Cataloguing your art

John Marshall, Philadelphia Museum of ArtThis month we take a look at how to keep a catalog of your art work. If you’re wondering why you need to catalog your work, the simple answer is “because every successful artist does,” but if that’s not enough then here are 5 reasons why it is imperative that you keep a catalog.

1. It allows you to price your art accurately

We’ll deal with the specifics of pricing your art next month, so for now you only need to know that the most accurate price can only be obtained by seeing what similar works have sold for.

2. You can spot trends in sales

Many artists starting out in their careers find they have certain works which are easy money makers, and the easiest way to discover this is by keeping a catalog

3. It can be presented to dealers and gallery owners

Anyone serious about buying or selling your art needs to know that it can be expected to sell at the prices you’re asking for. A categorised history of past sales is by far the best way of proving this.

4. Allows you to select your best work

It is always a difficult task deciding which work you wish to put in a portfolio, gallery or competition. The problem becomes a lot easier when you can browse an organized catalog of your work rather than having to sift through endless canvasses.

5. It acts as a positive reminder of your progress

Looking back over a year of work you will feel far more positive about your future if you can clearly see just how far you’ve come.

What the catalog should contain

Exactly how you create and organize your catalog is up to you, but whatever format you choose, it must contain the following:

Title and date

Both of these are essential. If you do not wish to title your work, create a reference number system instead.


This is a lot easier to accomplish if your catalog is digital, but if you choose to have a physical catalog then a Polaroid camera will be invaluable.

Cost of production

Take into account all expenses required to create the work. It is always better to over-estimate.

Time taken to produce work

Keep close track of how long it takes you to produce each work. Be honest about it, include breaks from work. Again, it is better to overestimate.

What the work sold for

You should be able to easily reference this alongside the title and date.


Has the work been on display anywhere? Is it now hanging on someone’s wall? Did it win a prize? Any extra information about the artwork itself should always be kept.

Digital catalogs

Having your catalog on your computer has many advantages. It is easier to maintain, easier to back up, and allows you to transfer work to your website much more easily. It can be as simple as a set of organized directories and text files or as complex as a database that automatically updates to a website, but whichever way you choose make sure it is easy to update and back up.

Photographing your art

Unless you happen to be friends with a professional photographer, the best way to photograph your work is with a good digital camera. You will find excellent resources on the internet with advice on how to photograph art, but just experimenting with the settings on your digital camera will usually suffice. Make sure that you always photograph in good light without a flash and be sure to take multiple shots from different angles if your work is three dimensional

Creating a selection from your catalog

Catalog/gallery/showcase/portfolio? The lines are blurring more and more thanks to digital cameras and the internet. Whatever you call it, you will at some point wish to have a presentable selection of your best work that you can show to others. Many artists are choosing to use their website as their only portfolio, but if possible it is worth investing in getting a selection of your work printed.


The most important aspect of a catalogue is keeping it up to date, so keep this in mind when designing the system. It should not be too complex, or else you will avoid updating it. Try to have a mental habit that no work is complete until it is photographed and documented in your catalogue.