Tracking Your Art Collection in a Database
Whether you are a personal collector, a museum, a gallery or an art studio, if you have a large art collection, you probably need a way to keep track of all of your valuables. Your collection may consist of many different types of items including paintings, posters, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry, rugs, tapestries, drawings and more. Regardless of what’s in your collection, there are some common guidelines that you can follow to efficiently keep track of all of your items. By maintaining an accurate inventory in a database program, you can easily determine the value of your collection, and you can prove your ownership in case of loss for insurance purposes (see our “Asset Tracking Database for Insurance Inventory” article for an in-depth explanation).
Take Photographs and Videos
The first step in creating a database for your art work is to take numerous high-quality photographs from all angles. If the work is signed, try and get a good picture of the signature. Any quality digital camera or even higher end Android iPhone or Apple iPhone should do the trick. These pictures should show the condition of the work, and should be detailed enough to demonstrate the authenticity of the work.
You may also consider taking videos, but be aware that video images are far lower quality then high megapixel images. And if you are shipping your item, it’s always a good idea to take a picture of the packaging including bubble wrap or any other protection you are using.
When you are taking any type of picture, you should try and use natural light if possible, in a clutter free environment. Art work frames can sometime add glare, so if it’s easy to do so you might want to remove the frame when taking a picture. It’s also best to take pictures of your artwork using neutral single-colored backgrounds.
Our own Tracker Ten for Art database software application provides full support for these types of images and videos.
Artwork Details, Materials and Measurements
In addition to taking plenty of pictures, you should also record details about your artwork in your database. These details may include piece dimensions (length, width and depth in centimeters or inches), materials (paper, canvas, metal, plastic, clay, resin etc.) and weight. You should also record the type of work where applicable. For example, for a painting or drawing you may want to record the technique used to create the work like oil, watercolor, acrylic, pastel charcoal, pencil, ink etc.
Other details that may be recorded include artist name, year made, serial number, piece number (for numbered prints and limited artist runs), color and texture.
Add Values, Appraisals and History
In your database you also want to record the provenance of each item. This means maintaining an ownership history of the item (if available) along with corresponding professional appraisals. If you have a well documented history of the transmission and ownership of an item, it’s much easier to verify its authenticity and quality, and it’s much less likely that the item is stolen. Obviously, this list could be quite long for older works of art. If you are purchasing the art work from a gallery or direct from an artist, you should also record the source of the work.
You may also want to include documents scans of receipts, invoices, bills of sale and appraisals. And if your artwork is rare or unusual you may also be able to find illustrations in auction, exhibition, gallery or museum catalogs. Having this type of paper evidence is critical. Taking somebody’s word about the history of the item is risky. Even an honest individual may not recall everything about an item from memory alone.
And artwork is often purchased as an investment. Therefore, you might want to keep a record of your purchase price, the current value of the artwork and if you part with an item, the sold price. And since the value of unique pieces may not be fixed, you may also want to include the source of the current value (i.e., a gallery catalog, an appraiser, a recently sold auction etc.).
Keep Accurate Artwork Notes
You should also record any information you receive amount an item. These notes may include descriptions of damage, details about past owners, tidbits about artists, names of related artwork, information about materials used and more. Basically, anything that impresses viewers, or other microscopic details that may not be visible at first glance. In fact, tiny details in visual arts can make a big difference in the enjoyment and value of a piece, and can help to explain underlying symbolism.
And if you have access to the artist, you may be able to find out what event or experience inspired the piece; why certain techniques, styles, brushworks or color palette were chosen; and what the artwork means to the artist. Indeed, the inspiration behind a piece can help to explain why the work looks the way it does (while they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, that’s not always good enough to provide a good explanation!). This type of ancillary information can add significant value to a piece of art. If you don’t have access to the artist (especially in the case of an older work), including historical notes and observations is also valuable. Masterpieces often have interesting underlying stories and messages.
And to make the item easy to find in your database in the future, you may also want to include a list of relevant keywords with the item description. These keywords could include the subject of the piece (i.e., a portrait, landscape or abstract), the time period or era, the overall theme and the culture.
Track Artwork Location
If you have a lot of artwork, it’s probably spread out in different locations. You may also occasionally lend your pieces out to museums, schools or other individuals, or you may simply have certain items stored in a garage or warehouse. Accordingly, it’s always a good idea to record the location of an item in your database.
Tracker Ten for Art
Our own Tracker Ten for Art desktop database software application allows you to track all of the above types of information, including multiple pictures and videos for each item. If you are looking for software to help you track your art collection, be sure to give Tracker Ten for Art a look!