Painting How To: Organizing Your Artwork

There comes a time when every artist has to organize their work. For me, this happened when I couldn’t find my paintings. I simply couldn’t remember where they were. I had exhibits and paintings all over the place! When you’re exhibiting your work aggressively, this is bound to happen. Of course, if you were to generate transmittals and could properly file and retrieve them, this would go a long way towards solving such problems.

painting of los osos valley, los osos valley watercolor art

Click Picture to Purchase: “Panorama View of Los Osos Valley from See Canyon Rd”

In the final analysis, you need a coordinated matrix of all pertinent information about your paintings. And you need to keep it up to date!  The frustration of not being able to access information you need all the time eventually forces you to develop a system for retrieving this information in a timely manner.

Input key information about your artworks into a database that can be easily updated and printed out. Once you’ve done this, periodically mark up a printout of this listing in red ink with changes, then input these changes to your database. The information I found necessary to have on hand includes the following:

  • title of the artwork and its location
  • date I completed it
  • dimensions of the artwork (H x W)
  • overall
  • dimensions of the matted artwork (H x W)
  • whether it is framed
  • whether it is only matted and shrink-wrapped (unframed)
  • where it’s located (permanent notation in ink if sold or gifted, but otherwise indicated in pencil so it can be readily updated) if sold or gifted, to whom
  • whether I have a proper digital image of the artwork

The matter of titles for paintings deserves further discussion. By “title” I mean the name written on the back of the painting, where you did it (i.e. its location), along with the date it was completed, and your signature. It’s important to do this when you complete your painting, lest you forget. But, once you give the painting a name, don’t change it!  This causes all sorts of confusion later on. If you aren’t consistent, cataloging your work can be nightmarishly difficult.

Click Picture to Purchase: “Alabama Hills (#1), Lone Pine, CA”

The size of your painting… the painted image, not the overall dimensions of matted painting… is important to note since this is, in my opinion, the only objective basis upon which you can initially price a painting.  The size of the original paper on which it was painted also helps distinguish one piece of artwork from another when you’re cataloging paintings with similar titles, or when you’re cataloging them. Most watercolor artists produce quarter-, half-, or full-sheet paintings relative to the most common size; i.e., a full-sheet that’s nominally 22″x30″. A quarter-size sheet is nominally 11″x15″; a half-sheet, nominally 15″x22″, though it could be 11″x30″ (I did one such painting, but that was an exception).

As discussed elsewhere (see discussion on “Mats”), the size of the painting determines the size of the mat… and subsequently the size of the frame in which you’ll exhibit your painting. For economic reasons, I established standards for sizes of my paintings.

Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.


Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors