Here’s a subject that many artists don’t want to hear about. I’m including it because it can be turned into a creative device. It’s about keeping track of your work.
Even as a kid I liked to do the work and have the fun, but keeping the books was a drag. I knew I needed some sort of record. I did it with file cards — spotty at first, later, with help, religiously. It was started before computers but out of a feeling of continuity we keep it up. Every painting is assigned a card on which is noted title, size, date painted, and the gallery it’s sent to. In the event that a painting comes back from a gallery, the next gallery is added to the card. Some cards have ten or more galleries listed. When paintings are sold they go by title to the “Sold” file. This system, while primitive, is accessible even when there’s a brush in the other hand.
Hardly a week goes by without somebody phoning or writing to ask what I know about a painting in their collection. The main questions are “when?” and “where?” I’m so glad I have this resource. It makes for lifelong connections, positive feedback, ongoing support.
Some artists use a journal and place entries and comments in the order they do the work. Others use popular systems such as Microsoft Office which permit date, title, or other priority. If one is so inclined it’s possible to find out how many 12 x 16’s were painted during a particular period, and what the batting average was. These days there are specific art management software such as Artsystems.
If I had to do it again I would make it computer and photo-based. I’d take the time. I’ve realized now that it’s important to album your work. Even though paintings are on other people’s walls, they’re still yours, and you deserve to have a collection of your own.
PS: “I was pierced by the little panic and tristesse occasioned by small things passing irrevocably from view.” (Faith Sullivan)
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
by Mary Ann
Here is my tale of woe. I cataloged all the paintings I have ever done with a database that went back ten years for shows. It was on Claris works. I got a new computer with Windows 95 and the disk wouldn’t work. I tried and tried to find someone to change over, but all I got back was garbage. Thus was my meticulous file destroyed. Formerly I worked with index cards. I think I might resurrect those — even tho they take up a lot of space. I recently was preparing for a painting workshop in Greece and was trying to send in all the entries due while I was gone. I forgot to enter one and now am trying to salvage the situation — the same painting to different shows. Will let you know of the outcome. I try to keep good records, but I never have the price for a certain painting on the tip of my tongue. Sorry, can’t scan the ups code on these things. People should understand that there is a lot in our heads but price lists.
by Max Reger
I make art. I do not even consider fooling around or wasting time with any thoughts of bookeeping. It would make me even more impossible to live with than I am at the present. It is a hateful, disgusting, miserable, demeaning, unartistic, negative, counterproductive activity suitable only as make-work for a herd of know-nothing accountants and bean-pushers. And I’m sure my dealers screw me regularly and efficiently.
by George Bates
(RG note) http://www.artsystems.com/ is a company that produces software specific to galleries and large art collections. It can be adapted for high-end artists who need all the bells and whistles and who, unlike Max, are extra sensitive about keeping track.
by Maureen Kerstein, Aquanet
I have found the perfect software. I have been using it for over a year now. It keeps images, track of paintings, consignments, sales, prints out tons of invoices, labels, even for slides, keeps track of show entries, awards, helps write a biography, letterhead including an images, etc. etc. It is called working artist and you can read all about it at: http://www.workingartist.com/
by Moncy Barbour
I have a journal of 2045 pages thus far. Art is my main love, but I also write poetry as my second love. I have kept letters & e-mails from many good artist such as yourself, even a letter from president Clinton which is framed and hanging in my office. But I too agree that one should keep some sort of file on their art. My journal is a file of my life as are my paintings. However my favorite files are my friends & fellow artists that I have in one way or the other stumbled across in life.
Book of judgement
by Chris Rose, Quadra Island, BC, Canada
I have pictures of all my sculptures and usually four perspectives. Each piece is assigned a number (chronological sequence) followed by the the original weight of the stone and a code number which tells me how many hours I worked on the sculpture before reaching the final stage, these are inscribed on the sculpture. I also keep those records in an album (I’m on the fifth ring binder) plus the dimensions (height,length,width) and the final weight of the sculpture. This information has becomes very valuable especially when pieces are missing i.e., have been stolen from a gallery or exhibition. I have experienced this unfortunate situation three years ago and could provide the RCMP with detailed information, however I suppose the two sculptures that were stolen are long gone. A second reason to keep a record is in the fact that visitors to my studio like to see other pieces aside from those that I have still available; here the photographs of older pieces are very valuable and a number of times I have been asked by visitors to carve something similar they had seen in the album (however, no piece is the same as the one before and the stone is always different — I refuse to do factory work!). The third and the most important reason to keep records of the art works seems to rest in the fact that we change and our art work also changes, to record these changes I think is important if for no other reason to use it as a yard-stick by which I measure myself — hopefully I’m getting better. The record is my book of judgment — at my end I hope someone will burn it with me.
Thanks by numbers
by Corinne McIntyre, Maine, USA
I too started years ago with the “old file card system”. However I give each painting a number which goes on the back of the painting and the file card. It is the date of completion… i.e., 0067 would be the year 2000 the 67th painting. I shall never run out of numbers! If someone calls about a painting I ask for the number and can look it up quickly. On the file card I have the number, title, size, medium (I work in w/c and oil), the date sold and to whom, with their address, telephone number and e-mail. I also write the date I sent them a “Thank You”… I feel very strongly that people who buy your paintings should be thanked. After all it is a validation of your work… I know some galleries don’t like to give out the buyer’s names. However, since I sell primarily from my own gallery I make sure people hear from me. It also makes me feel good! You’d be surprised how many people enjoy that acknowledgement.
I don’t put the information on my computer because I had a hard drive crash once and that cured me. File cards won’t disappear.
Joggles the mind
by Simone Joliet
I keep a slide file of most of my work and it’s surprisingly often that I refer to it to answer my own question, “Now, how did I do that before?” Since we hopefully learn from our mistakes and gain strength from our successes, an accessible record of work can be a good reference tool — a kind of mind-jog.
You may be interested to know that artists from 67 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.
That includes an artist on the island of Niue. Hi!