How to keep stock records (and why you should)

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Following on from last month’s blog about using your journal and record keeping, specifically keeping your books up to date to file your tax returns, I want to focus this time on keeping stock records. Don’t groan, you will thank me in the end.

Last month I encouraged you to keep accounting records even if you have not met the thresholds for paying tax and National Insurance yet. Getting into the habit of keeping records will help you later. The same is true of keeping stock records, specifically your artwork stock.

Pre Covid exhibition

Without doubt you produce many pieces of artwork which never see the light of day, so having a system for recording your work if you are planning on selling, is vital. So, what is the best way to keep records and why should you do it?

Well, there are many ways but let’s just focus on a simple but effective way to proceed as keeping records helps you when it comes to trying to locate past works as well as reminding you which pieces have already sold. This also feeds into your accounting records.

If you are just starting out, don’t start with number 1. I suggest you start with 101 or 1001 just because it gives more credibility to your work if it doesn’t look like it is your very first piece. You could start at 465; it doesn’t matter, really. Just don’t start with 1.

When you have finished a piece of work you need to sign it. Even if you sign the front of your work, you should also sign the back and add a number. Call this your stock number or folio number and record it on the back of the work, along with the date.

I sign the front and the back in pen or marker but add the folio number, title and date either in pencil or using a sticky label – one that doesn’t come off easily but equally can be removed. The reason for this is that I may decide to paint over a canvas and a new number will need to be added but don’t reuse a number.

In the past I have painted over a piece and kept the same number, but it is not something I do now as it can get confusing. I also take photos of all my works and number them, both in my paper files and on my computer. I would rather have a number crossed out on the back than use the same number so to this end what I tend to do now is attach the details using a label which I can remove rather than writing on the actual work. I do still sign every piece but only add the additional information when I sell it or have it framed.

Work that you love now but which hasn’t sold in a couple of years, you are likely to go off. Canvases aren’t cheap so I reuse them. I will also make works on paper when I am experimenting and, sometimes, I like them enough to frame them. If I change my mind, I can take them out of the frame, paint something new, add a new label to the back and frame them again.

So, having signed, dated, named and number your work, how best to record that information? I use two systems and this year I am planning to introduce a new system and discard one of them. The first thing I do is take a photo of the artwork and print out a passport size image of the work. Currently, I add this to a folder which has all the details as suggested above plus the selling price, medium used, date sold and details of who bought it to on an A4 sheet of paper. Two per page, see the example below.


I often take this file to exhibitions so that I can provide all the information if needed plus I can mark items as sold with the customer’s details in order that I can contact them in future. I give friends and family discount and I also mark this discount on the records.

Sold items

As I add to and change this folder, I then hand it to Mr. S who puts all the information into my Excel spreadsheet, from which he produces labels for me to attach to the artwork at exhibitions. He also marks works sold and moves them to a sold spreadsheet so that the front page only shows works currently available.

He also uses this spreadsheet to produce certificates of authenticity which I can either attach to the back of the artwork or post to the purchaser with a proper invoice and information about my next exhibition. It always pays to keep in touch with your clients.

This is how I plan to change things. When my husband prints off the labels for exhibitions, I will attach a copy label to an index card. I plan to just take the cards for the works I am exhibiting with me to the event, rather than having to carry a big folder around with me. I also plan to record information in my journal as I will carry this with me too and I can store the cards together in the journal for safe keeping. It might feel cumbersome having three versions of the same thing, but it is much easier to manage on the day at exhibitions. The card for the works sold will be stored together with the details of the purchasers so that I can add them to my mailing list and contact them from time to time. The other card will be stored in number order so that I can quickly pull them out in readiness for an exhibition.

As I have been focusing on making leather-bound sketchbook journals having a card system also means I can place cards inside these journals and remove them when sold. Having added the information about the purchaser, they can be easily filed away.

My next exhibition (my first after lockdown) will be taking place at Painshill Park in Surrey and it starts on Friday evening of 28th May and continues until Tuesday 2nd June. Opening times are Friday 6-8pm; Sat-Mon 10-5pm; Tue 10-4pm.

If you would like to attend, please email me for a free entry ticket. I will need your name and the day you are planning to attend, and your name will be placed on a list to be ticked off on arrival. It is being done this way to avoid the cost and waste of paper, ink etc. – saving the planet- plus making things Covid safer.

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