How to Find Anything When You Need It

I subscribe to the theory that less clutter and a more organized mind and workspace mean more room for creativity.

How can you make really good art when you’re worried about where you stored the image the reporter is requesting or wondering what you did with that exhibition contract that’s due tomorrow?

The solution to this problem might be as simple as how you name things.

Naming Conventions in Your Art Business

I suggest using these five naming tips to help you find anything when you need it.

Similar works are distinguished by titles, such as these in Jane Guthridge’s exhibition.
Similar works are distinguished by titles, such as these in Jane Guthridge’s exhibition.

1. Title your artworks.

Titling your art differentiates this piece from that piece. This keeps you sane whether you’re trying to identify a piece for someone, organizing numerous works for an exhibit, or updating your inventory records.

Titling isn’t just for you, it’s also helpful to collectors and writers who want to refer to your art.

Referring to the piece titled Tense Moments is much easier than calling it “the one that’s mostly orange with a little green line about one-third of the way down” or “the fourth one from the top.”

2. Title your exhibitions.

Like the titles of your art, the titles of your exhibitions differentiate them from one another.

Have you ever read an artist résumé that looks like they repeat the same show every year? An artist’s list of accomplishments looks juicier if the exhibitions have varied names.

3. Standardize your digital filenames.

Name your files with enough description that you can find what you need in a list and are able to conduct a successful search on your computer.

If you have certain files you use for every show or exhibition, devise a standard. For example:
Contract – Art Center December.docx
Labels – Art Center December.docx
Statement – Art Center December. docx
Timeline – Art Center December.docx

4. Label your paper files with titles similar to your e-files.

Once you have a system in place for e-files, why would you invent a separate one for your paper files? Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

You’ll be able to get your hands on a file quickly if you stick with the system.

5. Identify your tasks with colorful detail.

Keep your to-dos on an electronic task list. In contrast to paper, e-lists allow you to repeat, sort, and change tasks with ease. An e-list also gives you a lot more space to articulate each task.

There’s no comparison for maintaining a master to-do list.

When adding a new task to your list, start with a verb (Write, Email, Deliver, Mail) and add details that clearly define the action needed.

If you are mindful of how you title, label, and name things, you’ll be able to find them when you need them most. How do you name things?

This post was originally published on July 31, 2013 and has been updated with original comments intact.

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16 thoughts on “How to Find Anything When You Need It”

  1. I’m a big fan of Excel spreadsheets and use that format for keeping track of art shows (important dates, works, results, etc.) I also use this for keeping track of my income and expenses, and I have my email data base in such a file. (Very easy to cut and paste the emails and keep everything alphabetized.) I also have one I’ve begun to organize my workshop notes by subject matter, e.g., topic such as color, specifics, instructor. In addition, a major thing I’ve done is to create three large binders of art references, culled from my various art magazines, and organized by subject matter. I find that resource most inspiring as well as helpful in terms of problem solving my own paintings…and now the magazines are out of the house!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Karen: I don’t know how big your email list is, but you should be keeping it in a program like MailChimp and not sending bulk emails from your computer. Your ISP won’t like that and might identify it as spam.
      I love binders, too!

  2. I have yet to find a way to efficiently title my paintings, as I mostly paint Niagara Falls…
    Niagara Spring
    Niagara in August
    Niagara November
    get the point ?
    Spring,August,November all come once a year

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Looks like you’ve done a good job so far, JR. Give yourself more credit than that.
      Autumn at Niagara, Niagara Autumn, Niagara Autumn Mist, Niagara Autumn Sunrise
      Niagara Mist, Mist on Niagara, Misty Morn at Niagara
      Niagara Morning, Niagara Sunrise, . . .
      Trying to think of a way you can avoid time of day/year. What about the mood you’re in at that moment – or something significant in your life.
      Niagara on My Birthday
      Niagara in Memory of xxx
      Niagara on September 11
      Niagara Happiness
      Peaceful Niagara (does that really exist?)

  3. A couple of additions to suggestions 1 and 2:
    Just titling a piece isn’t enough. I used to have fun titling pieces with a line from a blues tune I was listening to, that seemed particularly appropriate at the time. Sounded great to me, although the lines puzzle some reviewers — and people trying to figure out what message the piece was supposed to convey. Trouble was, six months after I made a piece I generally couldn’t remember what name I had applied to it. Now I’m just as likely to use a title that’s related to its appearance, and which I can instantly recognize. And viewers are spared the convoluted exercise of trying to see how a title pertains to a particular piece.
    About titling shows: You want to make sure that the gallerist knows what you want to call a presentation of your work. I was called in to fill a hole in a show that had already opened, and I was able to show seven new pieces. Trouble was, the guy decided to give my sub-show its own name, without consulting me at all. It wasn’t that bad a title, but I was amazed that it had appeared without any input from me.

  4. Thank you for the advice about show names, too! I named a show seven or eight years ago that covered the ground pretty well, and have used it or variations on it to name most of my solo shows ever since. Sounds as though it’s time to get creative about new show titles!
    And I can relate to J.R.’s Niagara naming problems… periodically I discover I’ve given paintings done at different times the same name – because the subject matter is so similar, and I’d forgotten I’d already used that title. It gets tricky!

  5. PK = my signature 123 = Its catalogue number 010813 = its cataloguing & signing date. So my most recent painting is reference PK123010813.
    its high resolution JPEG file is PK123 and its low resolution web-page is PK123W and PK123T is its thumnail image..
    The title of the painting is in the catalogue [as are sizes, dates & thumbnail image]…a Word Document.
    And a Powerpoint page exists for each painting too…here I keep the story for that painting etc. and it’s show history etc.
    Yes its over-kill but its what we OCD’s do!

  6. Hi Alyson,
    Can I ask what form of electronic task/to do list you use? I’ve been a ‘paper only’ person to date and don’t know where to start with comparing different products.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Marion: I use Asana. In the class I share other options, but what’s really cool is hearing what others are using or what they choose while doing the lesson.

  7. I have found the task list feature of Google calendar, which I also use, to be my main to do list. I have created numerous categories and they are available on all of my devices, so easy to access at all time and places of my life. I can write down these tasks whenever I think of them and not keep them floating in my head or worry where my list is. I have one list for the coming week, plus an A list, B list, art supplies, errands, next art show planning, book recs, favorite artists, movie recs, etc, etc. Items can be easily moved from one list to the other or moved higher up the specific list.

  8. I looked at a bunch of list organization options and the one that works great for me is Priorities. It syncs across all my devices. I am not willing to park any information in the cloud, particularly Google. Not interested in becoming one of their products other than using Googe+. I store the information on my paintings in a simmple Numbers spreadsheet, after trying a couple of the specialized apps that ended up being stupid beyond belief. I love being able to easily re-sort the data as needed, like alphabetical by title or year completed.

  9. I recently started using Trello for my To Do list. It allows me to see all my tasks visually as if I had multiple whiteboards all on one page. Each list is made of cards for each task, which I can move from list to list by dragging and dropping. Each crd can be flipped over in order to add relevant links, files, and checklists. I am much more inclined to use this To Do program regularly than the others I have tried, ie. ToDoist, EasyTask, and Google Tasks.

  10. Pingback: All Things Metal Clay » Blog Archive » How to Find Anything When You Need It

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