How I catalog my art inventory in a spreadsheet

Cataloging my art inventory makes me feel like I should be on an episode of Hoarders. Every item that might be needed is obsessively stored, each with their own explanation.

With several decades of 2D art created, I've saved as many sketchbooks, drawings, doodles, paintings and digital images as possible. Most of these artworks will never be available for public viewing as they aren't reflective of the current themes in my art. Most images are saved for the benefit of understanding the progression in my work over a long period of time.

My art inventory also works as a ledger, keeping track of where the artworks are currently held, such as private collections, galleries, my studio, or even works that were destroyed. Each item in the ledger includes any sales information like pricing, dates and collector denotation. 

The data is all stored in a spreadsheet, which can be opened in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. Here's a rundown on how it works:

Images

The spreadsheet file size is primarily tied to the amount of harddrive space the images use, so it is very important to use small images. If the images are too large, the spreadsheet will take a long time to load. I try to keep each image file below 20kb. That means that 500 images would be up to 10mb. 

All of my image files are 200 pixels high, which I feel is enough for a recognizable image with some details. Using Photoshop, each image is saved to web, reduced to 200 pixels and set at medium quality. When working with a set of images in a folder, I'll run a batch process in Photoshop, which can automatically save all of the images at the same settings into the same folder.

These folders are saved locally on my computer, and sorted into sub-folders by year created. It's important to save copies of these images as sort of a redundant backup, in case they are accidentally deleted or damaged elsewhere. 

One-by-one, each image is inserted into cells in the spreadsheet's Column A, with the following information in the remaining columns: 

Titles

The next columns are for titles and filenames. Anyone who has worked in graphic design or digital art will tell you that your titles and filenames might not always match up. This is true for me and I don't necessarily want to change all of the filenames to match titles. I have columns for both, so that I can easily search for a title, and also search for a corresponding filename on my computer.

Most of my images exist in multiple iterations on my computer, as print files, thumbnails or files to be uploaded to Instagram. By cataloging filenames, I can quickly find the version I'm looking for. In the future, I plan on adding local filepaths so I can enter the local folder that contains the image. 

Not every artwork has a title, in which case a description is useful. The text within a description field can be searched as another way to find an image.

Dates

When your art production spans decades, sorting by year created is one of the best ways to group artworks. With the dates recorded in a spreadsheet, you can then use the COUNTIF formula to track how many artworks were created in a given year. That will help you make neat live graphs to track your art production over time. These graphs will render based off live data—every time you add new artworks the graph will update. 

I also keep track of sales dates, which can be graphed like the create dates. 

Dimensions

The next columns are for dimensions, which I've broken into physical and digital dimensions.

If the image is a digital artwork then I list the highest resolution dimensions that exist. If the image is originally a physical artwork, I'll notate the dimensions in inches. If I've created a high resolution documentation of that physical artwork, I'll include the digital dimensions in the spreadsheet.

Medium

The media can be broken into several sub-categories, including physical medium, print medium and digital medium. Some images exist in multiple media variations, so this is noted in multiple columns. 

Series

A series can span many years, containing artworks that share common themes, media or techniques. Noting this in the spreadsheet allows me to easily sort through various collections of work.

Collectors

The final set of columns is for collector data, including name, location, sale price and number of sales (if it's a print). Using spreadsheet formulas, I can then make live graphs to track the amount of sales and revenue over time. 

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Alternative Solutions

My inventory system is somewhat tedious to set up, but once it's in a good workable condition, it's easier to continue maintaining it. 

There are software solutions available that might save on set up time and make ongoing management easier. Here are a few examples:

https://artlogic.net/ - starting at $50/month

https://www.artbase.com/ - starting at $95/month, with a $1500 set up fee

https://www.artgalleria.com/ - starting at $10/month

The major drawback to using out of box software is that you'll be locked in, and it'll be more difficult and expensive to migrate away as you store more and more data. Businesses refer to this as "sticky revenue" because as the customer, you're stuck!

That means, they can raise prices or remove features. They can limit the number of artworks cataloged. Or they could go out of business, in which case you need to start from scratch! If you sign up with one of these businesses, make sure you have the ability to export your data in CSV files.

Unless you are an established gallery or an artist who sells hundreds of works per year, you probably don't need software for this.

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Conclusion

Having a comprehensive art inventory is critical for you, as an artist, to be in control of your images. This will aid in your professional development, as you'll have a methodology to guide your ongoing business decisions, as well as an easy way to reflect on your body of work. It'll give you the ability to manage a balance of scarcity and availability of your works, which will help protect the value of your art, which benefits you and your collectors. 

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