8 Tips to Start Archiving Your Artwork

Katie Carey | May 10, 2018 (Updated September 20, 2022)

If you are more than a year or two into your art career, chances are you have a lot of artwork around the house, office or studio.

You have probably said to yourself that you should catalog your artwork to keep things organized, make sure things don’t slip through the cracks and ensure your artistic legacy. You might even have a Post-it note or calendar reminder that has been in your phone for far too long. 

Remember, the first step is the hardest.

An inventory project can seem overwhelming, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of pieces to archive. The task can get so built up in our heads, that oftentimes gets postponed indefinitely.

Here’s the thing, though. Creating an inventory of your work doesn’t have to be the daunting task that we make it out to be—especially with so many easy-to-use and intuitive art inventory programs out there.

Having a system in place will help you get started and work your way through your artwork, saving you time and stress in the future. Plus, in the unfortunate case that a disaster occurs, you will be prepared with records.

So, where do you even begin? Here are eight tips to help you make that first step in archiving your artwork:

Start with the information that you already have

If you are like most artists, you most likely have bits and pieces of all this information all over the place. This is what we are trying to solve, but it is also a great starting point.

You have information on your website, at your galleries, in past publications, on your social media, and in your own records (if you are one of the lucky ones).

Take a look at your CV and use the exhibition history section as a jumping off point.


Decide on an art inventory system

Decide on a system that will work best for you and your art business. Do you already have a hand-written log or excel document of your works? Some inventory systems like Artwork Archive will allow you to upload that file to their program and cut down on data entry time.

If you are going with a database system or art inventory software, make sure it is capable of recording the information you are interested in tracking.

At the very least, the basic details you need to be able to keep track of for each piece are the inventory number, title, date of creation, medium, dimensions, price, collection, images of the artwork, a description with your art’s story, and any important notes you may need to consider.

You will also want to look for a program that can track locations and exhibitions information to create a full provenance record of your artwork.

A quality inventory program should also track sales, editions and client information—using that data to create a dynamic system to schedule, invoice, create price lists, certificate of authenticity reports and much more.

Choosing a system like Artwork Archive that goes above and beyond the basic inventory needs of your art helps you manage your art career successfully.


Make sure the program you choose has longevity

Hard drive failures are not a myth. They happen and they take with them all of your records without apology. Look for a system that is cloud-based and allows you to export your information to your computer to store your data locally. That way, you have it backed up on your computer and on the cloud—so it is accessible anywhere.


Know that you don’t have to go it alone

If you already have a studio assistant, consider this a wonderful project that will allow them to learn more about your history and evolution. For those who have been flying solo, it might be time to consider short-term help.

Consider looking for a summer intern or art student to help you start cataloging your artwork. Having some extra hands on deck will help make the process smoother! Plus, once all that information is cataloged, it cuts down on the administration time needed in the future when it comes to creating price lists, invoices, and finding information for collectors or publications.

If an assistant isn’t in the budget, see if you can find another artist who is also archiving their work and create an accountability system for getting your work entered. Or, buy some pizzas on a quiet Saturday and enlist some enthusiastic and good-hearted friends to volunteer to help jump-start the process by going through all of your old work.

The best place to start is … anywhere

Don’t worry about starting the project chronologically if you are using an inventory system. Your inventory system should give you the ability to sort and filter by date, date added, date created, location, price, and much more.

Try not to get bogged down in making everything perfect before you begin. The most important step is starting, after all!

Art inventory systems help you sort and find the information and artwork you are looking for, so you don’t have to do all the thinking.


The best time to start is now

You may have heard the old proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

The same goes for inventorying your artwork.

Sure, it would be less of a headache if you had started cataloging all of this information at the start of your art career, but the second-best time? Now.

You will thank your past self a year from now when all your information is easy to find and your records are clearly labeled and stored. Not all of us are naturally organized, that’s why your database should be as intuitive as possible.

Take an afternoon to photograph all the work in your studio and enter the critical information about it into a database and then follow these steps to get started.


Create work habits that work for you

Read: Don’t try and do it all at once.

“The bigger a project seems, the less likely you are to do it because it seems like too much effort. So if you really want to form better habits start really, really small—one pushup at a time.” [Fast Company]


Whether it’s getting into the studio at a certain time of day or finally getting to that cataloging project, good habits can make the difference between a flourishing art career and a part-time hobby.

Since building a new habit can be as daunting as a big project, there are a few ways to stay on track.

Celebrate your small wins: You unpacked your kiln. You sent out an invoice. You added five artworks to your inventory.  Say, “Done!”

A recent study confirmed that breaking large or less-than-exciting projects into smaller components and then celebrating your wins is scientifically proven to make you more productive.

Think about a large project and see if you can break it into chunks that you can complete in 25 minutes.

Link new habits to old habits

Do you brush your teeth every day? Good. You have a daily habit. What if you identified and attached a small, new activity to that existing habit?

Dr. BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford, did just that.  Every time he goes to the bathroom at home, he does push-ups before he washes his hands. He attached an easily repeatable task onto an already ingrained habit. This routine didn’t start out tough—he began with one push-up. Over time, he added more. He changed his aversion to working out into a daily habit one push-up at a time, and today, he does 50 push-ups a day with little resistance.

Why does this approach work?

Changing a habit or building a new one is not easy. To improve your odds, attaching a new habit to an existing one is your best bet at success. Your existing habit becomes the trigger for the new one.

Think about your time in the studio or your workspace. What’s an existing habit that occurs during your workday in which you can attach a new activity? For example, every time you walk into the studio in the morning and put on your apron, record one artwork in your inventory. 

At first, it will seem forced. You may even be annoyed by the activity. But over time, you will get used to this new activity and the resistance will decrease.

Ready to get started with an intuitive art inventory system?

Artwork Archive provides the best tools to help you easily catalog your artwork. Try it free for 14 days.

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