Monday, March 13, 2006

Keeping Track

Trees with Yellow Sky, 2005, Oil on Panel, 6x6

WARNING! This is a long and possibly really boring post that involves info about paperwork, the bane of any artist's existence. Save yourself and don't read this if filling out forms gives you a headache.

During the last month or so, I have been trying to make sure all of my paintings are documented. Most of the time I am able to keep up but sometimes in the hectic days right before work for a show is due, things slip past me. So now it's time to backtrack through 2005, find a jpeg or a record of where the piece is currently located. 2004 was the first full year that I painted full time and I didn't produce a whole lot of work that year; I could easily recall recall each painting. However, I had to modify that system last year. I started to complete much more work and tracking everything became at least a part time job.

This is my system. As soon as the painting is finished, it gets a title. Hands down, this is the most difficult part of painting. I am not kidding-it is more difficult to come with the appropriate title than it is to actually come up with an idea for an image. I usually stay on the more descriptive side rather than poetic, though once in awhile I cross over. Then we (Doug usually helps me here) take a picture of the piece and load the photos into my computer. Each image is adjusted if necessary, my paintings are challenging to reproduce because of the layers of colors, and I make two jpegs of each image, one at 72 dpi and one at 300 dpi. They are all stored in a file by year and I periodically load the images onto a disc. Paperwork is next. I have several binders and each tracks a different path.

Inventory: This one contains info about each piece. I designed a page that I can print out from the computer which has a section for title, date, medium, a space for a photo, a section to describe where and when it has been exhibited, the price and a place for the name and address of the buyer. There is also a space for additional notes. The pages are organized by title in alphabetical order and each has a photo, which comes in handy if I can't recall the title.

Exhibition: This book contains the info regarding each exhibition that I show in. The name and address of the gallery or organization is at the top and then each painting is listed by title, date of delivery, date of return and whether it sold or not.

Image Lists: The third binder contains a copy of all of the image lists that I deliver to a gallery along with the work. The image list has all of the info that the gallery needs; title, size, year, medium and price. This info is very handy to refer to if I don't get the inventory page completed before the work gets sent out, which can happen if I am rushed trying to meet a deadline or if I am procrastinating.

Income: I keep track of income in a monthly ledger and each time a payment comes in, I make a note of the date, amount, who it's from and for which piece.

I could actually set this whole system up on the computer and I probably will at some point. But the thing is, with the exception of the actual painting, nearly every other aspect of what I do is somehow connected to the computer. So right now I find it to be comforting to have one business oriented thing that I can do just sitting down at a regular desk that doesn't have a connection to a surge protector.

When I first realized that I would have to do a better job of tracking my work, I resisted it. I am just a plain old fashioned painter at heart and I felt that doing the business part would take all the romance and fun out of the whole thing. However, I found the opposite was true. Good organization removed a good chunk of stress from my day so I could focus on my studio time without worrying about what may have happened to a particular piece. I think it also has given me a lot more credibility with the gallery directors that I work with and helps support their efforts.

Also, I don't know if things have changed much in colleges that teach art, but when I was in art school little to no attention was paid to how to handle the business side of art. I remember that I had one instructor who tried to get our heads out of the clouds long enough to show us how to develop a resume, send out our portfolios and how to approach potential clients (I was an illustration major). It was a start, but when I finally did some illustration work, I really struggled with the business aspect, especially with how to handle contracts, billing issues and keeping records. Certainly, one can learn these things along the way, but it seems if a school is dedicated to teaching art it could also at least offer a required class or two about the business of art.


Alanna Risse said...

It's still pretty bad but getting slightly better. I took an art marketing class at CCA here in San Francisco that taught how to develope an artist statement, how to promote yourself, etc but still not so much emphasis on the really important stuff like taxes, business licenses and gallery contracts. I think colleges still have a long way to go there. It doesn't give one a lot of encouragement that they can actually make a living at art.

-the angry pirate

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hhhmmm. That sounds close to the business education we had 20 years ago. I wonder why things haven't changed much over the years. Maybe it is still considered acceptable that artists are not equipped to handle the business aspect of painting. I don't know.

John Sanchez said...

wow I think I might reread this for some more ideas, seeing that I might be headed in that direction. Thanks And you are both right here Schools do not focus much at all on the organization and business side of this field.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi John, Thanks for visiting and I am glad this post may help you with organizing your business. Have you been in college in recent years? I checked out your blog and your work is quite nice!