The Artists Legacy

The Artists Legacy


colourful paper clips title image
Leaving an artistic legacy! 

I regularly write new articles to support members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artist Hangout, The Artists Directory, and The Artists Lounge. This week we take another look at documenting your work and leaving behind an all-important legacy that is your art.




The Hand Dryer Moment…

We’re all only temporary. That’s not meant to sound bleak but it is very much a reality. That’s the thought that strangely and immediately sprang to mind when I dried my hands under one of those hurricane powered bathroom hand dryers. You know, the kind that make you question your own mortality when your skin shakes vigorously under a ferocious blade of hot air as soon as you seek out the magic sensor that eventually fires the wall-mounted blow furnace into action.

Our art, on the other hand, might live on long after we’ve gone. Or it might not. I could be even less optimistic and suggest that it probably won’t, it depends who you listen to, and I am, if nothing else, forever the optimist. I am optimistic because I believe in artists and if there is one thing that artists are, they’re pretty dang resilient, persistent, and downright stubborn enough to make sure that whatever they create becomes another part of their legacy. That’s more than one thing which is also why I took art instead of math.
beach artwork, perfect day by Mark Taylor
A Perfect Day - Available on my Pixels and Fine Art America store!

We have all heard that line, my art will be worth more when I’m dead. Frankly, that’s a whole heap of flapdoodle because also, that seems to be my word of the week. The chances really are that it probably won’t be worth any more, and why wait that long to find out anyway? I want my art to be worth something today, I can’t take the dang stuff with me. I don’t want people to ever stop enjoying it, I quite fancy being remembered as that guy who drank lots of coffee while rambling on about finding your tribe and painted half-decent landscapes. But for anyone to remember me or my art, I guess I ought to do something about it, like creating a legacy that is easy for my offspring to move and easy for people to figure out.

Even better if that legacy helps me shift some more of it today while I’m around to actually enjoy people enjoying it. If I could afford to not be paid for creating it, I really would just paint all day and give it away. I love the enjoyment that it might bring to people, but I also have to eat and pay those pesky bills. I tell you, it’s a vicious trap.  

I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, I have far too much to do to be bothered about thinking about the later on, but it occurred to me while drying my hands that whenever I buy a piece of art that I love, I want to hang on to it for the duration. It’s strange that the most mundane moments can produce spasms of such deep thinking. I want to wake up and see the artists passion in the work every day, I want to know about the work and the artist, and honestly, if it turns out to be valuable one day then that’s a bonus. Also if it turns out to be valuable one day, it’s mostly not essential, because if you’re buying art as an investment I happen to know a good therapist and it will serve you well to make an appointment.

But what is a legacy and why should I start building on it today? Our work and the impact that our lives have on others is an artists legacy or at least a major part of it. The remainder of our legacy is created by the works we have sold and those that remain with us and have yet to find their forever home and of course, the works that we go on to create in the future. Our legacy is our sketchbooks filled with ideas and musings, the provenance of our work, who bought it, who sold it, the awards and the wins, and what we learned from the didn’t wins. A legacy is bringing at least a little joy to someone else and being remembered for it. It’s about how you and your work will be remembered and whether or not you even did enough to be remembered.

To be honest, I had for a long time been far too consumed with doing everything else that makes up life to even think about leaving a legacy. Also, it felt so final to think about that kind of stuff. But then I pondered some more in the one point seven seconds that the hand drying hurricane took to dry my hands, shouldn’t we be producing a living legacy that collectors can buy into today? I don't even necessarily mean that in a monetary sense.

I can’t think of any worse legacy to leave behind than some future art historian discovering my work and then proclaiming, you know what, this guy had nothing, move on.


I have written a few times before about the need to document your work, how vital it is that you keep track of everything you do, what you sold, to who and when, and what you didn’t sell. It helps when it comes to things like applying for art grants, it helps to prove that the work is yours, and more importantly, it adds a level of provenance that a buyer just wouldn’t get from anyone else.

It’s not just about documents, it’s about managing your inventory, taking stock of all of those art supplies you never use and the ones you do, keeping track of who bought your work so you can reach out to them again, it’s about documenting your career, and generally making it easier for those future art historians to say, hang on a minute, we might just have something here.

I don’t know of any artist who doesn’t have at least some works sitting around that have yet to find a forever home. Making sure that you know what you have to hand is always useful when a collector phones up and asks for a multi-coloured unicorn that unbeknown to the collector you painted back in 76 while eating a strange mushroom.

Documenting your art doesn’t guarantee that it will become more valuable either now or in the future, some buyers are just fine with taking artwork and enjoying it without the paperwork. But what happens if you suddenly find yourself in a position where a famed critic notices you for the right reasons and your work suddenly leaps on to the walls of a prestigious gallery or it begins to get noticed more widely? When that happens there will be interest in what you did before and for a time at least, most likely what you do in the future. This is where provenance becomes increasingly important and provenance contributes to your legacy and makes the job of figuring your work out, way, way into the future so much easier for everyone who comes across it.

Empty Deckchairs art by Mark Taylor
Empty Deckchairs - Available now through my Fine Art America and Pixels Stores!

Documentation is well and truly a huge aspect of leaving an artistic legacy and I don’t think I have ever met an artist yet who hasn’t once ever wondered if their work will be remembered after they have gone. That thought, and having it at least once if not many times over, is a rite of passage for every artist who wants to make it professionally no matter how many years it takes. The documentation won’t just help in later years, it will help from the moment you start to create it.

When we think about documenting our art, fundamentally it is about caring for our life’s work, it’s caring about all of those times we have thought that we would never make it and then almost giving up, and it is about caring about the work that you go on to create. When you care, it gives others permission to care. It’s often the element that tells the rest of the story, not just of the art, but the artist behind it.

It requires a herculean effort to become motivated…

I get it, there will always be a strong desire to create rather than work through reams and reams of paperwork, writing about what you did, and as you get a little older, remembering what you did becomes increasingly more complicated as the length of your career extends, the more work you create and the more prolific you become.

But documenting your art, your process and your career are worth doing. It’s not just adding value to the buyer, it is about valuing your own work. The process dictates that you assign some value to what you do by spending quality time doing something that you would probably rather not. If you value your work then others will too, but yes, it requires a monstrous amount of effort. I get that too, I’m an artist first and a writer second. I much prefer creating because I generally don’t have to think quite as hard, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to think, art can be mentally draining at any level, but the thinking I need to produce art comes way more easily than the thinking I need to do to write.  

Honestly, writing makes up a huge proportion of what I do beyond and including my art, I find that I write more than I create. I write in the worky work job, I write a deep-dive article for this website at least every week, I have two almost-completed books in the works,  and I document my work and do the paperwork that needs doing when you run a business. So writing, for me, is a huge part of what I do, but I don’t have to love it in the same way as I love creating.

Writing can be uncomfortable if doing it is not your first or even second love, and when you document your work it can also be immensely personal and emotionally complex to write about what inspired you to create this or that. So yes, I get that documenting is an ask, and the task in its enormity, can at times be overwhelmingly difficult, but in creating this documentation you will edge towards achieving the goals you ultimately have for creating a legacy from your art and in the meantime, it will help you to place more value on what you do. More than that though, it will save a heap of work, later on, I know this because just over two decades ago I had the onerous task of documenting the first decade of my career and it was shall we say, character building.

Tropical Parrot by Mark Taylor - Available in my stores now!


The Value Add…

There is no sugar-coating it, documenting your life’s work and persistently doing it from here on in, is well, a challenge. Even if you are an experienced writer and you can think of creative things to say on the fly, documenting your work is another level of oh my wow, you have got to be kidding me.

A savvy collector in the 21st Century is way more switched on to owning the paperwork that goes with the art than at any time before. Collectors today will utilise every search engine to seek you out before making a purchase, they want to know everything about you and your work before dropping down the coin. Buyers today are savvy enough to qualify you before they even engage.

Today, there is more choice in where you can go to buy art, online is more attractive than ever and businesses including galleries are having to adapt and remain agile to the changing habits of buyers and collectors, and they’re having to frame the optics to attract those who are on their journey towards qualifying the business where they will spend their money. If you are anything like me then you will be doing this too. Checking out reviews, seeking out honest opinions, checking out the business, all of this happens more and more even before you make a purchase. With more and more online activity this also means there is more choice than ever before and more artists are finding out that art is a business well suited to working from home. So, to stand out, you have to consistently add value and many artists still don’t offer any form of documentation along with their work, yet it is a powerful value add in the right place, although it can also be a gimmick in the wrong place.

The Task…

Cataloguing your work, particularly when you have a huge portfolio is one of the biggest challenges but imagine how much more difficult it will be when you add another thirty or three hundred works to your portfolio in the next twelve months. Multiply this by the number of years that you plan on creating new work, and then the gravity of leaving the task to someday in the future will weigh a little more heavily. When I started out cataloguing my work just over two decades ago, I found I was literally spending three times as many hours on the paperwork than I was creating. Back then, we didn’t have anywhere near the tools we have today, we didn’t have CRM, fast internet, it was a time when few people really understood what the internet was or even if it would ever be useful.

Today it takes me anywhere between five minutes and an hour to create the documentation for a single artwork, slightly longer when I need to digitise original paintings and take photos, but it has become a habit and I automate and utilise technology wherever I can.
Rather than typing, I sometimes use dictation features within Word and Apple's Pages with the dictation technology becoming increasingly better over the past couple of years. I can at least pull the descriptions together whenever I think about them and generally wherever I am. It is then simply a case of picking up on errors if there are any and copying and pasting the text into a template I created for myself that then gets printed off as a PDF and archived electronically in at least three online locations, including two outside of the studio. This is for practical reasons, firstly, there is always a backup of the backup, and it makes the documentation so much more accessible.

The template also covers:

Documentation Needed
Notes
Inventory Number

File Location(s)
You might have lots of hard drives, so which one is it on?
File Size
Helps you work out how to send digital files too, email is often too restrictive
Dimensions
Framed/Unframed
DPI for Digital Work

Photographs of original paintings

Full description of the work

Summary Description of the work
Used when you need to provide shorter descriptions online
Metadata used along with date added
Useful if you upload to multiple websites that need tags adding. This is the one that is always forgotten but essential online. Metadata should be changed as often as buying and searching habits change. Some even suggest that metadata needs changing as often as you change your pants!
Description of mediums used

Description of framing and matting used

Description of support
Canvas/support type - manufacturer
Paint/Materials Manufacturer

Batch codes of paints/solvents/etc used
I use this to monitor product recalls
Pallet/Swatch used
Some digital applications allow you to save a pallet or swatch template. I add a visual swatch guide to directly sold prints and originals – this makes it easier to replicate pallets in the future and for buyers to find complementary colour schemes.
Title of Work

Date Work Started

Date Work Completed
This and the line above is handy for tracking time spent on commissions and managing time more generally
WIP Photos

Location of art
Which portfolio, physical location, virtual location is the art being stored
File Location if applicable
Use a sensible naming convention
Fonts used
Useful if you use fonts in commercial projects under licence
If commissioned, who by?

Copy of model release forms if needed

Installation and care instructions
If you are unsure, be careful advising. The wrong advice can cost artwork!
Value of work

Actual Selling Price of Work
Not always the value of the work 
Date of release
This is not always the day you completed it!
Artist Statement
This should be copied from your official artist statement and is written in the first person
Artist Bio
Written in the third person
Additional Information
Anything you need to mention to the buyer
Reference Photos used
Make sure you have permission to use reference photos and note down any attribution if it is required
Copies of receipts for materials
I usually scan these in so that my pricing remains transparent to anyone commissioning a work
References to media coverage, shows, awards
I will be exhibiting in October/November but the only images with direct reference will be the ones shown. 
Where to find the work
Write down the links to the product or let buyers know where the product is sold if anywhere else
Rights Management
Are you keeping control of the future copyright or handing it to the buyer
Sold to
Useful for chains of custody/provenance 
Current Owner
I am cautious about sending these details on to prospective buyers without the original owner's permission but this lets you keep track of who owns what so you can reach out to them again
Handwritten notes
Digitised copy of journal/sketchbook/physical notes – and any loose sketches remain with the work whenever they have been done.













































































Putting the template to practice...

Whilst the list is long, a lot of the fields can be populated with copy and paste if there is a consistency between your work and not every field above will be needed, you may need more or less depending on your buyers and your work. The client will usually receive a summary of the documentation depending on whether or not they purchased it directly. Print on demand is more challenging and I wouldn’t usually provide any further documentation on an open edition print. The issue with selling on print on demand is that you don’t always know who purchased the work as a print, but my clients who purchase directly will always receive a relevant section of the documentation with a signature.

When it comes to inventory numbers, never be tempted to use the same kind of filing system that most of us use on our computers. AAA_Final_Use_This, becomes less useful when the next AAA_Final_Use_This, file gets saved. I’ve found over the years that this does require some discipline to get right, but it is so much easier to find stuff once you have an inventory system that makes sense. I use a string of characters usually in the format of:

MA001924/AUG/18/ABS/BL/D/RT2

To anyone else, this might just look a tad random but to me, I know exactly what the artwork is and where it is, when it was produced, and whether it was produced digitally or on canvas. MA is how I sign my work unless it is the last planned work of a series and then I sign it ‘Mark’, 001924 is a continuation of numbering meaning that I will have documented 001923 works previously, and from that, I can make a search to figure out exactly what it is and when it was created. August 2018, ABS18 means that it was an abstract produced in 2018, BL is blue, as the primary colour, BLK would be black, and the D informs me that it was a digital work but all I need to look for is the file, MA001924. This is so much easier than titles which inevitably lose chronological orders in digital filing systems when they get saved in different spaces. I can search just for abstracts produced in 2018 using this method too.

Once you have a naming convention that makes sense it makes everything easier. I know where to find my work most of the time, but some artists will keep extensive physical archives, so adding a location code might not be a bad idea. The RT on the end of my label means that the work was placed with a retailer, and the number two denotes which one of the dozen or so I work with.  Usually, the naming convention will appear on the back of a digital work written in pencil, or attached to the supports with a staple on traditionally painted canvases with the label being fabric rather than paper or a sticker applied with an adhesive that could damage the artwork. Whenever a buyer purchases work directly from me on a physical medium, the labels are explained in the care instructions that they receive with the work.

Happy Summer - Now available in my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

Do I need to offer a Certificate of Authenticity?

Certificates of authenticity equate to the elephant in the room. There are a lot of COAs you might find attached to open edition prints bought online, and a lot of them are questionable. If something looks official it doesn’t always mean it is. If you do offer a certificate of authenticity, it has to be valid. I’m a firm believer in them being provided only with artwork that has been in my hands, or where I am a hundred percent confident about where it was sold. I have to question the validity of making one available to provide with an open edition print unless the print is personally signed, an original, an artists proof, or a limited edition. COAs can be forged in the same way that a print or an artwork can be, and I question it even more if the artist, dealer, or official seller hasn’t personally signed it or there are no contact details. 

If a print on demand buyer lets me know that they would like one, so long as they can confirm the order number, provide me with details on where to send it, I usually send one out, so long as it has been purchased through an official channel and the order is for a canvas or large format fine art print otherwise, I would be spending a heap on postage and probably more than the commission I make and they would be so widely available that they would then become completely meaningless!

Just as useful for open editions are receipts and bills of sale from reputable dealers or directly from the artist or their representative, reseller or publisher. Appraisal forms originating from an expert can be useful too, but there are two not insignificant issues with using an appraiser. There are very few regions throughout the world where an appraiser needs to hold some formal accreditation or hold relevant qualifications, and inevitably, there is a really special group of miscreants who know this, and secondly, no matter how professional the appraiser is, you are the ultimate expert on you and your art. In the secondary market, using a professional and verifiable appraiser makes much more sense but not so much when the fact that you are the artist immediately qualifies you to verify the genuine nature of your work that you sold. That seems so much better than having some informal speculation and opinion from someone else.  

Just as an aside, COAs have been forged throughout art history and there is a market that is likely just as big as the forged art market in providing this kind of spurious documentation. Just a quick look online and you will find instances where entire chains of provenance have been intricately fabricated to offload a forged artwork. I have felt for many years that any kind of COA should be regulated, there is no standard template, and some are only worth as much as the now second-hand paper they’re written on. The information on any COA should be verifiable and have your contact information included.

Handling Documentation…

Templating my documentation really is the only way I have found that allows me to keep on top of it and make the task less onerous. You can use specialist cataloguing software, although a spreadsheet such as Excel or Numbers is fine too. But if you begin to add personal data, the entire process is even more challenging and filled with pitfalls.

For handling client data and retaining any documentation, you absolutely have to ensure that you have permission and are compliant with applicable data laws for whatever region you reach. I utilise a managed CRM system and tools such as Power BI for my collectors, but having the relevant data protection systems in place can be a minefield. It’s also one of the reasons I quite literally don’t really want people’s data and if a website asks you for anything, you should always question exactly why they need it. This is one of the real benefits of print on demand - if you don’t have any idea who is buying your work, at least you have one less headache of storing their data.

That’s not to say that data isn’t useful. It absolutely is when you are working out who your audience is, and it’s fantastic to be able to reach out once again to past clients,  but collecting it when there is no legitimate need, is a headache that you need to medicate for by getting the right processes in place. My advice, wherever possible, use a third-party with robust data sharing agreements in place that you know to be legitimate and legal in the relevant regions. For emails, use something like Mail Chimp and utilise the processes they have built-in. It makes life a little easier, the downside, of course, you will end up paying yet another bill but it’s usually far cheaper than the alternative of a lost reputation and a heap of missing data, but there is no golden panacea that ever removes all responsibility.

retro sign beautiful Cornwall text art by Mark Taylor
Beautiful Cornwall retro sign now available in my stores!

Why buyers want documentation…

Buyers are attracted by owning something they feel is of value, some buyers sadly don’t realise and rightly so, that documentation is a hotbed of complication, and sometimes serves little to no purpose at all. Open edition prints whilst they can be expensive and last for generations, wouldn’t always need the same level of documentation as say an original Matisse or a limited edition that is genuinely, a limited edition, just as some Etsy sellers don’t have to sprinkle a handful of glitter in a thank you card. Seriously, please don’t do that, send me chocolate and coffee or wine instead, they all make less mess and are arguably moderately better for the environment.

But when documentation is needed, say for a commission, an original work, a fine art print that is signed, a limited edition, or where there is a significant value, buyers don’t just want documentation, they should all be insisting on it. The documentation is what will prove provenance when you make it  or you emerge, or whatever name is in vogue for hot at the time. It proves provenance in the secondary market where you as the artist are unlikely to see another cent, and it’s essential if the work ever needs to be insured. If you are an art collector, when you begin to form a sizeable and increasingly valuable collection, you have to begin to think about having a robust system of management in place, including how you protect not just the art but the documents that go with it too. By sizeable and valuable, the definition varies and it is relative, but anything more than you can afford to replace out of your pocket is a good rule of thumb.
The value of a work with a verifiable provenance is always going to be valued higher than work without, and as artists, we do have a responsibility to our buyers today just in case we make it tomorrow, after all, they will have been the ones who helped us get there.


Aside from buyers, documenting your career helps you to tell your story. It helps future generations preserve your legacy, it helps if the work takes on another life in the future long after you have gone. Yes, it does seem a little final when you hear that, but you will undoubtedly and hopefully have many, many more pieces to document long before then. Guess you can never get bored with art eh!

So how do you document your work, do you find it helpful, we’d all love to know so feel free to leave a comment and tell us!

Until next time, I hope you have a wonderfully creative week, stay safe, stay well, and look after each other.

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here.   
 Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything! You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

You can also follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also, find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so at my new Go Fund Me link right here. I will be migrating over to Square Online soon to make it even easier to buy me a coffee and purchase my work!

Any donations received will be used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists as my art sales via Pixels and Fine Art America and donations via Go Fund Me are the only way I monetise these pages so I don’t have to fill them with irrelevant ads or ask you to sign up via a paywall!

Comments

  1. Hi Mark, Thank you and for the template too. An exhibition is coming up soon, I presume? xx

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for stopping by Jane and you are welcome! Yes! Looks like October/November and I will jump back into the show world again for a rare and quick exhibition. Having to work behind the scenes on a specific series but getting there slowly! Hope all is good with you xx

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    2. That's fantastic Mark, congratulations! I am good and also kind of like oh no, suddenly realise I have a thousand and one things to do :) xx

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    3. Glad you’re well Jane, and hope you are still enjoying the full time art life! There’s always something that needs doing, but you have to remember to give yourself permission to switch off just occasionally too. I find a bottle of JD or Prosecco helps, strangely, I think some of my best work happened as a result of bottles of JD and Prosecco, there’s a JD smiling at me now, just four more tasks to do today and I’ll be reaching for a glass! Xx

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    4. Thanks Mark! I do get plenty of rest now but wish to really get lots done and sorted before the world get back to normal. Don't mind a bottle of JD either if that helps with painting faster and better work and I certainly enjoying this full time art life, even if I die of hunger, I'll have no regrets lol! xx

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    5. That’s the spirit Jane! LOL! I’m attempting the 25 minutes of all out focus, five minute break, then another 25 minutes focusing on something else, five minute break. Then I decided to re-landscape the driveway. 17 hours straight of hauling rock, so now I’m hyper focused for five minutes and having a 25 minute break. Same principle I guess but it definitely worked for a day or two! Xx

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    6. Great principle, it work well for me too but not sure how you manage 17 hours straight I can only managed 8 hours most of the time. Now almost time to binge watch K-drama xx

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    7. My inability to switch off and sleep helps with the 17 hour days! Also, I'm not functional when I don't have anything to do, I'm really useless at being bored! xx

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