How to Inventory Your Artwork

How to Inventory Your Artwork

By Press Arts Editor Donald Kolberg

This past week I was with some friends at a local coffee shop, and we got on the subject of how much inventory artists have. This of course led to how do you keep track of the stuff.

Not surprisingly, most artist don’t keep track of their art or they hope their spouse or partner will magically keep track for them. Personally, I run about 50/50 when it comes to keeping track. At least I did until the beginning of this year. That’s when I was surprised by multiple sales of sculpture and paintings from the gallery that represents me, and while this was a great thing, I realized I didn’t have a clue as to which ones sold. I know that sounds silly, but somewhere along the line, the gallery and I had different names for the works. It took weeks of searching through computer files to match up the sculptures. It was then I decided that this was not going to happen again.

So I devised a plan to inventory my work in a coherent fashion that would not be labor intensive. After all, I’m an artist and my mind tends to wander to more creative endeavors–meaning that art marketing overwhelms me. You can make up a spreadsheet for this, but I don’t keep a computer in my studio. Besides, I thought a basic handwritten log would be a good starting point. My laptop is way too distracting. However, I do occasionally try to transfer this information periodically to an Excel sheet:

  • I created a naming convention that works for me. Year-Month-Number, which looks like this 15-o6-001, (2015, June, first piece)
  • I place this number on the back of a work in the bottom right corner WHEN I START IT!  Wherever you place it, be consistent.
  • Now for the really hard part: Copy the number into a cheap composition book. You can add more information later.

I need to interject a small note here. YOU WILL MESS UP THE ORDER OF NUMBERS ON THE BACK OF ARTWORK. So what you might ask, it’s just for your own reference. Well, I wrote the same number on three separate works, so I had to go back and change them. No one laughed at me. So if it makes you feel better, go ahead and list a bunch of numbers in the book now, but skip a line between them. That way you can jump to the rest of the information you need to record. Let’s look at that now:

  • Weekly, I go back to the book and, next to the art works matching number, I add the medium, (acrylic, oil, watercolor, etc)
  • Next I list the substructure, (canvas, art board, watercolor paper, etc) You can make up your own abbreviations, just be consistent.
  • Then I list the size, which is about the last known piece of information.
  • I leave the title and description for last, because you know the work can change overnight.
  • Once the work is done, I write the title and size on the back.

It takes a little work, but if you start now with a new work, you can go back and tackle all that other stuff laying around. Remember, these do not need to be in sequential order. This list is for you to inventory your work. It will be important later!

Let me know how you keep track.

Remember;  Imagination is never still. The marks we make are verbs!

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