Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My Inventory System for Paintings

Lifting Fog at Dawn
11x14 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available!

A reader asks, "How is it that you track and label all of your works?"  This is a great question, because keeping accurate inventory records is crucial for a professional artist.  What's the exhibition history of a piece?   What gallery was it in?  Who bought that painting? What did it sell for?  If I need to reshoot an image for publication, do I know its current location?  Having this information at your fingertips can make your job a lot easier.

Screenshot of my inventory system record form

I've been using the same inventory system for over 15 years.  I crafted what one might call an "artisanal" database—read "homemade, with many tweaks"—in Microsoft Access.  When Access became too expensive, I migrated my database over to Open Office, which is free.  Although not every painting, sketch or scrawl gets inventoried, anything I think worth keeping or selling does.  If I destroy a piece, I make sure I note that in the database, too.   That will save me time hunting for a painting that no longer exists.

Back of the above painting showing my labeling

Also important is the labeling of the artwork.  On the back of each painting, I make sure to write:

  • Inventory number
  • Date created (this can be as vague as a month and year)
  • "EPA", if the work was created en plein air
  • My signature
  • My name, printed
  • The month and year the piece was varnished plus the brand and type of varnish (this will help conservators down the road who may need to clean the work)

and sometimes, if I am experimenting with grounds or surfaces, I will write down what products I used such as Gamblin PVA size and Golden acrylic gesso.

Screenshot of my Picasa interface

As for images, I make sure to get a high-resolution (300 dpi, and at least 8x10 inches) TIFF file.  The filename contains the title of the piece plus the inventory number.  This gets indexed on my computer by Google's Picasa (a wonderful program, but alas no longer supported by Google.)  Naming the file this way makes it easy to find if I need to create an inventory sheet for a gallery or exhibition.

I know there are other systems, some professionally created—"by artists, for artists"—but the record-keeping doesn't need to be complicated or have lot of bells and whistles.  Simple is best!

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