It is the beginning of the year and it is time for everyone to post about how they organize their Important Stuff for the benefit of people who have made a new year’s resolution to Organize Their Shit. This is what works for me; I do not guarantee it will work for anyone else. It’s been working as a way to organize a mix of standalone drawings and big multi-image projects for most of twenty years now.
All of my artwork lives in one place on my hard drive: ~/Documents/gfx/working/. There’s a few other folders in /gfx/ but they haven’t been touched in years, as they’re the remnants of a former system I mostly abandoned.
This working folder mostly contains two things: a folder for each year I’ve been using this system, and a whole bunch of aliases to project folders. Each of those project folders lives inside the folder for the year I started it – Parallax is inside 2015, Rita’s inside 2012, the Tarot’s inside 2008, etc.
I do it this way instead of just making a folder for the project next to the yearly folders because this way I can rename those aliases without affecting anything inside them that has a file path in it. The projects I feel are currently in progress to some degree have a space at the front of their alias’ name, so they sort to the top of the list, above the yearly folders and below the ‘ . this year.’ alias, which gets pointed to a new folder around the beginning of every year. Deciding to take that space off the front of an alias feels momentous; it’s been sitting there for years, and now I’m declaring it either Done or Off The Table. It’s probably worth mentioning that everything below about 2006 is off the bottom of the normal size Finder windows will open at for me – I have to go looking for those things.
I also keep some of those aliases in the Finder’s favorites, so they’re quick to navigate to in a new Finder window or in a save dialogue.
Inside the project folders, I tend to have a whole pile of Illustrator files for the main body of the project, with Finder tags to mark the completion state of the file. In progress is purple, blue is finished, yellow is posted to Patreon. There’s a second blue tag for “double finished” which I only started using on Parallax, since I’m mostly working on that in double-page spreads. Rita’s just a long list of files with blue dots now, since it’s done.
And next to that pile of The Actual Pages is folders for other stuff. A folder of final web renders of pages (and a ‘ finals’ alias so I can get to it quickly, since that sorts above all the pages), and a few other folders for… stuff. Model sheets, web sites (which might contain aliases of folders deep in ~/Sites/, that get used when I fire up MAMP to run my local development copy of WordPress), fan-art I’ve gotten, book publishing stuff, ads… whatever. Make a folder, don’t just put it in the same pile as the raw pages. Maybe even make sub-folders, here’s a peek at the ‘books’ folder in Rita.
There’s a few non-yearly folders in the main /working/ folder for stuff that I have to deal with now and then: resumes, files for the print book I take to conventions. They feel like they don’t belong to a year, it’s a judgement call I make now and then.
I feel like the big guiding principles here are that stuff never moves but aliases do and that everything for a project is in one place. When I first started I had a separate directory to move finished stuff into and that was just a pain in the ass, every time I’d load in a finished file I’d have to help Illustrator re-find any rough scans I’d used.
If I want to find a particular standalone drawing I usually go over to ~/Pictures/My Art/ where I stick pngs/jpgs of all my finished pictures, make the icons big, and look for it. That’ll tell me the year and then I can find its source file pretty quickly; the filename I make it under is usually never the final image title, and I never bother changing it. It could maybe be more efficient but I don’t have to do this often enough to really try to optimize it.
When I do a batch of commissions they’ll end up in a folder with a name like “april commissions” in the appropriate year that’ll get an alias at the top of the list. And maybe even an alias on the desktop – which I mostly try to keep clean, for what it’s worth. I don’t have any in progress so there’s none of them currently visible.