The Art of Documenting Your Art

The Art of Documenting Your Art


documenting your artwork


Because you really should!

Spring is finally just around the corner and I can’t say I’m not going to be glad to see the back end of the dreadful winter we’ve had this year. 

Spring for some reason seems to be the time when we start really organising ourselves for the art year ahead and what better way to get organised with your art than by keeping on top of some of the most important stuff you need to do as a visual artist, document your work!

So this week I will be covering lots of what you need to consider when documenting your artwork including:

Why you should document your artwork

The basic information required when documenting your artwork

The type of documentation artwork needs

Why documentation can increase the value of your artwork

Reasons...

The single most useful thing I ever started doing was documenting my artwork, or to use the more formal term “accessioning” my creative output. More simply, doing things right. 

I have the memory of a goldfish at the best of times so figuring out what artwork I have created and when I completed it has always been a challenge. I always knew that my art should be documented because it was drilled into me so much in my early years as an artist by my mentor.  I understood all the reasons why doing so was important, but like many others I never seemed to be able to find the time to do it properly.

Since I started making a habit of documenting my work though I have always wondered why I didn’t find the time to do it properly all those years ago. It’s such an important part of the artistic process no matter where you are in your art career. Still doesn’t mean I like it, I would rather be spending the time creating something more visual but I know it has to be done.

Why it is so important is multi-fold. Firstly you need to keep a record of your work even if it is uncompleted so that you know what you have produced and so that you remember what needs to be completed. If you have numerous unsold works you need to know what inventory you have. If you meet a client and they want a certain piece of work that you have already created, forgetting that you created what they’re looking for will mean a missed sale. 

Documenting everything can make some of the other things you have to do as an artist a little easier too such as when you need to produce a catalogue for a show. I’ve met a few artists who go to shows and have had to pull together something at the last minute. Fire up Microsoft Word and cobble something together, pop it in a dog-eared ring binder and plonk it on a table. It’s not the best look but you score a ten for lack of planning. Once you have a formal catalogue of your work it becomes easier to start categorising your work into periods or even collections for galleries or exhibitions, none of whom would want a dog-eared catalogue with misaligned holes for the ring binder.

Documentation is also an important part of collecting art too. Those who have art collections need to ensure that everything is catalogued for many reasons, not least of all that the insurance companies will usually insist on seeing it or having a copy of any documentation.

It also means that professionals are better able to correctly document works of art perhaps in galleries or maybe even in museums. If you eventually hit the big-time of having your work displayed in the best art institutions, it will be added to the institutes records too and of course, it helps to prove any provenance of the work which could significantly impact its value. 

Many of the fine art institutions and museums will have very specific rules regarding documenting a work and whilst you might not feel that you are important enough as an artist in the greater context of the art world right now, doing the documentation thing broadly in line with how the industry likes things to be done is a worthy exercise. Not only does it professionalise what you do and take it to another level but one day you might just rely on having it when some fine art museum or high-end gallery decides that suddenly your work should be celebrated and exhibited and that happens more than you think.

Today we have everything we need to create good documentation and it is immediately at hand. The introduction of technology has made everything easier. Even if you are only creating the most basic of documentation for now, using something as simple as a spreadsheet it is a start in the right direction. 

Outside of the formal institutions there’s not really any particular way that your work should be documented just so long as it is. 

The Basics…

Documenting the basics whenever you start work on or finish a piece of art needn’t take a huge chunk of time, so what do you need? Whilst there is a never-ending list of things you could do, you can never have too much documentation. These are a few of the basics.

The Artists Statement…

Those of us who have kids will constantly document the drawings and paintings they come up with. This was painted by Tommy age 5, 6, 7, 21, and when he was 50, but we rarely go to such lengths when it is our own work. 

The artist’s statement is usually a good place to start. Presenting your artwork along with basic information such as title of the work, size medium, the date it was produced, and where the work was produced should be a given. Add in a small high resolution photograph of the completed work so that it can be more easily identified in the future, and add in any links which direct people to where they can find and buy the work online and list any retail stores and galleries the art might be featured in. Keep those details separate from the main body of the statement unless they are relevant to the overall context such as when your work is being shown in an exhibition or has won an award.

If your art has been displayed in an exhibition or has received wider recognition, that should also be documented. To add to the works provenance, take photographs of the work in situ at the event and add this to the documentation too. Whenever your work is exhibited make sure to document the when and where and highlight any awards it may have received.

The artists statement is a given when creating any documentation. People will want to know the, who, what, and why, and it should be a gentle introduction to the work. Artist’s statements should never be long, a few paragraphs or at most a page. 

You should just focus on conveying basic things such as the process of creating it and point out issues within but the work which might be social or political or anything else. What you must never do is tell people how they should feel when viewing the art, art is subjective and people all think differently. 

If you are writing anything lengthier you will need to make sure that everything is in context and necessary. You might want to add in how this piece of work relates to other pieces of work, mention any exhibitions and awards, how the work fits into a longer body or series of works, and try to get across how your work fits in with art history whenever you can. 

You can also use the statement to provide details around the creative process, and if there are certain techniques that you have used that are important to the overall depiction of the art, it’s worth mentioning those too. 

An artist’s statement is not a poem and shouldn’t be filled with complex art speak. Not everyone’s a professional art critic, but mostly everyone’s a critic. The last thing you want to do is alienate any sector of any audience. 

My advice for artist’s statements and bearing in mind that I truly don’t like writing them at all, is this. Start off by writing a page and then cut it down to half a page, and change it until it makes sense. You only have to do it once if you do it right so make it count the first time. 

This is my artwork, this is what it is about, this is where it has been displayed (your hallway doesn’t really count) and this is how I produced it. It really doesn’t need to be anything more than that. 

My biggest mistake in writing statements up until as recently as a year or so ago, is that I would always write in the third-person. I realised I was better at selling my art than this stuffy third-person who couldn’t convey the passion for the work that I have. I’m rewriting all of my old statements slowly. 

I don’t think I have ever met an artist who likes writing artists statements. No, I did meet one once who said they did, but deep down we both knew that he didn’t. 

Once written it can be used whenever you sell or market a piece of work and you can add it to your documentation. Galleries will often ask for a statement although in my experience many of them will take a look at it and then reword it anyway. 

The Artist Bio…

Create an artist bio. I’m surprised how many artists forget to do this, but a bio is one of the most important pieces of information that you need to provide. The profile tells people who you are and what your art is about and when done properly it can make all the difference between getting the galleries interested or forever going unnoticed. A bio might be picked up by someone who knows someone in the art world or by that someone from the art world. Your bio is about selling you as the artist. Keep it short, sweet, and keep it about you. 

Keep track of where your art is sold…

Keeping track of your art is useful even if it has been purchased and then sold on again. Sometimes it isn’t that easy to track beyond the original customer but you should try to do this as it forms a timeline of provenance. This is really useful for future buyers of your work too. Always track where your art is sold even when selling on Print on Demand, you might find out that Mary from Venice Beach is your best collector and may have introduced others from the same area. Then you can target any online ads around a specific area!


art provenance documents


Press releases… 

It’s easy to ignore press releases and we often underestimate their importance but they can be really useful and give you some additional exposure you may never have had. This is another reason why I love using Fine Art America, with their premium membership you will be able to submit a press release which then appears on your Pixels site and which you can send out to press offices.

Often we miss out on local markets because locally no one locally knows that we are artists. Just formulating a press release that introduces you and your work and sending it out to a few local newspapers or media outlets could be beneficial if the press release gets picked up. If you are entering a show or exhibiting the local arts writers at the publication may be interested in running the story. You don’t have anything to lose by writing the occasional press release so long as you are saying something that is informative and might be of interest more widely. 

Whilst press releases should form part of a marketing strategy they’re not sales pitches. The main purpose of a press release is to promote something significant so opening your new gallery or exhibiting at a prestigious event would be worth writing one for, as would an introduction that you are open for local business as an artist.

Press releases let the media know that you create art and reporters might want to feature that in a story around art or local businesses, and you can also let the media know about events that they might want to cover. Never assume that any press release you write will get picked up, you’re competing with lots and lots of other stories which might be more suited to the publication or the news of the day, but there really is no harm at all in giving it a go.

You don’t have to restrict yourself to the usual media outlets, bloggers are often looking out for relevant stories to pick up and run with.

Collate any press releases you have created and issue a pack with each piece of work sold. There’s equally no harm in including the ones that have been written and published on your Pixels site but which didn’t get picked up, everything that documents your art is going to be relevant.

COAs…

A certificate of authenticity. You do have to be careful with these though. Bear in mind that unless a certificate is signed by the artist who created the art, the publisher of the work in the case of limited editions, or a confirmed and validated dealer or an expert who knows everything about the artist and their work, then it’s pretty much going to be just a piece of paper. We will go through the details of COAs in a future article but whenever you sell and original work or signed work, having a COA is a good idea.

Photographic WIPs…

I always try to create a series of work in progress photos or time-lapses when I work digitally and get them published on my Facebook page. I turn them into short films which I add text links to as well so that they can be used in marketing materials but the biggest reason is to prove that the work was produced by me. It adds to the provenance of the work and if anyone purchases any of my new work I am always happy to ping the film over to the owner of the work. All of my new work has a full set of WIP footage or photography. 

Never use Comic Sans as a font…

This one is just so important. In a hundred years’ time art historians are going to be scratching their heads wondering why anyone ever thought that using comic sans for professional documentation was a good idea. I’ve seen comic sans used in everything from artist statements to professional contracts, please I’m pleading with you, just don’t!

The Catalogue…

Having a catalogue of your work is just so useful, I even keep one in the car just in case I meet someone who is interested in what I do. Catalogues don’t have to be expensively produced affairs but they should reflect your professionalism and commitment to your work. 

If you are an artist who sells work through Fine Art America, one of the most useful features of the platform is that you can download a sales sheet in a PDF format. These are ideal to be printed out to add into a catalogue and as they also come with retail prices including your commission, they are a useful way of showing people the prices against each size. 

If you don’t have access to this facility or you prefer to create your own, all you need is a brief description of the art, size, medium, and maybe the artist’s statement if it is not too long, together with the price of the work and a high-resolution photograph.

This is where you can start planting the seed of the up-sell. Whenever I create sales sheets for the catalogue I also add in any framing and matting options and on the back I add in a photo of the corner of the artwork against each of the frames I sell. 

I then have a section about caring for art and a section about hanging different art mediums. I always supply a hanging kit with my framed work but I can supply an upgraded security hanging kit with a lock that keeps the work safely attached to the wall and unless the keys are inserted it’s very difficult to remove without damaging the wall. It’s great for art going into public spaces and as it is in the catalogue people notice it as they flip through. The security kit is an up-sell and it is usually requested by clients who noticed it in the catalogue if the work is going anywhere it might be damaged or removed.

You can place these into a ring-binder but if you do always put them in protective plastic pouches. Having a ring-binder on display at shows and exhibitions is great, but when so many people take a look through them the documents become worn out very quickly. 

It’s a good idea to have an index at the front of the catalogue and dividers which separate out specific styles of art. You could laminate the pages to save replacing them quite so often and I also keep a pack of small sticky-notes to hand so that when a client is interested in a piece of work they are able to bookmark it by placing a sticky-note on the relevant page. 

The great thing about creating these types of catalogues is that you are not committed to getting new catalogues published should your prices ever change or artwork gets sold. You just need to print out and re-laminate or reinsert the new page as needed. Any original art that does get sold goes into a second catalogue of sold work.  

Just one more tip when producing catalogues, always stick to bright white good quality paper. Any photos you place on that nice pink paper will have traces of pink overtones and that makes everything more difficult to read and see. Looks pretty but like a chocolate fire guard, totally useless. 

Using a professional document service…

I’ve mentioned using high-resolution photos of your art and the exhibition spaces it has been hung in but photographing art is an art in itself. How many times have you tried to photograph a piece of art and it turns into a selfie with your reflection in the centre of the focal point, or the colours appear to be washed out?

Drum scanners and high-end flat-bed scanners can be expensive and ideally they need to be properly maintained and calibrated, so it starts to make sense if you are serious about documenting your work to reach out to professionals who specialise in art documentation. 

Of course there is a cost to doing this but it will always produce better results than any of us who don’t have extensive photography skills could ever hope to achieve. Showing your work in the best light quite literally, is vital especially when showing it in publications and on marketing material. 

You can have a go yourself if you have a good camera. Whilst the cameras on modern phones are often as good as cheap point and clicks, they’re not entirely capable of everything that a good DSLR camera is capable of. You would also need to consider any lighting that you might need and if you only create a few pieces of work each year you have to work out if in the long run the expense would be worth it. 

It is not impossible to produce good or even great photography yourself and get some fairly decent results, but reading a book or watching a tutorial alone won’t make you into a fine art photographer, that takes years of skill and practice and an eye for what makes a picture great. There are plenty of walk-throughs on YouTube and across the internet that will give you step-by-step instruction, but they will only go so far. 

The last thing any artist wants is to photograph their work and the output is a faded or blurred picture that does no justice at all to the level of skill and detail in the image. If you are a professional photographer this service might be worth adding to your service, especially if you can keep costs competitive. 


the Art of beechhouse media Mark Taylor artist


Have a go!

The good news is that you don’t have to document everything at once but getting into the habit of documenting as you go will pay dividends in time. If you have a sizeable undocumented portfolio of work already then try to document the best pieces first but don’t forget the pieces that are older or that you personally don’t like. With the right marketing and documentation these works could eventually sell just as well as any of your favourite pieces. 

In the past I have rebranded and refreshed old artwork documentation and the marketing materials that go with it and have had some success in selling works I never would have thought would have sold. Art really is subjective and just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean that someone else won’t love it. 

Let me know!

Let me know how you get on with documenting your art and if you already do it, what lengths do you go to, to make sure that the documentation is complete? Feel free to leave a comment below!

Also if you do create a press release let me know about them too. I’m always eager to support independent visual artists by showcasing them here on this site and through my social media channels. If you are on Facebook, check out our three wonderful art groups, The Artists Exchange, The Artist Hangout, and The Artists Directory and you can follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia for updates on my own art, observations about life in general and news from the world of art including who else you really should be following!

 About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger who specialises in abstracts, landscapes, and seascapes. My work is sold in more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada including The Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, and Deck the Walls and you can also buy from Fine Art America or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com 

All artwork and art collectibles sold through Fine Art America and Pixels also come with a 30-day money back guarantee and any proceeds from sales through Fine Art America and Pixels go back towards maintaining this site for the benefit of other independent visual artists and art buyers. It takes a huge amount of time to write articles and support the many artists who reach out to me for advice outside of this site, so even buying a greetings card through my Pixels site allows me to keep doing it! The great news is that I have just lowered my artist’s commission on Fine Art America across a range of products for a limited time but prices will be going back up immediately after Easter!

You can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia and on Twitter @beechhouseart

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