Artist’s Resource: Creating a Living Legacy

Artists, get organized now and so you can thank yourself later.

I stumbled upon Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide (7MB) from the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) program. It’s a thorough introduction and guide for artists for creating physical and digital archives. I highly recommend artists take a look. It’s a worthwhile thing to get organized, maintain an inventory system, and make sure your work is stored safely.

CALL workbook

I have a few systems set up, but could use improvement. I’ve adopted practices as I see how they make sense for where I’m at. But I should be thinking about what I’ll need in the future. For example, CALL recommends signing and writing an inventory number on every work of art. I have an aversion to signing my art, but will try to create ways to at least make sure my work is labeled somehow. They also suggest including your initials in your inventory number, which makes sense for galleries that work with multiple artists, but seems overmuch for my own work. Then again, my signature is inscrutable, so I suppose initials will help others. 


I  recently revisited my one-year goals, and wrote new ones. (I started this practice in June a few years ago,  so my “goal-year” begins and ends in the summer. It’s anachronistic, but increasingly feels right to me. Since moving to NYC, my life has become more affected by the rhythm of art “seasons”—intensive fall and spring activity, followed by slower summers. The relaxed pace in June and July offers a chance to get perspective. I feel more confident entering fall with fresh energy, and having a sense of purpose in the spring. My new year’s resolutions are more like mid-year reviews, where I check my progress or modify goals if necessary.)

It was useful to see these reminders about how to write goals in the CALL workbook:


S-specific, M-measurable, A-attainable, R-realistic, T-timely.

  • Specific goals depend on who, what, where, when, which, and why.
  • Measurable is accountability and tracking progress.
  • Attainable is a goal that motivates you towards achievement.
  • Realistic is a goal within your current abilities.
  • Timely is a goal with a time frame.


  • Make all goals concrete.
  • Make the goal something you can clearly state in one sentence.
  • Make a clear end point. The accomplishment of the goal should be definite and visible.
  • Make sure the goal is something you can complete—factor in time and space restrictions.
  • Set a realistic date for completing your goal.

It is worth pointing out that this comes from an artist’s foundation—an example of an artist (or her legacy) occupying multiple roles within art ecologies. It’s a great example of what artists (or their executors) can give to other artists. Thanks Joan Mitchell Foundation!


Adventures in archiving

As a book-end to photos of my workbench and pegboard glory when I first moved into my West Oakland studio, I’ll share some pictures of the crates that will characterize my move out…


As I’ve been decommissioning art materials and deciding which artwork to store or bring to New York, I’ve also been building and modifying crates as needed.

My painting rack (made of old paintings on plywood that I couldn’t bear to part with) will make a great crate. I can fit boxes in there too, now that I’ve added a shelf. It’s now a split-level bobber:

This guy will be great in storage. It’s not air- or water-tight by any means, but I’ve got poly and tape. Otherwise, it’s got a small footprint, casters and storage space on top.

For the move, I’ll put all my tools, materials and artworks into one large crate. That will be my studio in a box! Only the essentials are coming with me: very recent and pertinent art works, major tools like the miter saw and sewing machine, my first and only screen (just the hinges, no baseboard), my Alumi-cut and Alvin mats, my 24″ level-ruler combo. Gloves, goggies and a mask. Only two framed artworks, with the glass swapped out with acrylic.

I’m re-purposing the design for an old crate for my new studio-in-a-box crate. Huge time-savers were finding the original schematic and shopping list in an old notebook, and cutting diagrams of the sheet goods on an archived CD. (Between my compact car and temperamental hand-me-down circular saw, I often have the lumber yard cut the full sheets. Presenting a schematic with dimensions, as well as with the work pieces and remnants labeled, seems to help garner accurate cuts.)

Inventory software!

In the past, I kept records of artwork in two places: my website (copy and pasting to develop image lists) and my head (remembering what is where for the most part). Now that my inventory is undergoing a bi-coastal mitosis, I realized having some kind of tracking software will help.

This ArtBizBlog post was insightful:

The software below was designed specifically for artists’ special needs. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend one of these over the others….

The blogger also noted

Amazingly, most of these are unattractive.

[That’s an ongoing gripe of mine; acute reactions to user experiences are the burden of being married to an interactive designer.]

Since the price was right ($30) and the interface straightforward and functional, I thought I’d try Flick, a Filemaker adaptation created by a software developer in Australia. Having some familiarity with Filemaker helped me jump right in—even though I last used it in the early 2000s.

So far, I think it’ll work for me. It’s pretty basic. Not very powerful, and can be a bit slow when you’re scrolling through multiple records. It’s also short on shortcut keys, but for the price it works fine.

I wish I knew more about accession numbers, especially one that suits my idiosyncratic output. I can already see that my naming convention—[year]--[series]-[number]—could use improvement. It probably should have been [year]-[series]--[number]. This is where being able to do some batch processing would be nice. Luckily, I’ll have some in-house systems management know-how in New York.