Monday, 8 December 2008

10 Reasons to keep an inventory of your art works (Part 2)

In 10 Reasons to keep an inventory of your art works (Part 1), I discussed why you should keep an inventory of your works. Let’s see now what information can be recorded.




What information goes into your inventory?

How much information you put in your inventory is up to you. My rule of thumb is: the more, the better.

  • A reference number: not mandatory, but may be convenient if, for instance, you what to link the entry to a separate library of photographs of your
  • Title of the work

  • Dimensions of the work. I may indicate the dimensions in inches or centimetres or both (it depends whether I buy the support in France or in England).


  • Date of completion. Personally, I use the month and the year and, if the work has been created over a long period of time, I would register it at the end with the indication of both the starting month and the end month.


  • Medium: watercolour, oil painting, graphite, etc.


  • Support: canvas, board, watercolour paper… Personally, I indicate the details of the support used in the comment section. This is important as, if I like the effect I can achieve with a particular paper, I want to know exactly what sort and brand it is. Same thing for a canvas I am using for oil painting. A typical example would be: “Winsor & Newton Artists’ Quality Stretched Cotton Canvas – Triple coated Acid free sizing” (I make sure I keep the label of the canvas until I transfer the information into the inventory)


  • Material used. This is important in particular if you use unusual material or techniques. But even if you use traditional technique, some information may be useful if the work needs restoration of repair (for instance the type of varnish you use on your oil painting)


  • Price (if the work is for sale): I indicate is the price is for the work with or without the frame.


  • Costs information: I try to track the cost of material, such as canvasses and frames. This helps when you set-up the price of your work.


  • Information on the subject of the painting. Are you going to remember the exact name of that place you painted five years ago if it is not in the title of the work?


  • Details on the creation of the work: If I write a blog entry on a particular work, I would cut & paste the text in the “comments” section.


  • Exhibitions where the work has been show.


  • Juried exhibition where the work has been submitted (even if it has been refused)


  • Publication record. Has the work been featured in the press or in a book?


  • SOLD”… with the date when it has been sold.


  • Name of the collector who purchased the work, as well as her or his details


Tools for your inventory

If you are low-tech, pen and paper work well. Just prepare a table with as many columns as necessary for the information you want to capture and photocopy your template.

On a computer, you can use a simple spreadsheet (like Microsoft Excel) or a table in a Word document (use the landscape format) to keep your inventory. The key is to keep your inventory up-to-date as you go. I learnt the hard way that trying the re-create the information several years after the facts is almost impossible.

You can also invest in a professional solution. A number of vendors propose some software that helps you to keep your inventory, but also to generate price lists, catalogues and even manage your mailing list. See Related articles below for more information on existing artist software solutions.


Some practical considerations


If you keep your inventory on your computer:



  • Print it from time to time, just in case

  • Always back-up you information (on a disk or on another computer, of both)


  • Print a couple of blank tables where you can write down the information when you have it. At the end of the month, you can transcribe your notes into your electronic document. Batching in this way will save you time and you won’t have to switch your computer on to update one piece of information in your inventory.


Related articles

Updated database software for artists by Alyson Stanfield from Art Biz Blog

Template for inventory record



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