I’ve spent the bulk of the last couple of weeks glued to a computer, trying to get some old work into shape again so that it can go back into print. So I figured it might be a good idea to talk about why it’s incumbent upon every artists to document one’s work.
Surely, some of you artists out there will scoff at the idea, and even more will scoff at the actual work involved. I’ve been a cartoonist longer than I’ve been a printmaker, so one of the ideas that gets drilled into your head immediately is that the work only counts when it’s in print, or when it’s disseminated. All those doodles and even finished pieces that litter every artists’ workspace don’t count for anything until it’s compiled, or presented on a wall somewhere, or goes into print. Hey, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones that has work leaving your studio in exchange for cash the second the ink or paint dries. Well done!
Right now, I’m putting together two projects: one is a reprint of an old mini-comic I did with some new material, it’ll see print for next spring’s cons. Did you know: if you used tone sheets for grey tones (or any tones, honestly), the adhesive will discolor over time? With this batch of pages, my use of tone was minimal, and it’s not that big of an issue. The pages are mostly clean, so the work to put this book together is largely just finishing some new artwork and a cover, and putting the book together digitally. The truth of the matter is, if I wasn’t doing the work, no one else would. The material was self-published the first time around, and it will be this time around, too.
The second project is a little bit larger. It’s a monograph of my etching work that I’ve done over the last decade. As much as I wish it was the size of a phone book, it isn’t. But this is also a project that wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t doing the work. Believe me, I wish there were a ton of people scouring the world for talented artists, to put books together of their work so that more people could see what those talented artists were up to. But there really isn’t. What actually exists is cheap, effective desktop publishing software, varied digital means of capturing images, and amazing short-run printing options that even allow for bookstore distribution.
For the most part, no one is snooping around, looking to collect our work. Even if you’ve been able to build a name for yourself, the actual process of capturing images (an oversized scanner can be a great help there; photographing art is a professional field of its’ own), editing them, trying to hammer the material into something coherent, and then trying to get the books into people’s hands isn’t going to happen unless someone judges that you’re a profitable entity. I’ve never, at any time, been judged as such. But still, I make work, and I want people to see it. You may feel the same way.
So it’s up to each of us to dutifully document our work, piece by piece. It’s up to you what you want to do with it, but if you don’t keep track of it, no one else is going to. It might not feel like real work, like proper creative work that sets your mind soaring, but some organization and a royal buttload of coffee can yield some results. If nothing else, maybe you’ll sell a few copies of your monograph or your comic book, and that trickle of cash can get you a new canvas when you need one. But, to sum up, no one else is likely to do that kind of work on your behalf, not without the promise of eventual reward.