Sunday Mailbag- Organizing Artwork?

September 6th, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

These are several related questions about organizing my digital illustration work, so I’ve broken them up into different single ones:

Q: What does your computer filing system look like? You must have millions of works of art in various formats all over your hard drive(s). Do you organize by dated folder? By publication? Do you have a coded filing system of any kind?

I don’t have millions of pieces of artwork, but I do have well over a thousand, possibles thousands. I have a separate hard drive on which I store all my artwork, including roughs, layered working files and flattened final art. It’s a simple nested folder system, starting with one folder labeled simply “Art Files”.

I organize my files by clients, and the client folders by either job or, if long term ones, years and then jobs. Within “Art Files” I have folders labeled “MAD”, “Scholastic”, “Sports Illustrated Kids”, “Jeff Dunham”, “Marlin”, etc. Within each client folder is a folder for each individual project. I usually name them something that will jog my memory of the job itself, rather than something like the date or issue number they were in. I’m terrible with dates… I can never remember how long ago a certain job was done. So, descriptive folder titles like “Athlete’s Halloween” or “Kangaroo BBall Cover” will remind me of these two jobs:

Halloween SI kids


In the case of really long term clients like The Marlin Company or MAD, I have folders for each year I did work for them and then the various jobs from each year using the same descriptive name system.

I also have a folder called “Working” and one called “Misc”.

“Misc” is where all the one-offs or small jobs go that don’t deserve their own client folder. In that case I’ll often just name the folder containing the job files as the name of the client, or the job. Some examples of that might be “Craft Beer Logo” or “Honolulu Magazine Cover”… since it was just one job I can usually remember what the image was when I look at the name of the job or publication.

“Working” is where I keep the files I am working on at the time, and also recent jobs from the last few months that are finished. Typically when I am looking for a piece of art it will have been something recent, so this is the most used folder I have. Every six months or so I clean out “Working” and archive the files into their proper folders, even if it is just to “Misc”.

How do you find old artwork?

That’s where the descriptive names come in. I can do a computer search for keywords that describe the image and usually come up with it thanks to the folder name. For some reason if I am trying to find that Scholastic cover shown above, a search for “Kangaroo” will do the trick. It doesn’t always work since the folder names are necessarily short, but nine times out of ten one or two searches brings me to the image I am trying to find.

Have you digitized your old artworks to archive? (scanned them all in)?

Nope. I have done some but a lot just reside in either my flat files or a utility room adjacent to my studio where I store stuff. I scan them in if I need them scanned for some reason, like sharing something old on the blog, but otherwise it does not seem to be worth the time.

I remember you having a huge computer hard drive failure where after you had several hard drives with backups of your work. Do you now utilize any cloud services for backups?

I did have a hard drive meltdown years ago where I lost some artwork. At the time I was archiving work on CDs or DVDs,and that proved to be both cumbersome and ineffective. Many of those disks are not readable today for some reason. I did manage to move all the digital files I could still get to be read from those disks to my hard drive, but some of my earliest digital work is lost.

Today I have a redundant backup system. My “art” hard drive is backed up on a second external hard drive using Apple’s “Time Machine”. Both drives would have to fail completely and at the same time to lose my archives. The chances of that are very small. I replace these external drives every two years with new drives, but KEEP the old “Art Files” external drive. In this way I actually have another back up stashed away with all my files up to the time I replaced the previous drive. Two years later when I replace my current “Art Files” drive with a new one I sell or junk the old archived drive and replace it with the working drive I just upgraded.

I do not use a cloud service for backups. I use DropBox for certain things but not archiving.

Thanks to Jason Chatfield for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


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