saving precious artwork when space is at a premium

Pastel drawing of a seahorseWhen my daughter was born in 1995, I bought some acid-free scrapbooks and boxes to store those precious paper mementos that come with childhood. Now, filled with finger paintings and Crayola masterpieces, they sit on closet shelves. As my daughter got older, her artwork improved; some hang on my office wall to this day. But I know a time will come when I’ll need to downsize and won’t have room to keep every memento.

Back then, options were limited to display, store or toss. Today, technology makes it easy to create a digital archive that can be viewed, saved and shared in a multitude of ways.

The first step to archiving any two-dimensional object is to take a photo—known in the business as a copy-shot. For best results, take some tips from the pros. I found this fabulous video by Tyler Stalman that explains how to get great results without a lot of fancy equipment. It’s faster and more accurate than scanning.

Once you have your photos taken, the next step is to upload them to whichever photo archive system you use. I’m using Screen capture of Shutterfly bookiPhoto on a Mac, which has easy options to label and date photos and to create custom albums and slideshows. Both are great ways to showcase a large quantity of related images. iPhoto has a number of templates to create books that can be printed and mailed direct to family members. Similar options are available from a number of photo sharing sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish, even COSTCO and other retail stores. The choice of book design and format is up to you.

You can group the art by age—“The Preschool Years” or “Middle-School Art.” Or you could focus on specific topics like “Girl Scouts” or “Summer Camp”—the ideas are endless and will depend on what you have to save. You could include shots of certificates and awards or 3-dimensional works like ceramics or mobiles, and even pertinent photos from the time period or event. It all depends on how much time and money you want to invest. A 20-page book like the one from Shutterfly shown here costs $29.99 + tax and shipping.

Watercolor graphic designIf you still have room to store and the desire to save at least the best of the original works, invest in archival-quality cardboard boxes/scrapbooks—never use plastic! A resource is Light Impressions, an online supplier of archiving and presentation supplies. Another handy reference is the book Saving Stuff by Don Williams, senior conservator of The Smithsonian Institution.  He devotes over 100 pages to “Saving Family Stuff.” I especially like that he gives a variety of options, from simple to complex. I’ll be blogging more about this book in the future.

The best advice is to take your time and have fun sorting through your art collection and deciding what to do with it all. Remember, you’re preserving memories for generations to come. Your children may not appreciate it now, but they will.