keeping records for artists

Keeping Records & Inventories

To simplify and streamline your record-keeping systems:

Implement a filing system. Have a file for each exhibition you are participating in, labeled with the name, date, and location of the exhibition. Within that file have separate folders with different headers including correspondence, consignments, images, articles, press releases and press, budget, and invitations.

Keep track of all exhibitions and grants including acceptance and rejection letters. These files should include the submitted application or proposal, including images, and all correspondence. If you ever apply again, the previous application will help you to avoid repeating mistakes.

If teaching, keep track of all of your syllabi, a selection of student work in print or digital formats, and student evaluations for future reference.

Keep a ledger, either on your computer or by hand, of all your income and expenses.

Keep track of your billing and collection of payments.

Keep track of your inventory of goods for sale, on consignment and sold work.

Keep an image inventory, both digitally and in hard copy form

Update files, records, inventory, and budgets once a month, at minimum—do not wait until the end of the year.

Do your taxes on time and remember to file your sales taxes according to the IRS timetable. 

If you make, sell, or donate work, you need to keep track of:

The artwork’s location, whether in storage or an exhibition.

All paperwork associated with that particular work such as consignment agreements, insurance, and letters of authenticity.

Name of buyer and date of sale.

If it is on loan for an exhibition.

Whether it is in transit to or from an exhibition, at your studio, or destroyed.

Condition reports, to monitor the work as it is stored, packed, or shipped.


Keeping a comprehensive inventory is especially important if you make artwork in multiples or editions, or have work on consignment with a gallery or an art consultant. Do not rely on a commercial gallery to do this for you, because many galleries go out of business, lose records, or purposefully try to keep their artists in the dark. Despite the actions of your gallery, create your own records. It is important to be proactive and organized about your own business.

If you make work that travels, or if you have a series of works with similar titles, it is vital to keep track of where everything resides. Always get a list of the work you have on consignment with a dealer, gallery, or art consultant. Additionally, get a list of works that have sold from a dealer, including buyers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. 

Your dealer is legally required to give you the names of your collectors (see VARA). Keep in touch with all clients regarding sales if you are doing it yourself. If you have a gallery, it should keep in touch with clients (never make a sale without your gallery’s knowledge). Know where your work is at all times. The history of where the art has been shown, and the collections in which it has been included, is crucial for your records. Imagine having a retrospective without knowing where your art is located. It means more work for the curator. Remember that artist’s monographs often include a section that tracks the history of the artist’s work, what collections it is in, etc. Having accurate records is vital to creating this index. Labeling the back of the work also aids the buyer and curator in knowing the history of the artwork. Meticulous record-keeping may be the only thing to speak for an artist once she/he is gone.

You always want to keep an inventory of images in both digital and hard copy form. Using either your own digital system or software, such as GYSTPro, to keep track of your work will aid in this process. Always make sure to back up your archive, print out an inventory list, and keep it in a safe, secure place.

Many well-known artists did not keep track of their work at the beginning of their careers. Robert Rauschenberg is a case in point. I toured one of his studios in New York and his staff said that they are still trying to find pieces of his inventory. They also have an extensive collection of photos that has yet to be archived. Don’t wait until you are famous. START NOW!


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You can also get our popular book for artists, Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist, which includes all of this information and more here.