15 Steps to Take After Completing Your Artwork

With regard to the importance of reliable systems in your art business, here’s a system framework inspired by a question from Kerry Thompson. Her question is this:

What do you do after you’ve finished an artwork?

Kerry Thompson, Café Friends Nursery
©2011 Kerry Thompson, Café Friends Nursery. Acrylic on cotton canvas, 61 x 77 centimeters

Finish the Details on the Artwork Itself

The work shouldn’t be considered complete until you do the following with the physical piece.

  • Sign it!
 Sign your art wherever you can, and however you do it best.
  • Add the date on the front, back, or underneath – where and when it’s appropriate for your medium. 
Many artists don’t like to date their work on the front because it doesn’t look as fresh. That’s fine, but date it somewhere. Dating is a way that helps you claim credit for copyright and will be used by the curator that mounts a retrospective of your work in 30 years.
  • If appropriate for your medium, make an identification card for the back that includes the complete credit line: Name, title, media, dimensions, and price. 
This is enormously helpful for venues.

Document the Artwork

Don't let the piece out of your hands until you have recorded it in your records.

  • Record details in your inventory database. 
You may be ready to move on, but your future self will thank you for taking this step.
  • Have artwork photographed, or do it yourself if you have the proper equipment.
  • Name image files according to your standard. 
Images are easier to find if they are all named in the same manner. I suggest starting the file name with your name. Perhaps:


  • Add the image to your inventory record for that piece.
  • Resize images to three or four standard sizes that you use most often.
 Create a digital file folder for each artwork and differentiate your digital images using your naming convention. This takes some time to do now, but it will save you time and frustrations in the future. 

Using the example above, your image files might look like this:




Tell People About It

  • Blog about the work. 
If you are a blogger, you can make separate entries about completed work or bodies of work. Be sure the complete credit line is visible with the image, and that viewers will know it's for sale.
  • Edit the text from your blog into a descriptive sentence that you can use on your website or social media profiles.
  • Add the descriptive sentence to your inventory database.
 When you do this, the sentence will always be with the work, and you can copy and paste it with abandon.
  • Upload the image to your website. 
Double check to make sure that your name and credit line is visible whenever the image is enlarged.
  • Upload the image to any online sales venues you use. 
(Etsy, RedBubble, Saatchi Art, etc.)
  • Share your newly completed work on social media sites.

Did I forget anything? Feel free to let me know in a comment below.

This article was originally posted on January 25, 2012 and has been updated with original comments intact.

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60 thoughts on “15 Steps to Take After Completing Your Artwork”

  1. Thank you, Alyson, for this checklist. The only things I can add are, for paintings, you might want to varnish them, and add hangers for the back. Also, I like to print an image on photographic paper for use in my (notebook style) portfolio.

    1. ….if you’ve just finished an oil painting, you had better wait at least a month (if not more if the paint is thick (or very dense ie: cadmiums) for the paint to dry completely before putting any kind of varnish on it.

  2. This checklist is so helpful! I never thought to resize images immediately and save. I thought I was organized, but this list has proved otherwise. It’s going on my work board immediately. Thanks!

    1. Alyson B. Stanfield

      Audra: My productivity consultant stresses to finish a project from beginning to end – all at once. Otherwise, you’re restarting every time you go to do another step. Of course, this is the ideal.

  3. Oh and don’t forget to paint…
    I’m just waiting for the studio to be warm enough…I just cannot watch the meter whirling!

  4. And….paint the edges of the canvas!!
    Write down the main 3 colours used (pthalo blue vs cobalt) so that if the buyer contacts you in a year and would like to commission a second painting to compliment the first, you can jump into action.
    I say this from painful experience.
    My gallery sold a painting to a woman who lives a 7 hour drive away. She contacted him to inquire about buying 2 more paintings that would ‘bookend’ the original. The gallery owner had seen the painting in situ and gave me the measurements for 2 square canvasses to fit into the space. They were an oddball size so I had to have them custom made which cost me extra. I ordered and painted 4 so that the collector would have a choice. I used the colours that I had identified from the photo of my original painting. I was surprised and a little disappointed when all 4 returned. Months later I was able to visit the collector and as soon as I saw my painting, I knew exactly why she had rejected the new ones. From my photo it looked like the predominant colour was red, but the painting showed it to be orange. The blue I saw in the photo was purple in real life. Also, the Gallery owner had miscalculated the size of the hanging space because the square canvases were far too large. You get the picture. Eveyrthing was wrong!
    I eventually sold the paintings anyway, but it was a GREAT, though expensive lesson for me. I learned to:
    – if you don’t have the colour information, ask to ‘borrow’ or to ‘visit’ the original first
    – take an accurate photo of the painting
    – write down the 3 or 4 main colours for future reference
    – request a photo of the space where the work will be hung
    – deal directly with the client, not through a third party

    1. Alyson B. Stanfield

      Flora: Thank you for these additional notes for painters. I was providing a general list that could be used across media.
      But you’re absolutely correct to make note of those details! I just used the word “details” and didn’t go more into depth because of the application to many media.

  5. “Double check to make sure that your name and credit line is visible whenever the image is enlarged.”
    Are you saying this should be printed (add text) on the image? My signature is visible on my painting but I only put fairly low resolution images (400 pixels) on my blog.

    1. Alyson B. Stanfield

      K. – I’m just saying to add a caption (credit line) to all of your images – wherever you post them online.
      I’m more and more thinking that doing this in photo-editing software could be a good idea to keep the credit line with EVERY image no matter where it shows up.
      In looking at this image on your site: http://www.khenderson.com/html/_looks_to_the_past_.html
      When I scroll down to see the whole image, your name disappears from the page.
      If for some reason I landed on the image page itself (it’s possible!), there’s no credit there: http://www.khenderson.com/assets/images/1289m.jpg
      That’s why adding the credit line in photo-editing might be useful. But, I know, it’s a pain in the patooty.

  6. Dealing with commissioned pieces, I put a date on my calendar to send off a thank-you note to the client with (surprise!) an image of their painting on the front. This has become a regular practice. Along with putting their info on my mailing list and e-mail mailing lists.
    Great list tho…definitely printing this one out!!
    Thanks Alyson!

  7. The only other thing that I do is add very detailed information on the materials within the piece when I add the image to my database. Knowing all the materials, brands, grades of linen and lumber used will help spot any defects in the piece that may occur in years to come, and assist curators and preservations.
    For example::
    Substrate – Type, weight and brand of linen, number of coats and types of gesso, type(s) of lumber used in the stretcher frame & type of nails/staples/hardware used.
    Painting – Type, colour, batch and brand of paint used, all specific colours
    Mediums & Varnish – Type, brand, batch (if any)
    That’s pretty much it! I like to be detailed regarding materials.

  8. Can anyone suggest a really easy to use painting inventory/tracking software program? Allison, is there one you recommend?

    1. I use eartist from Artscope http://www.artscope.net/eArtist/index.html
      Not only does it catalog your work (with images), but you can print reports like exhibition lists with images of the work at a particular gallery with price; inventory reports; constituent reports, sales reports, etc. Version 5 is out now, but I am still using version 3. Version 5 is $125. You can download a free trial at the above link.

    2. Alyson B. Stanfield

      Thanks, LeAnne & Marti for sharing your experience.
      Barbara: Lisa McShane did a comparison article. If you click on the hyperlinked word “inventory” in the post above, you’ll find her article.

  9. Jacqueline Webster

    Briliant, brilliant, brilliant! A fantastic resource. Takes that “what now?” feeling and kicks it to the curb. And I heartliy agree with having data on materials/technique of the work somewhere, even if it’s a in separate database or on paper. It will save you from a ton of potential disasters.

  10. Great Stuff! I don’t know if I could ever record all of the details such as the predominant paint colors and type of wood for the stretchers, but it would be grand to have all that down for every piece… As for me, I am doing good to get my finished pieces photographed, filed on an external hard drive, and then loaded onto my website. My website provider is Fine Art Studio on Line. I would recommend that provider to any artist who is looking for an easy, affordable and great provider. They tailor their sites specifically for artists and they have many additional perks. Also they upload several different file sizes of my images. It makes me feel better knowing that there is a data base with my images somewhere other than my home.
    One other suggestion I would have is to live with the work at least a few weeks if possible before putting in front of the public. If there are errors, they will jump out at you, once you are not staring intently at the work on your easel. I also like to write details about the inspiration, or place on the back of the piece. Collectors really like that added bit of information.

    1. Alyson B. Stanfield

      Diane: You can do it (capture all of the details)! Don’t doubt your abilities.
      I like the living with it awhile idea. That’s why you don’t want to wait to finish something until the last minute.

  11. What an excellent list! As an artist, I often forget many of these simple, yet important steps. Thank you, Alyson.
    As a one who also works in a gallery, I would like to add:
    “Be sure to send a high-res image and information about the artwork (see credit line) to your galleries!”
    I don’t know how many times a prospective client has come in to the gallery looking for a specific subject matter/color scheme/etc. and left empty-handed (and unwilling to go through the commissioning process). Then, we find out later that one of our artists had a newly-finished piece that could have fit the bill.

  12. Such a great list Alyson and great ideas from others as well! I will be printing this too. A very important thing to add is to save a TIFF file for each artwork. You can generate jpeg copies from them. Every time you use a jpeg the quality deteriorates a bit. I have been adding new works to my Flick! inventory system which I love, it’s inexpensive and versatile. People, including galleries, etc., are always impressed when I can produce a professional detailed list with images for shows, etc. It takes time to set it up and to update but this is well worth the effort. Also, it keeps a running tab on how much $$ you have in inventory which I am sure will help during tax time!

    1. Alyson B. Stanfield

      Christine: Absolutely. That should definitely be a correction to this list. Thank you for the reminder.

  13. Great list, Alyson, and great additional suggestions, all! I’ve got another: Make a back-up copy of the file of your image immediately and store it off-site. A friend lost a studio through fire one winter, and because she had stored a complete set of CDs of her work at her daughter’s, she still had art to sell. I back up my images both online on Carbonite (with most of these services, you have to pay extra for saving large files, and you have to save them manually, it’s not automatic over a certain size) and on CDs. If my final image is one made at a printer, I have them DropBox it to me and I make a hard copy– things happen to printers, too. This probably sounds like overkill, but I actually have this set of CDs at my bank in a safe deposit box. On the other hand, I don’t worry.
    Also, I’d like to agree with how to name the image, as well as point out that Alyson has used dashes between words. This is best practice in making a title to anything, because different servers and browsers can possibly corrupt a title not tied together. You can also use underscores. If you’re posting these images on a FaceBook Page, Flickr, your blog, or whatever, web crawlers will then pick them up, they’ll become searchable, and eventually this will lead to better SEO for you and your art.

    1. Alyson B. Stanfield

      Jesa: Facebook renames image files, so it doesn’t do you any good there. So does TypePad (if anyone is still on that platform). Not sure about other sites.
      Also, use dashes, not underscores. See my link below with Kelly’s comment.

  14. Brennen-
    Fancy meeting you here!
    I agree- and had a conversation about this with two of the FAB14 today: David S & Dave A. :: of :: TheClickProject (dot) com.
    I need to begin this, for me, and may do it on FASO.
    I have your card on the table behind me- to answer.
    My Call to action awaits. Happy Wednesday!

  15. An awesome list, thanks Alyson. I do many of the things on the list, and need to start doing some of the others. I agree with Flora about painting the edges, and also keeping a record of which colours you used, to the extent that that’s possible. Sometimes you’ve mixed so many colours preparing a work, and are in the flow. But the basics can be recorded. Thanks to all the artists who added their advice as well. Fantastic!
    XO Barbara

  16. I have a similar list made up and copied in strips in my studio, each painting gets a check list (you forgot: TITLE the piece and PRICE the piece). I fill out all the info and this travels with me to the office so I can do the computer-related aspect of it. I found this important when i noticed a framed piece unsigned or when i could not remember if I had used the image on my blog.

  17. Wow – I needed this. Thank you so much. Your timing was perfect as I was just crazily measuring pieces for an upcoming show. I had a sort of hit or miss program – basically 1. Frame, 2. Don’t frame and would scramble around from there. This gives me concrete steps to follow. What a gift.

  18. When choosing a file name for your photos, it is important to pick something that is going to be search engine friendly (if you intend to post it online). This will improve the chances of it showing-up in image search results. For example, I use key words such as sculpture, handcarved, marble, alabaster, etc.

    1. Alyson B. Stanfield

      That’s a good point, Jason. But could it get too long? Give us some examples of your filenames.

  19. Great advice – as an art professor with a fairly deep specialization in digital media issues one piece of advice I share with students for generating file names is to always use lowercase letters with underscores for spaces. It is regarded as a best practice considering the plethora of programs in use these days that handle files.
    i.e. warhol_marilyn_2012_600.jpg
    (I always add the year to my own files as well – as this is one method I use for categorization in file hierarchies).
    Thanks for all your hard work over the years – I always enjoy reading.

  20. Hi Alyson, I really enjoyed this useful post. The comment thread is really interesting too.
    These are the steps that I have followed with my own artwork upon completion…except for one item…image categorization!
    When I started with digital cameras, no one told me how to ‘file’ the images, so I came up with my own system. Now, thousands of images later, it seems daunting to begin the task of renaming each image!
    Should I begin with a new system from this point forward, or do I go back in and pick away at all my images and rename them???
    Thanks again, ~Lori

  21. The title process has always been a challenge for me. I went back and read your 2010 post Alyson. Many good ideas. I recently started keeping a small sketchbook/journal just for titles which has been very helpful. It helps me get unstuck when a good title is not reveaIing itself automatically. I add words, names, and titles whenever they pop into my head or whenever I read something that sounds interesting. I also started using http://www.noemata.net , a random title generator. I choose quirky, random, whimsical names that fit some of my pieces. Sometimes I modify them a bit. What a great and long(In a good way) discussion!

  22. What a great list. Now I will be more prepared for that 4:30pm call from someone wanting a particular image for promotion (and they need it ASAP.)
    For people who submit images on-line for juried exhibitions or fairs, they might also add saving the image in the 1920 x 1920 format, and making sure images have the appropriate black borders. On-line services like ZAPP and CAFE require this.
    Your list is printed out and posted by the computer. Thanks!

  23. Thanks for this list of tasks to finish-up with the “business” of making an art piece. I sometimes leave this undone until I need it, which is much more difficult usually!

  24. Thank you for this list. I find I accomplish all that is on it, eventually, but having a list is a great way to get it all done at once and move on so that one is sure nothing is forgotten. Having professional photographic images of a finished work is so critical, as once a painting is sold, they are gone.

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  26. Yes, great list! I’m adding so many more steps to my procedure after this. I have a question about “Upload the image to your website. 
Double check to make sure that your name and credit line is visible whenever the image is enlarged.”
    Can you illuminate for me how you would do this precisely? I’d really appreciate it!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Laurel: I can’t really because I don’t know how your website is published. Talk with your Web person.
      You know something is wrong when you’re looking at your image and you can’t see your name, title, medium, and dimensions.

  27. Thanks for your great post–I now have a lot of file organization work to do.
    I realized when putting my art online in my blog, my FAA reproduction site at http://gail-kent.artistwebsites.com, and in preparing for my new domain gallery site which is still in process, that I have done a really poor job of record keeping on my own works. I don’t even have suitable photos of many works I’ve sold over the years or still have in inventory. Can’t believe that I, a detail-oriented accountant, failed to do all these little detail steps in the creative realm.
    Your post and all the marvelous comments will certainly help as I move forward. I’m adding your link to favorites that I follow on my blog http://www.gailkentpainter.blogspot.com
    Thanks again,

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