Often seen as a tedious project, having an inventory is one way to stay extremely organized. After following a review for a grant, I discovered that the focus for many professionals is on the creation of new work rather than the documentation and preservation of the work that already exists. However, I argue the opposite, the benefits of taking the time to care for and manage your current work are worth the time and effort. The more time and details you incorporate into your inventory the better tool and resource it is for you. Creating systems and organizational tools like an inventory does take time, but will actually save time down the road when you need to find a specific exhibition date or the name or contact information for a juror. I broke the inventory process into three larger steps which will be blogged about again in August and in November. Follow this month’s inventory project and you will be on track for your mission organization.
Begin by moving all of your art into one location. Exclude art that is already on the wall or hanging in your home and art that is out of your studio space due to an art opportunity, such as an exhibition. This can be a project in itself if you are very unorganized. Moving all of your art in one place will make this inventory process smoother and a bit quicker than jumping locations or guessing on information or details about certain works.
Step 1: Photographing Your Work
One of the main components of an inventory is a photograph of the artwork. By moving all of your art in one location, you can power through photographing all the work that you already haven’t documented. Each work needs a photo. While documenting your artwork can be a whole other blog post, make sure you have good lighting, a solid background, and take photos at the highest possible resolution.
Photographing your work can be a financial investment if you pay for professional documentation. Use this step to plan out the pieces that you want to prioritize getting documented first and then create a budget so you can continually photograph your work.
Step 2: Creating an Inventory Form
The second component of your inventory is the documentation information. This is a tedious task but will be most helpful to you in the long run. An inventory can have a variety of information and should be tailored to your needs as an artist. For me, the more information the better. Begin by creating a document where you can easily plug in your information. Break down your document into sections such as basic information, past exhibitions, press, and notes. Each work gets its own separate page alongside its photo. Some works of art will be multiple pages after you stick in all its info and others will be a bit blank. Here is what I have for each of my sections on my inventory page:
Basic Information: At the top of my inventory page, I have the title of the work in large bold letters and include the image of the work near the top right corner so I can see the images as I flip through my inventory binder. I include the date when the work was completed, medium, and materials that I used. I continue to list other basic information about the piece including size, price, whether or not the work is framed if any touchups or repairs are needed, where the work is currently located. If there is a copyright registration number I include that as well. Another topic I wish to include is whether or not I agreed to any permissions, for example, if a literary magazine has permission to print the image, or if I signed any contracts that allow or restrict the use of the image or work itself.
Exhibition Information: For the exhibition information section, I began with the title of the show. I also list what type of exhibition it is: solo, partner, group show, or other. I include the dates of the show and opening, and the venue name and address. Be sure to have the name of the curator, juror, or other related or important names and contact information. Feel free to include the exhibition or venue website address, and the commission percentage.
Press Information: In this section, I list any press and promotions that the work of art has received. This section may not be necessary for artists who haven’t had a significant amount of press, but I prefer to list the information in a citation format. I also list any promotional materials that relate to the work of art such as printed postcards, calendars, and other materials that promote and use my image.
Additional Information: There is an endless possibility of information you can include in your inventory. You want to make sure that it is detailed enough to provide proper documentation about the piece, but not so much that it’s overwhelming and scary to refer to or update. Possible other information you can include on your inventory includes viewer comments, installation notes, artist statements specific to that piece, or opportunities that you submitted the work to but weren’t accepted. Don’t forget to list if the piece has been purchased. Include the purchaser’s contact information and what the work sold for.
After you have created the basic inventory form, fill out a blank form for each work of art. Include all of the information, notes, and details for each work of art, and don’t forget to include the photograph of the piece. Once you create a large body of work, trying to remember the dates and titles for all of your art can get a bit fizzy, so it is helpful to have the image to refer to.
Step 3: Creating Digital or Hard Copies
Always have a digital file of your inventory backed up on an external hard drive. It’s also a good idea to have a hard copy or two printed off. One copy can be in your studio, to use and refer to while you are working. It’s also very important that you have the other copy in a separate location so if an emergency happens and you need to have proof of your work, you will have a complete and updated inventory to assist you.
The key to inventory is taking it in small bites and maintain it over time. If it helps to tackle this project in steps, consider working on certain series of works or in specific media if you have a variety of focuses.