catalog your work


Week 1


What Do I mean by Catalog?

A catalog is a compilation of items arranged in a systematic manner. For our purpose it consists of two parts:

  1. physical inventory of your work including, not only the work itself but also, supporting materials (catalogs, project proposals, exhibition ephemera, correspondence, sales/donation information, business contacts).
  2. records which are the means to track everything in the inventory. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet and as complex as a customized database.

Why catalog your work?

"I have learned that if I don't take care of my work, no one else will. If I don't see the importance of archiving, why should anyone else see the the importance?"
— Mildred Howard, CALL Career Documentation for the Visual Artist


The hardest part of the process is starting. Much like your artistic practice, cataloging your work will require establishing a routine and sticking with it.

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 1.05.01 PM.png

Diagram from Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide, Joan Mitchell Foundation, 2015.

Stage 1. Setting goals

Be S.M.A.R.T!

  • Specific - answer who, what, where, when and why?
  • Measurable - make sure there is a way to track your progress
  • Attainable - set a goal that motivates you, that is a comfortable stretch for you
  • Realistic - know yourself and your abilities
  • Timely - specify a time frame

Stage 2. Physical inventory

Evaluate your current storage systems and identify what is absent and what can be improved upon. Balance best practices with practicality and budget - the idea is to safeguard your work as best as you can, NOT to become a museum or conservation house. See the Resources page for a list of books and online sources with information for storage requirements by medium. 

In general

  • Keep the temperature consistent and avoid extremes
  • Keep the humidity low, ideally artwork should be kept at humidity levels between 40 - 60%
  • Avoid direct sunlight
  • Avoid concrete floors
  • Control air quality - dust, pollen and sand should be kept at a minimum
  • Control pests

2D Works

  • Label and sign all works on paper - signature, year, inventory number
  • Indicate orientation for hanging! 
  • Use acid-free materials - plastic sleeves, tissue, glassine, archival folders
  • Store in drawers, boxes or ideally metal flatfiles
  • Roll larger works around a cardboard or plastic tube. Make sure to label the outside once wrapped.
  • Store canvases or framed work vertically on shelves with acid-free cardboard in between
  • To avoid warping on larger canvases, attach a reinforcement (Coroplast, foam core, or cardboard) directly to stretchers on the back of the canvas

Other notes

  • Clear a designated spot to sort work
  • Label storage areas and consider making a studio map
  • Designate a spot for items you wish to purge. You may want to use a two step system where you set items aside you wish to purge and revisit them later to decide to actually purge or to keep them.

Stage 3. define inventory numbering system

Assigning each work a unique number allows you to identify and track each piece with no ambiguity.

  • The inventory number should be on the piece, on any packaging for storage, and in your records
  • The number should be on sales receipts, consignment forms, and exhibition loan records
  • The number should never be altered

The Joan Mitchell Foundation recommends a combination of the artist's initials, the year the work was completed, the category of work (for example: drawing, painting, print, textiles), and a number for the individual piece. The number for the piece would ideally be chronological within the year or category of work. I like their recommendation in that it alternates letters and numbers for easier reading and it avoids punctuation which can be problematic with computers.

TB2016PR001 or TB16PR001 - The 1st print made in 2016 by Trudy Barnes

TBXXGL12 - The 12th glass work from an unknown year by Trudy Barnes

TB17PH01of12 or TB17PH0112 - Photograph 1 of 12 printed in 2017 by Trudy Barnes

TB99IN1004 or TB99IN1D - 1st installation of 1999 by Trudy Barnes where 004 and D are an indicator of components

Kala uses an all numerical inventory number which denotes the year of the donation, the number of the artist donating (chronological to each year) and the number of the piece. This is a less precise method in that the same artist making multiple donations, even in the same year, will have multiple artist numbers, in this way this system is work centric not artist centric.

2016.54.1-2 - Piece 1 of 2 donated by the 54th artist donating in 2016


Homework for Week 2

Familiarize yourself with some of the database solutions available. Most, if not all, have a free trial available so you can see exactly what you are getting before you purchase. Pick a few to look at and come to Week 2 with your thoughts on them - How easy was the program to navigate? Did it include the types of information you want to track? Would you consider choosing it and why or why not? Is it doable with your budget? 

Week 2