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How to Archive Your Lettering

For a long time I drew on paper out of principle, but after more than ten years as an illustrator and designer, the question arose: Where to put all the work? What should I throw out, what should I keep? I decided to create a proper archive.

I can hardly bring myself to throw away drawings, even those that I have scanned and digitally saved. Who knows, I might need them again. Or for some reason it’s interesting to have them. Or »Chris Campe—the great retrospective« will happen one day after all!

To be prepared, I used the Corona time to clean up the basement of my studio and archive commissions, personal projects, original drawings and sample copies of books and materials I designed. I came up with an archival system that protects my drawings and allows me to easily access them. And along the way, I got rid of some of my early works that are really nobody’s business.

When I started, I researched »creating an art archive« but found little information on how to approach my endeavor in a good way. That’s why I tell you in this blogpost how I ended up doing it.

Archiving Analog Lettering

Archival Materials

I wanted to create a real archive and that’s why I ordered my archive materials from a company that usually supplies museums, libraries and state archives with »long-term stable, archive-safe packaging solutions for archiving and preserving written cultural assets«.

I so much liked the idea of thinking of my work as »cultural asset« that I ended up paying quite a lot of money for cardboard boxes and glassine envelopes. But hey – business expense, and it’s a joy to handle them and it makes me feel like great artist. (If I really were, I probably wouldn’t create my own archive).

The company is called Hans Schröder GmbH, by the way.

Ein Lettering-Archiv anlegen, von Chris Campe
Ein Lettering-Archiv anlegen, von Chris Campe

1. A Glassine Envelope for Each Project

First, I sorted all drawings and notes and packaged each project individually. For less extensive projects, glassine envelopes in DIN A4 or DIN A3 were sufficient. These sleeves have the advantage that I can see at once what is inside.

I filed more extensive projects in cardboard folders with three flaps. The flaps can be folded so that the folder can hold stacks of paper several inches high.

Ein Lettering-Archiv anlegen, von Chris Campe

Instead of writing directly on the sleeves and folders, I used labels to note the year and month and a keyword about the project.

Frontklappenschachteln im Regal, Lettering-Archiv von Chris Campe

2. A Front Flap Box for Each Year.

I gathered a year’s worth of sleeves and folders in a front flap box because I need the drawings again fairly regularly. As the name implies, front flap boxes have a flap in the front so you can open them without taking the box off the shelf. Inside, they also have a drawer of sorts that pulls out. That way I can easily access the sleeves and folders with the drawings.

Offene Frontklappenschachtel, Lettering-Archiv von Chris Campe
Regale mit Archivkisten von Chris Campe

3. Boxes for Originals and Sample Copies

For the original drawings and sample copies of books and covers I designed, I did not invest in acid-free, alkaline-buffered and age-resistant cardboard, but simply used regular cardboard boxes. They will have to do.

Ein Lettering-Archiv anlegen, von Chris Campe

4. Labels for the Boxes

I added handwritten labels to the boxes. They are all a little different to help me distinguish the boxes more easily. The lettering looks casual, but of course, I wrote each label fifty times until I was happy.

5. A Spreasheed for the Overview

I recorded all commissions, personal projects, original drawings and sample copies in spreadsheets so that I can easily find them using the search function. The spreadsheets have the following columns:

  • Year and month
  • Client – for orders
  • Title or keyword of the project
  • Project type – for example »logo lettering«, »editorial illustration« or «wall design«
  • Medium – how and where was the work published?
  • Digital – check this box for purely digital work
  • Box – in which box is the portfolio for the project?
  • Sample copies – in which box are the sample copies?
  • Notes – for example »unpublished«

In the spreadsheet for commissions and projects, each year has a different color. This helps me to not get lost in the hundreds of rows and it pleases my eye—somehow I have to make the spreadsheets enjoyable.

Ein Lettering-Archiv anlegen, von Chris Campe
Lettering-Skizzenbücher von Chris Campe

Bonus: Labels for the Sketchbooks

My sketchbooks are an important working tool for me, a counterpart with which I develop ideas. For a few years now, I’ve always used the same sketchbook, and every few months another one is full, so there’s a danger of confusion.

To help me find my way around, I put a label on the spine of each book with a few keywords about the content in addition to the dates. I wrote these labels with a typewriter. On the one hand, because I still have one in the studio basement, on the other hand, because I thought, if I do this by hand, I will never finish. See point 4 »Labels for the Boxes«.

PS: Because you’re probably wondering – I use the »Art Creation« sketchbooks from Royal Talens. The paper is off white and with a weight of 140 g/m2, it can handle even liquid paint.

A Lettering Archive for Posterity

It took me a long time to finish my archive, because I don’t particularly enjoy sitting in the cold studio basement and entering drawings into Excel spreadsheets either.

But as long as the basement doesn’t get flooded in the meantime, or something else unforeseen happens, this archive will be a joy for posterity. Until that happens, I’ll continue to work on increasing my fame, so that the archiving effort won’t have been in vain, the retrospective will actually take place at some point, and my estate will really be of interest to someone later on!

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