from the Royal Gold Cup on display at the British Museum, showing the baisse-taille enamel work. © BabelStone via Wikimedia Commons

Ronde-bosse enamel

Most enamelling techniques involve applying enamel to the surface of a metal. The ronde-bosse (meaning ‘in the round’) technique, however, involves the application of enamel around a metal core. It is also sometimes described as encrusted enamel

Whilst in other enamelling techniques, enamel is painted, or applied only to the front surface of a metal object; in ronde-bosse enamelling, the entire object is effectively 'dipped' in enamel paste before being fired.

En résille enamel

Finally, the en résille technique is an extremely rare and highly intricate form of enamelling, involving etching a design into glass and then lining the grooves with enamel-coated gold foil. It was first used in 17th Century France, but underwent a revival in the mid-20th Century, led by the famed American metalworker, Margaret Craver.

Antique enamel: what was it used for?

So the production of artistic enamel is a complex, sophisticated process, requiring a high level of skill to execute. And yet it has been in use for thousands of years.

The first known example of vitreous enamel ware is a set of rings found in Cyprus which, incredibly, date from the 13th Century BC. And a number of other ancient cultures in the first millennium BC also made use of enamel products, mostly using primitive cloisonné techniques. These included ancient Greek, Chinese, Celtic and Georgian civilizations.

1st Century AD Celtic bronze plaque, used for equestrian equipment

Ancient Celtic enamelled bronze plaque from the 1st Century AD, probably used for equestrian or military equipment, held at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, UK. © Gun Powder Ma via Wikimedia Commons

It was not, however, until the Middle Ages that artisans and craftsmen started to experiment widely with enamel, producing some of the most complex and delicate pieces in existence. The most important periods and centres for enamel production throughout history are outlined below. 

Byzantine cloisonné enamel

The first medieval civilisation to produce valuable enamel pieces was the Byzantine Empire (285 - 1453 AD), the direct descendants of the ancient Eastern Roman Empire in modern-day Greece and Turkey.

The Byzantines in particular perfected the cloisonné technique, by soldering thin strips of gold onto metal backings to form the cloisons into which the enamel would the applied. There is also some surviving evidence of Byzantine plique-à-jour and champlevé enamelling.

Byzantine enamel wares tended to come in the form of precious and religious objects, such as icons, panels, and crowns, as well as staurothekes, relic boxes which supposedly contained fragments of the Cross on which Jesus died.

Perhaps the most famous surviving example of Byzantine enamel work is St Stephen’s Crown, which is still used today as the crown of the King of Hungary.

Holy Crown of Hungary (St Stephen's Crown) with Byzantine enamel

The Holy Crown of Hungary, also known as St Stephen's crown, gold with Byzantine cloisonne enamel highlights

Made by goldsmiths and enamellers in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in around 1070 AD, the large gold crown was presented as a gift to King Geza I of Hungary by the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas and features delicately enamelled depictions of both men.

Limoges enamel in the Middle Ages 

The know-how of the Byzantine enamellers gradually spread around Europe and Asia and created several new centres of enamel production during the Middle Ages.

Perhaps the most important of these was the French town of Limoges, which quickly became Europe’s leading enamel production hub between the 12th and 16th Centuries. Fourteenth-century Limoges was to enamel what nineteenth-century Sevres was to porcelain.

Champlevé enamel wares were associated with the early period of Limoges’ production: the base metal was mostly copper, but a few exceptional pieces used silver and gold.

Limoges enamel was used to decorate candlesticks (attesting to the importance of lighting in the Middle ages), book covers (known as ‘treasure bindings’), the tombs of the rich, mirror backs, dishes, and caskets.

Limoges grisaille enamelled platter depicting the Rape of Europa, c. 1560

A 16th Century Limoges painted enamel dish, depicting the mythological scene of 'The Rape of Europa' 

At the height of the Renaissance in the 16th Century, Limoges’s craftsmen also started producing painted enamel plaques and triptychs in the popular Mannerist style.

Production at Limoges fell into decline after the 17th Century, largely owing to a lack of patronage, but there was something of a revival in the latter 19th Century, which largely coincided with the development of the Art Nouveau style.

Persian Meenakari enamelling

At roughly the same time that Limoges enamel was dominant in Europe, a new decorative style took off in Persia (modern-day Iran). It was known as Meenakari, a word which refers to the blue colour of many of the pieces.

Meenakari is a colourful style of cloisonné enamel, applied most often to small, delicate pieces of jewellery, precious boxes and dining sets.

It’s difficult to find reliable information about the origins of Meenakari, but we know that it was popular during the era of the Safavid Empire in Persia (1501-1736 AD), and soon spread to India. Today it is most commonly associated with Indian jewellery and objets d’art.

 Persian Meenakari plate from modern day Iran

Detail from a modern day Iranian Meenakari plate 

Chinese Canton enamel

Unlike porcelain - which was invented in China and copied by Europeans - Chinese artisans learned enamelling from Europe, and the Canton region became a centre for enamel production in China.

Material evidence suggests that the cloisonné technique had reached China by the 13th Century, having arrived with French travellers to the region. These travellers had brought Limoges enamel wares with them, which had so impressed their Chinese hosts that they began attempting to create their own cloisonné pieces.

Despite its beginnings in the Middle Ages, it wasn't until the 18th Century that Chinese Canton enamel reached its full potential. The pieces produced during this period – stunning vases, jardinieres and tea sets – quickly found a market not only in China but across the Western world too.

Cantonese enamel objects, together with porcelain products made in the region, can often be identified by their colour palette of pinks (known as famille rose) and greens (known as famille verte).

Detail from a Chinese Canton enamel jug

Detail from an 18th Century Chinese Canton enamel jug. Notice the famille rose and famille verte colours on the surface 

Viennese enamel in the 19th Century

Some of the most fine and detailed enamel objects ever produced derive from Vienna, which as a city largely filled the void left by the decline of Limoges to become Europe’s leading centre of enamel production in the 19th Century.

The Viennese artisans created enamel relics in a very distinctive style, and Viennese enamel objects are identifiable by their pink-centric colour palettes, and the use of painted court and landscape scenes.

Important enamel artists operating in Vienna during this period include Hermann Ratzersdorfer and Hermann Bohm, both of whom specialised in Renaissance style enamelled silver pieces of jewellery and tableware.

19th Century Viennese enamel ship by Hermann Bohm

Detail from a 19th Century Viennese enamel and silver ship by Hermann Bohm, one of Vienna's finest craftsmen.

Japanese Meiji period enamel 

The Meiji period of the late 19th Century in Japan is often known as the ‘Golden Age’ of cloisonné enamelling, and many exceptional pieces – vases, teapots, caskets – found their way into Europe, where they became highly desirable.

Most Japanese enamel production in the Meiji period centred on the town of Toshima, under the leadership of important artisan Tsukamoto Kaisuke (1828-1887).

It was in Toshima at the end of the 19th Century, and later in Tokyo, that Japanese makers started to experiment with new, complex techniques, including plique-à-jour (called shōtai-jippō in Japanese) and ronde-bosse.

Russian enamel and the House of Fabergé

No discussion of the history of enamel could be complete without mentioning Carl Faberge, the French goldsmith and jeweller who achieved worldwide fame for his delicate, luxurious and beautiful designs.

Although his most famous pieces were the Imperial Easter Eggs, made as gifts for the wife of Tsar Alexander III, Faberge was also renowned for items of jewellery and objets d’art.

Faberge used enamels in nearly all of his most precious pieces, including as the ‘shell’ for the Imperial Easter Eggs. The guilloché enamel technique was particularly associated with Faberge, and with later Russian objects made in the Faberge style. 

Faberge style cigarette case

Faberge-style cigarette box in green guilloché enamel

What is enamel used for now?

As the 20th Century progressed, manufacturers found ways of producing enamel on a mass scale, giving the material a whole range of new uses and purposes, outside of the artistic. This industrial form of enamel is normally fired at much lower temperatures than artistic enamel, and is therefore slightly different in composition.

It was thanks to this development that industrial enamels now coat the surfaces of cookware, home appliances, water heaters, bathtubs, toilets and laboratory equipment, not to mention road signs, whiteboards and outdoor advertisements.

So in the 20th Century enamel became a material of mass industry at the same time as remaining a material of skilled artisanry. It was a material of mundanity as well as a material of value. It was the material of bathtubs as well as the material of jewellery boxes.

It was, in short, something of a paradox.

And yet, enamel’s banal cameos in everyday life did not, and do not, detract from its desirability as an artistic material. Enamelled pieces of decorative art, especially antique pieces, remain highly sought after and extremely valuable.

Perhaps this is because enamel has always been about something more than itself. It has been about celebrating a tradition of fine craftsmanship, skill, and, ultimately, the pursuit of beauty.

Friday 4 November 2022

Do you want to learn how to start a blog?

 How to Start a Blog in 9 Exact Steps

Here is the table of contents. This guide covers a lot of useful information. Take your time, don’t get overwhelmed, go through each step, and you will succeed in blogging.

Before you move into action, here are some valuable facts about why you should start a blog.

Think about why you are starting a blog

Do you want to communicate something, like a message or an idea? Do you want to build a community around a topic you enjoy? 

A blog can help you to accomplish many things, such as: inform, educate, promote and even sell. 

Here are some reasons why many people create a blog and enjoy blogging:

  • To use it as an outlet for creative expression;
  • To establish expertise and build an audience;
  • To network with others and grow a business;
  • To enhance writing and thinking skills; and
  • To become self-employed or make more money.

Blogging has a lot of benefits, and for some people, it can be a great way to earn extra income online. 

A quick primer – Blogging for beginners

There are four important steps to making a blog quickly. If you are familiar with these things, you can set up a blog in 15-20 minutes or even less:

  • Pick a blogging niche (topic);
  • Select the best blog platform;
  • Get a domain and web hosting; and
  • Install WordPress software 

Creating a blog is your first step in entering the blogging world. However, to be successful online you have to learn more. There are more than 100 free guides and resources on FirstSiteGuide to help you to succeed on the web!

Step #1: Pick a niche for your blog

Before you start building a blog and succeed as a blogger, you need to select a blogging niche. 

In simple terms, a blog niche is a specific topic area that you will be writing about most often, or even exclusively.

To pick the right niche for your new blog, begin by making a list of all of the topics that excite you and make you want to share about them. There are no restrictions – you can include any personal or professional interests in this list.

  • Think of things that you enjoy doing in your spare time. Are you an amateur photographer, or an avid programmer? 
  • Consider all of the things that you would like to learn. For example, do you aspire to take cooking classes and become a better cook? 
  • Lastly, contemplate all of your plans and projects. Do you plan to go back to college to complete your education? Are you hoping to renovate your home?

There are no restrictions – you can include any personal or professional interests on the list.

This simple exercise will help you to select a niche that you are most interested in. This way you can follow your passion and enjoy your blogging journey. 

Step #2: Choose a blogging platform

At this point, you’ll need to look at the currently available blogging platforms and determine the type of blog management software that you are going to use.

When it comes to blogging sites, you have a few options. Below are usage statistics showing the distribution of blog technologies in the United States.

blogging tecnologies in us july 2022
As of 04.07.2022, source: BuiltWith.com

As you can see from the graph, WordPress software is by far the most popular technology for blogging, with over 90% market share in the U.S.

I recommend building your blog using the self-hosted WordPress blog setup that I share about in this guide.

You can set up your blog using a custom domain name and web hosting (I’ll show you how in the next step).  

This way, you will be in total control of your blog and its contents. It will cost just a few dollars per month for the webspace (hosting account), and approximately ten dollars per year for a domain. The actual blogging software is free and open source.

What about free blogging sites?

For many new bloggers, it’s tempting to start a blog using free hosted platforms such as Blogger or Tumblr.

However, it’s important to understand that “free” always comes with limitations:

  • First, your blog name will be set as a subdomain (examples: “yourblog.blogspot.com” or “yourblog.tumblr.com“).
  • Second, you’ll be subject to their rules and restrictions. 

Free options come in handy for testing a blogging platform. But, if you’re serious about starting a blog, you’ll have to start paying for full services and a custom domain name sooner or later.

Step #3: Choose a domain name and get blog hosting

To make your blog using WordPress.org, you need two important things: a domain name and a web hosting company.

Domain name 

Your domain name will be the name by which you will be known online, regardless of which niche you choose. It’s your blog’s unique address on the Internet.

Here’s what you should consider when choosing a blog name: 

  • It should be short and catchy, easy to pronounce and type. 
  • You can also use combinations of your first and last names (e.g. johnsmith.com or tim.blog).

The general rule is to get a “.com” domain, but some of the other extensions can be used too. For example, “.net” or “.blog”. In the end, it’s about being memorable, so if a different extension helps you to stand out, then break the rules!

Have a name idea for your blog? Use this quick domain search tool powered by Hostinger – our recommended web hosting provider (I’ll explain why in a moment).

hostinger domain check

Note: Use the coupon code FIRSTSITE, and receive a 10% discount for a Premium Shared plan which includes a FREE domain name.

Web hosting 

After choosing a domain name, selecting a reliable hosting service will be one of the most important decisions you make. 

To a great extent, the functionality and performance of your blog will depend on your hosting provider. The host makes sure that your blog is available 24/7 to potential readers and it’s where your content is stored online.

If you are a new blogger, I suggest using Hostinger hosting.

Here is why you should be confident about working with this company:

  • Ease-of-use: With Hostinger, you can set up your blog with a few clicks of a button. 
  • Good value: You receive reliable service with excellent customer support at an affordable price.
  • Room to grow: They offer a great set of features that allow you to start, run, and grow your blog. 
  • Security: Free SSL certificate included and pre-installed to keep your blog visitors’ data safe.
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How much does it cost to start a blog?

Listed below are the costs of a 1-year Hostinger basic hosting plan, including the extras that you receive. I was able to negotiate a special deal only for our readers. Use this link to access an exclusive 78% discount.

Hostinger + WordPress.org
Blog hosting service$2.69 per month (billed for 1 year)
Domain registrationFirst year free ($13.99 per year after)
Custom emailFree Web-Based E-mails/ Forwarding
SSL certificateFree SSL certificates
Storage space*100 GB
Total price$32.28 (for a 1-year plan)
* Storage space shows you how much space you can use for your blog and media files. Bandwidth is the amount of data your blog can transfer to visitors. These two parameters are important when your blog starts to grow and attract more traffic.

Get a blog hosting account (+ free domain name) 

This section provides detailed information to help you sign up for your web hosting account. I have included screenshots of the pages to guide you through the process.

Step 1. Visit the Hostinger homepage

Start your Hostinger journey by visiting the Hostinger homepage. Click on the red “Start Now” button. 

hostinger start a blog homepage

Step 2. Select your hosting plan

You will start by picking a hosting plan. Hostinger offers 1, 12, 24, and 48-month packages. 

With a 12-month package, you will pay a lower amount upfront, but with the 24 and 48-month packages, you will receive a better deal if you are ready for a longer-term commitment.

hostinger hosting plans selection screen

Step 3. Register and enter your payment info

After selecting your hosting plan, the next step is to register and create your account. All you need to create an account is a valid email address. You can also use your existing Google, Facebook, or Github account.

Payment information

Next, select the payment method to complete your transaction. You have five payment options at your disposal:

  • Credit card;
  • PayPal;
  • Google Pay;
  • Alipay; and
  • CoinGate.

Enter your payment information and click on the red “Submit Secure Payment” button.

hostinger payment information screen

Hostinger will send you a confirmation email when your payment is processed. You will also receive an email to verify your email address to activate your domain.

Next, you will set up your Hostinger account. You are one step closer to starting a blog!

Step 4. Create an account password

Enter your password and complete the account set up.

hostinger account password setup screen

Step #4: Start a blog by setting up WordPress

Before creating your blog, you can provide some basic information to receive the optimal user experience. I suggest that you follow this process if this is your first time starting a blog. 

hostinger blog setup wizard screen

Purpose of your blog

First, define the purpose of your website by choosing one of the four available options:

  • You need a personal website for your business;
  • You want to create a website for a client; 
  • You need a website for the company you work for; or
  • You want to build a website for someone else.
hostinger purpose of website options screen

Create a new blog (website)

Next, select the “Build a website” option. Hostinger allows you to either migrate your existing website to Hostinger or build a new website with a content management platform such as WordPress.

hostinger build website option screen

Choose CMS

Next, decide on your content management system (CMS). We suggest that you choose WordPress to build your new blog.

hostinger choose cms screen

WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) for building websites, especially if you have no previous experience with web development. 

hostinger wordpress cms selected screen

Choose layout

After you create your WordPress account, it’s time to check out the suggested themes from Hostinger and see if you like any of them (if you don’t see a theme you like, skip this step). You can always change your theme and use a different one later. More information about this further on. 

hostinger choose layout screen

Name your blog

Now, it’s time to choose the proper name for your new blog. Your domain will be your blog’s address, so you should think carefully to come up with something unique and memorable. 

Type your desired name into the “Enter desired domain name” box and Hostinger will show you whether it’s available or not. If not, it will provide you with a list of similar names to choose from. 

hostinger domain name selection screen

If you have already purchased a domain name somewhere else, you can use that name. Just type it into the “Use an Existing Domain” box.

Once you choose your domain name, you will finish your website set up process by accessing information about your chosen server location, domain, installed CMS, admin email, and WordPress template.

hostinger website set up process information screen

Register domain

The last step is to register your new domain. Fill out the website’s owner information to complete your domain registration. Include details such as your country, personal or company/organization information, and your contact details.

hostinger domain registration screen

Once you finish setting up your blog through these steps, the WordPress software is installed and your blog structure is constructed!

If you open your website in a web browser, don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t look quite right. This is just the first draft.

hostinger wordpress installed screen message

Inside your Hostinger account, you will see the “Edit Website” option to access the WordPress blog dashboard and further customize your WordPress blog site.

hostinger dashboard

Inside the WordPress dashboard, you will have to apply a few changes and add some content to make the site look polished and complete. I will show you how to do this later!

Did you start a blog yet? → Click Here to Get Started

Next, as promised, I’ll show you how to find the right theme for you, and how to customize your blog.

Step #5: Select a theme and design your blog

The first thing your blog needs is a face (design and layout). 

Installing a new WordPress theme is exciting and fairly straightforward.

Inside the WordPress dashboard, under the “Appearance” tab, click “Themes”. You will be presented with some popular options. You can also click on the WordPress.org Themes button and search for free themes. There are more than three thousand themes available on WordPress.org.

wordpress appearance theme

The look and feel of your new blog relies on the theme that you choose. Your first-time readers will notice the overall appearance of your site before they even take a look at the content. Select a theme that looks great, but also works for your specific needs.

Here’s a quick guide for choosing your theme by searching within the WordPress dashboard:

  • Read the description – Most themes come with a short description of features and functionality. Reading it can help you to figure out if the theme matches your needs.
  • Preview the theme – Preview the theme (demo) to get an idea of the overall look, layout, and how customizable it is.
  • Check the ratings – Star ratings will be visible in the preview and under theme details to give you a clear idea of how good the theme is.

If you can’t find a theme that you absolutely love, don’t worry. Settle on one that you like, and you can always change it in the future.

Once you install a theme, don’t be surprised if it still doesn’t look quite right. It is just a skeleton of a blog. To make it appealing, you’ll have to fill it in with content (text, photos, videos, etc.).

Should you choose a free or premium theme?

In my opinion, there are more than enough free WordPress themes to choose from for any blog topic. 

If you don’t feel like searching through thousands of themes, you can easily start things off with either Twenty Twenty or Twenty Twelve themes. Both free themes are presented by WordPress.org and are popular with creators.  

Remember, you can always pick a different theme later as you continue setting your blog. All of the pages and unique content that you create will be transferred automatically to a new theme layout.    

If the current stash of free themes does not satisfy your particular desire, you can check the available premium themes. These themes are usually designed by third-party companies and sold on different WordPress theme sites. The price range for single-use licenses ranges from $30 to $500, depending on which premium theme you choose.

Blog theme customization

Remember, your WordPress dashboard is the back-end location where you will manage your new blog. It provides you with fast access to all of the tools you need to add content and fine-tune your blog functionality for the ultimate user experience. Your first step towards mastering WordPress is learning the dashboard.

WordPress has unlimited customization options so it’s impossible to cover everything in this “How to start a blog” guide. Instead, I’ll cover the first most important changes you should apply to your blog. For this example, I’ll be using the Twenty Twenty theme

Customize your blog

Now, let me show you where you can do general customizations of your blog. That includes: uploading the logo, editing the blog title and tagline, changing colors, uploading the background image, and making homepage settings changes.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ll be showing you how to apply these changes to the Twenty Twenty theme. If you picked a different theme the process could be slightly different. However, in most cases, all themes have similar customization options.    

To start optimizing your blog, go to the WordPress admin dashboard. Locate the Appearance tab on the left-hand side and choose the Customize option.

wordpress customize theme

Each WordPress theme will customize a little differently. In my case, I’ll show you the customize options for the Twenty Twenty theme.

On the left-hand side, you will see the following Customizing menu options:

  • Site identity – Upload your logo, change site title and tagline, and upload site icon.
  • Colors – Change your blog’s background color, header, and footer colors, and customize the primary color.
  • Theme options – Select if you want to show a search icon in the header of your blog and show an author bio for your posts. 
  • Cover template – Make additional changes to the page template such as the overlay background color, overlay text color, and overlay opacity.    
  • Background image – Upload any custom background image you want to start using on your blog. 
  • Menus – Customize your blog’s menu, social media menu links, and change locations where they are displayed.
  • Widgets – Customize your footer, add a description, and how to find you if you have a physical location.  
  • Homepage settings – Choose what’s displayed on the homepage of a blog. It can be the latest blog posts or a static page.         
  • Additional CSS – Add your own CSS code to customize the appearance and layout of your site (advanced option). 

You can also check how your blog looks on different devices by using the menu at the bottom with three icons: desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.

wordpress customize twenty twenty theme

Many themes (e.g. the Twenty Twenty theme) come with the new Gutenberg editor that revolutionizes the way users build pages and write posts inside WordPress.

Gutenberg is a visual editor that works on a blocks principle. So, when you decide to add a new paragraph, heading, image, video, or anything else, there are blocks you can quickly add to new pages or blog posts.

This way, creating blog content is much easier for beginners, whether you’re building a landing page or writing a new article. Blocks can be rearranged into a layout you like, and they’re here to make your life easier.

Add plugins to your blog

Plugins are bundled pieces of code that affect the way your site looks and functions. They can add new functionality to your WordPress blog, extend your theme’s capabilities, and personalize a blog as a whole or in part.

While the majority of plugins are free, there are many that are offered for a fee, based on their unique functionality. At the moment, WordPress.org has more than 57,000 different plugins in the repository. 

By default, when you set up your blog, Hostinger will automatically add some plugins they think are important for any website. You can review these plugins inside the WordPress dashboard and add new ones by clicking the Plugins tab on the left-hand side.

wordpress add plugins section

Here you can install new plugins, deactivate, delete, and update them.

Below, I’ll show you some suggested plugins that you should be using.

List of recommended plugins for bloggers

To save you time, I’ve selected some important plugins (free) for your immediate blogging platform needs:

  • MonsterInsights – Google Analytics plugin for WordPress, to monitor and analyze your website traffic.
  • Yoast SEO – A comprehensive SEO plugin for your blog, to optimize your content for search engines.
  • WP Super Cache – Helps with the load time of your WordPress blog and delivers content to your readers faster.
  • Akismet – Protects your comments and contact form from spam and prevents your site from publishing malicious content.
  • Contact Form 7 – A contact form with flexible email options. It supports CAPTCHA and Akismet spam filtering.
  • Disqus – An alternative to the basic WordPress comment system with advanced administrative and comment capabilities.
  • YARPP – Creates a related blog posts list at the end of each piece of content automatically to encourage people to continue browsing your site.

Congratulations, you just learned how to customize your blog and make web design changes! 

The next step is to learn how to write content for your blog.

Step #6: Write and publish blog content

So far, you’ve established a domain name, chosen your blog hosting site, set up a blog theme, and you are ready to go. Your framework is complete. 

Now comes the moment of truth and you can actually start blogging. You need to learn how to write your first blog post. On the web, any useful information or experience that you share with readers is called “content.” It must be something valuable that people will want to interact with and come back for more.

WordPress CMS is structured in a way that you can publish your content as Posts or Pages.  

Before you begin publishing posts (day-to-day writing) on your blog make sure you fill in all the important static pages with content (such as About us, Contact, etc.). Let’s explore those types of pages.

Prepare and publish content on main pages

Depending on your individual needs you can decide what pages to publish. The following are the most common pages bloggers use: 

  • Homepage – This depends on what type of layout you choose. As I described above, when customizing your blog you can choose to display the homepage as a static page. In that case, you will have to prepare content for it.      
  • About us – The most traditional page on any blog is the “About us” page. This page tells new visitors what it is all about, who you are and why you run a blog about your niche topic. 
  • Contact – This page allows visitors to your blog to communicate with you. It can be a straightforward page with your email address plus your social network links, or you can use a simple contact form that visitors can use to communicate with you. 
  • Products, Services, Resources – Static landing pages with any additional information that you want to include on your blog.

The guidelines to publish a new WordPress page:

A blog page provides static content or information to the readers. Standard pages that bloggers use include: About, Contacts, Products, or Services. A page also can be a cornerstone (or evergreen) content with information that continues to be relevant to its readers. For example, this guide you are reading right now.

  • To create a blog page, log in to your WordPress dashboard admin area using your login details (username and password).
  • Hover your cursor over the “Pages” menu item on the navigation menu located on the left-hand side of the Dashboard. Click “Add New”.
Click on Pages menu item

Write your first blog post

Creating blog posts inside WordPress is nearly the same as creating pages. However, for a blog post WordPress lets you select categories and tags while pages don’t. 

Wondering how you can write quality blog posts? It’s simple. 

Here is a simple 3-step approach to making great content of any type:

  • Point – State your main blog topic idea that you are covering.
  • Prove – Give an example of the idea you are covering.
  • Perform – Give a simple way to execute the idea.

The guidelines to publish a new WordPress post:

In your first blog post, you can take a moment and introduce yourself. Tell your readers who you are, what motivated you to blog, and what you will write. The title of the post could be “Welcome to my blog”.

  • Inside the WordPress dashboard on the left side, you will see Posts menu item. 
  • Hover your mouse cursor (or click) on the Post item. Then select “Add New”.
Add new post in WordPress

Next, I’ll talk about how to optimize your content for search engines.

Step #7: Optimize your blog for search engines

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process that website owners use to get more traffic to their web pages from search engines (such as Google).    

According to recent studies, 53% of all traffic for websites comes from organic search (.pdf). This number shows how important it is to make sure that you optimize your WordPress blog for search engines. 

SEO involves many different tactics and techniques. As a blogger, you will have to get familiar with these. I won’t be talking about any advanced processes here. As a bare minimum, you will have to do the following for every blog post or page you publish on your blog: perform keyword optimization and add SEO meta tags on all pages.   

Keyword optimization

This is the process of researching and selecting the right set of keywords that you think people will type in a search to find information like yours online.  

Ideally, keyword optimization should be performed for any blog post or page. It’s important to select the main keywords (and related words) that you want to target for each page and make sure that you include these (and related words) within the content. This way it will be easier for search engines to understand what a specific web page is about when they crawl it and you have a better chance to rank higher in search results.

SEO meta tags

When you publish a new blog post or page, you will need to add SEO meta tags for each piece of content. 

These are the SEO title and SEO description tags. These tags are not seen on the actual page, but Google will use metadata to better understand what the webpage is about.

SEO meta tags
Example of Title and Description meta tags in Google search results.

If you want to start ranking your content in search engines, this is an important step to complete. SEO tags should be prepared and added when you create a new page or a post inside WordPress. You can add SEO meta tags via free plugins, such as Yoast SEO.  

The title tag length should be between 50-60 characters (this is what Google typically displays) and the meta description tag can be between 50-160 characters.

Step #8: Promote, market, and grow your blog

By now, you’ve learned how to start a blog, how to create blog content, and how to get it discovered by search engines. 

It is important to understand that you can write the most compelling copy in the world and design a blog interface that would sell people their own shoes. However, if no one sees it, all of your hard work is in vain. So, you need to know how to promote your blog.

Before you start promoting your blog, check if it’s ready:

  • Make sure that your content is live and ready for promotion.
  • Test your blog on different devices (desktop, tablet, mobile) and browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge) to check that pages open correctly.
  • Check your contact info and test your contact form to see if it works well.
  • Test your social sharing buttons so that people can easily share your content. 
  • Ensure that you interlink your content so that people can easily find other important information on your blog.  
  • Give your visitors one or more ways to connect with you and subscribe to your email list.
  • Set up Google Analytics to track your blog’s performance and visitors.

Let’s look closely at the basic promotion and marketing activities that you can apply to grow your audience once you build a blog.

Let everyone know about your blog

Get started by informing your friends, family, and colleagues about your new endeavor. Basically, you should let anyone know who might be interested in reading your content.   

You should also do the following:

  • Include your blog name (URL) in your email signature. 
  • Include it in your social media accounts or any online communities you are involved in. 
  • Use every opportunity to get the word out about your new undertaking.

Be active within your niche

Get active on relevant blogs, forums, groups, and social pages. 

Blogger communities are a good way to connect with other bloggers in your niche. You can engage, build friendships, and help each other in spreading content.

Here are some popular activities you can do:

  • Blog commenting. Start posting comments on other relevant blogs. It’s a great way to build relationships with top bloggers within your niche.
  • Social media marketing. You should make use of the social media avenues that best fit your own niche and style. Choose the one (or ones) that best fit your needs and start promoting your content to grow your audience. Some of the most popular social media networks that bloggers use on a daily basis are FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.
  • Guest blogging. Take the relationship a step further and offer to write guest blog posts for another website. Just be sure that you guest post on reputable sites and that the content is directly related to your niche. Guest posting is an excellent way to build an online presence.

Promoting your content through other platforms 

Before your blog becomes popular and starts to grow, you should look into leveraging other platforms on the web that already have some audience and readership. To give you a better idea, here are some of the techniques that you can use: 

  • Bookmarking sites. Submit your blog content to bookmarking sites that can offer your content to a lot of potential viewers who are searching for information within your niche. You should do this every time you publish a new blog post to spread the word. Here are some popular social bookmarking and content curation sites: Scoop.itRedditFlipboard, etc.
  • Content republishing. You can publish the same or slightly repurposed content on platforms such as LinkedIn and Medium. It’s best to publish content on your blog first, wait a few days while it gets indexed by search engines (Google), and then you can start posting it on other platforms. Also, make sure to link back to your original article as a source. You can learn about a republishing strategy here.  
  • Repurpose content. You can repurpose your content, create graphics, slideshow presentations, audio files, or even videos and publish it all on the platforms that support different content formats. Here is how you can make 64 pieces of content in a single day (PDF). 

Getting organic traffic from search engines

By now, you already know that it’s important to optimize your content for search engines. 

However, in order to increase your organic traffic, you will have to learn how to get your content to rank higher in search results. 

There is no magic formula for higher rankings, but you should focus on the following factors: 

  • Create useful content for your readers, not search engines. 
  • Consistently create fresh and quality content. 
  • Make sure that the user experience is flawless.  
  • Ensure that your blog is secured (HTTPS), mobile-friendly, and loads quickly. 
  • Interlink your content and work on getting external links.

Advertising on the web (paid traffic)

Appropriate and well-informed use of paid media can help you to gain exposure and attention before your organic (naturally derived) traffic takes hold. 

Paid traffic avenues include: 

Remember that you can always find other ways to promote your new blog.

Start building your email subscriber list

After starting a blog, you will begin attracting new readers and visitors. It’s a good idea to collect the email addresses of those who want to be notified when you publish new blog posts or share promotional offers. As people come to know and trust you, they will respond better to your promotional efforts.

Rely on the blogging fundamentals: a clear and well-functioning blog, focused and helpful information, engaging conversation, and practical advice. Your authority will come from helping and giving advice to your audience.

Step #9: Make money blogging (optional)

Monetization is the process of translating your blog activity into earnings. 

You should keep in mind that blogging isn’t just about making money. It is about creating useful content and writing blog posts that will attract readers and make them come back for more.

When starting a blog think about adding content that will generate future income. Based on my own blogging experience, as well as from working with other bloggers, I’ve learned that specific kinds of content are more effective for generating money. 

Here are types of content that you should consider writing and adding to your blog:

  • Listicles or top list 
  • How-to guides
  • Tutorials and manuals 
  • Product reviews 
  • Product comparisons 

Now, let me show you some different ways how bloggers make money. 

Blog monetization channels

Our case study of the blogging industry shows that 59.8% of bloggers make money through blogging. 

But, how can YOU make money blogging? There are several options available, but below I’ll show you the best ways to earn income from a blog:

Running ads on your blog

There are seamless possibilities for you to run ads on your blog. Regardless of your niche, you can opt for ads that are specific to what you are writing about or ads that simply better serve your advertiser’s purposes. 

Google AdsenseMediavine, and Adthrive are some of the most popular choices for blog ads.

Enrolling in affiliate programs

Affiliate programs are ways of teaming up with retailers to promote their products and benefit from successfully carrying out sales through a commission.

Some things that you need to consider when enrolling in affiliate programs:

  • The number of affiliate sales will strongly rely on the number of visitors you have.
  • You need to be credible enough for your visitors to click on your links.
  • You may want to consider placing a notice on your Terms of Use page that you do use affiliate links.

There are a few popular online platforms that offer affiliate programs if you want to get started, such as Amazon AssociatesShareASale, and ClickBank.

Selling your products and services

If you are creative and entrepreneurial, you could consider using your blog as a venue for selling your own products and services. This is an option especially as your blog grows in readership, authority, and popularity.

There are WordPress plugins, such as the WooCommerce plugin, that you can easily integrate into a blog and start using to sell products online.

Selling sponsored posts

Advertisers are always looking for exposure and are willing to pay you for placing a sponsored post on your blog. 

Those posts usually promote advertiser products or services and are a good way to make money from your blog. In the future, if you’re able to build a popular blog and become an authority in your niche, the advertisers could approach you to publish their posts.

Above are the most popular choices to earn money. However, there are more ways to monetize your blog.

7 ways to make money blogging

Consider the possibilities, and then choose the method or methods that best suit you and your audience. 

As a minimum, you should – from the very start – begin compiling an email list of your readers through subscriptions. Then, when you are ready to recommend products, you will have ready access to those who want to hear what you have to say.

FAQs before starting a blog

Few more things before you get started with your journey. Below are some helpful facts and common questions that many people ask before they start blogging.

Is blogging worth it and still relevant in 2022?
How do you start a blog for free?
Does it cost money to start a blog?
What to do if I already have a free blog?
What should I blog about?
How do I find a profitable niche for my blog?
How do bloggers get paid?
How much money can I make from a blog?
How do I learn WordPress?
What to do if your domain name is taken?


Congratulations! You’ve learned how to start a blog. You have your own domain name, hosting space and your blog is set up. Next, you will need to get familiar with the WordPress dashboard, make desired changes, start content creation, and promotion to become a successful blogger. Check out all our resources for starting a blog and learn how to blog successfully.

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