Keeping an inventory may seem a waste of your time. What use would it have? I would rather be creating and painting. See keeping an inventory as an investment to save you time and tears later. Let’s put it this way: when you realise you really need an inventory of your works, it is generally too late to reconstruct it for the past.
Why should you keep an inventory?
1. Measure your output and keep track of your goals. The best way to progress is to paint on a regular basis, everyday if you can. Seeing how many work you’ve already produced will give you a boost of energy.
2. Keep key information in one place (see “What information goes into your inventory” in Part 2 of this article)
3. Make your life easier. When did I finished this oil painting – Is it dry enough to be varnished? If you keep track of completion dates in your inventory, it will take you only seconds to answer these questions.
4. Get ready for the gallery. Could you answer questions like: how many works do you produce each year? How many paintings have you sold? What was the most expensive painting you’ve sold?
5. Know where your work is (In the studio /exhibition / consignment / loan / work sold)
6. Know where your work has been exhibited. Enter the details of all the places where the work has been shown.
7. Build a personal history file for each painting. You can document the circumstances around the creation of a particular work, the history of the place, the reason why you painted it. I have a comment section in my table where I can record miscellaneous information on a particular piece of work (for instance, if it was inspired by the work of another artist). I have a comment section in my inventory table where I can record miscellaneous information on a particular piece of work (for instance, if it was inspired by the work of another artist). Having this information will help you when you prepare for an exhibition or when you discuss a particular work with a potential buyer. Buyers love stories and having one at your finger tip (or ready in your mind, since you recorded it in your inventory) will remove the stress of having to find on the spot something interesting to talk about.
8. Keep track of your evolution: With each new work, you grow and evolve as an artist. Over the years, your work will take different direction, you will explore new avenues. It is therefore important to be able to retrace the path you took and see which painting came first.
9. Particular notes on material and painting techniques used. May be you tried something new or a particular work is the beginning of a new path in your artistic quest. In both instances, you want to be able to go back to your records and find out about this.
10. Curators will thank you. If your work gets to a museum curator, they will thank you if you can provide the information you collected in your inventory. See what Picasso had to say on dating and numbering his work:
«I never do a painting like a work of art. It is always a search. I am always seeking and there is a logical connection throughout that search. This is why I number them. I number and date them.
May be one day someone will thank me for it. »
(Picasso – in Alexander Liberman, Extract from « Picasso » in Vogue, New York, 1956)