Documenting your artwork

Written by Leigh Blanckenberg

An important part of establishing yourself as an artist, as well as a form of organisation, is making an ‘archive’ of what you produce. This is something that artists unfortunately seem to neglect, however it is an important skill that can not only be used to keep record of one’s own work but professionals that are able to correctly document artworks are sought after in museums and galleries at home and abroad. Documenting or formally termed accessioning not only applies to artists and their own work but those who collect art often seek a catalogue of what they own or a system of knowing what their collection contains. Also an archive of what you hold can help promote the value of the work by organising your art pieces into a formal collection. Once you have created an archive it is often very easy to take the next step and create a catalogue of your work for commercial gallery or exhibition purposes.

You can go as far as getting an internship at a professional museum in order to establish a formal understanding of already established archival documentation rules but there is no strict manner in which you choose to document, or organise your artworks. It is dependent on what personally appeals to you. However, I can give you some basic steps due to my own experiences working in museums and with private collectors and the respective collections.

With each artwork produced you should have:

  1. A professional photograph and a thumbnail. Depending on your budget these photographs can be taken by yourself or by a professional photographer.
  2. Basic information about the artwork, for example, title, measurements, medium, etc. The more detailed you get the more information you will be able to retrieve for potential buyers, galleries or for exhibitions at a later stage. I find it best to initially lay out this information, along with a thumbnail of the artwork in a table of some sorts.
  3. Once an archive has been completed placing it on a CD is the cheapest and easiest way to show it around. However, in order to be more professional and because ideally you want a published document to accompany your work (this increases the value of your work and is a perfect self-promoting tool) I suggest creating a catalogue. If you have the skills or the programming to create the book yourself, great. If not, find an affordable publisher and send them the work you have already done.

By accessioning your work, you are not only creating an easily accessible portfolio and allowing for a quick and simple way of promoting your work, you are creating the potential (when you are ready) to publish your work. It also allows you to sort out the significant pieces from that which you may or may not use. In addition if each artwork has been documented, none can fall by the wayside.

If you would like more information regarding the accessioning of your work, please email me at, or contact any local museum (Johannesburg Art Gallery is one example) to find out how they choose to keep record of their collections.