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Databases for creative people

Late last night I started to  read Alyson B Stanfield’s book I’d Rather be in the Studio in which she mentions starting a database of work and contacts.

id rather be in the studio

This is something I have had on the to do someday list for some time so, newly inspired, I decided to research how best to achieve this. The SAQA Yahoo group was first port of call for recommendations and many other people said they were interested in how to keep a quilt database. so here, are my findings.

Disclaimer. This is not a full test of every programme out there. It is a good example of how a barrister’s mind works though… take on a ‘brief ( a problem) in the morning. go deep, deep, deep into the details until you have  the problem solved, call it a day, move on. repeat the next day.

I was looking for three criteria:

1. Reasonable cost ( preferably no more than £100-£120

2. Suitable for the needs of an artist and writer and something I would grow into over the years.

3. Usable across all my devices – iMac, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. I only use Windows at work where I also have the iPhone and iPad and should not be doing my art stuff anyway so I did not pay much attention to Windows, sorry.

Bento was the programme most mentioned that existing users loved but that is no longer available. It was made by the makers of Filemaker Pro, which , as it was used by Alyson Stanfield was the first one I looked at. It costs £286.00. Yikes! I do believe in buying good quality tools, an this does have functionality for iPad, so if I had had to pay that to get what I needed, I would have done but I was certainly encouraged to shop around. Not least because this programme apparently needs some setting up and whilst I like messing about with programmes its not the best use of my time.

I then found a number of specialist art programmes.

Flick! is an Australian programme that costs US$29.95 and looks from their  site to have a very clean and pleasing aesthetic.


However it is not available for mobile devices. The same problem afflicted E Artist (US$125 and Working Artist (US$139) which, worse, was not even available for Mac. It looked very much that mobiles and databases did not mix nicely. Having accepted ( with gritted teeth and a lot of grumbling) that I would have to forgo the mobile apps I was taken with GYST.  I was not taken with the full name which is Getting Your Sh*t Together, which whilst actually accurately describing the task I was trying to accomplish was not a name I really wanted to say when telling people what programme I used!



Image from

That aside GYST offers two programmes a Basic and a full bells and whistles Pro version for £45.85 and £85.40 respectively. Now we are talking. The full version has artists inventories, mailing databases and other features including a bibliography which attracted me a lot. That allows you to save a PDF and text version of your articles in the database. Very handy. It also comes with over 200 web links and other information for artists on a whole manner of things from carting up art to writing your resume. The Basic version does not have the bibliography or the information resources and fewer bells. You can compare the two versions here .  I liked this programme was dedicated to artists and needed little setting up for that purpose. I did download the trial version of this one thinking it would be the one. however, I then found that much of the bells and whistles is in fact on the site for their services tab or resources link. I recommend even if you don’t want a database you take a look at the resources section anyway. Its great! So that would have made me go back and compare with Flick! and probably choose between the two.

Except really, it bothered me that neither had mobile capacity. so I carried on hunting and came up with two possibilities. Both required me to lose the dedicated art related pre-formatting. The first is HanDBase  (what is with the irritating names of these things?) With this programme you can buy just for one platform or can buy apps for each of iPhone/iTouch, iPad and iMac (or indeed the windows/android equivalent) and then buy an add on with the iMac programme that allows you to synch the programmes. Yeah!! Thats synch manually over wifi rather than iCloud. Not so Yeah but yeah-ish I suppose. Cost was £6.99 for the mobile apps and  US$14.99 for the iMacand add on. If money is really tight you can just buy the iPhone app and use that on the iPad magnified so save buying two mobile apps. (No I don’t why it was in different currencies but it was!) Still. Good prices. The databases allow you to add in photos so whilst its not as pretty as Fick! it would do the practical job. and I do still like the look of it. It is owned by the people behind Palm Pilots so they know their mobile stuff. They do say that the Mac app is a ‘work in progress and will have extra features added in the future.’

The second one is TapForms when I was researching I found this app on a review which said that it had iCloud Synch. YEAH!! AT last. Oh but no desktop facility. Ah well. Non starter then. but then in the course of writing this review I went to the website itself to get you the link and found… its available for Mac! Oh listen to those angels sing in my studio! You can even integrate with Dropbox and add photos. I held my breath. what was the cost? iPad/Phone £6.99 iMac £20.99.  Big smile. wait, there must be a downside…

Umm, not quite so pretty maybe

tpaforms mac

iMac version

tapforms ios

Iphone version

and more importantly its not art orientated.

But it synchs with iCloud!!

So, I would say it depends what your priorities are.  If iCloud had not been a criteria I would probably have gone with Flick! or GYST without prevarication. But for me the mobile features were also important. so, as GYST offers a thirty day free demo I have downloaded that and also bought the iPad version of TapForms and began to play. Within five minutes I was able to tell GYST is vastly superior even without iCloud. Tapforms was clunky, its big icons and menus got in the way, it was ugly,  old fashioned, you could see hardly anything. It was in my view, ugh! GYST has so much functionality its not true. It was much clear how to add information right from the start and there is lots more to explore. It is a system that will last you growing into a real art business should you need that and probably would prompt you to record information you will need later but would not think to record by yourself. However, I want to play more but I also need to go and sit in the lounge with my husband and watch TV and I can’t take it with me as I could TapForms. Major downside.

I could buy a Macbook Air of course  :)

UPDATE: I also downloaded a free demo of Flick! Instantly you can see it is a simpler pared down programme. It lacks many of the features and available fields of information that the basic version of GYST has. That could actually be good if you want something very clear and straightforward but I think it is something easily outgrown. I showed my husband ( who cares not very much about this unless I pay the £289 price and he gets no dinner!) and even he with less than a minute on each one saw that GYST is the higher quality programme.

One issue I had with GYST though is that I wanted to be able to do a database for an exhibition I am helping to organise. I want to log the participants their quilts details, when it has all been sent back etc. In GYST you do not create databases, only records within them so you are stuck with one Artworks category for everything. At first I thought this was a real limitation but very quickly just from playing realised its not. What you can do is make an entry for the exhibition quilts as if they were your own and fill in the Loaned From box. You can make a category for the exhibition and then you search for the exhibition by category and you will only see those quilts.  Its the combination of customisable category lists and  the powerful search function that separates out the artworks database into as many lists as you like whilst allowing one entry to facilitate one quilt to appear in many lists.

GYST Pro also has a calendar and a planning (tasks) function so if you want all your art business together you can do that.

So,  less than 23 hours after I decided I needed a database I have found mine!

I will post some more on it when I have it set up with screen shots. ( And will email then asking when the iPad app is coming!)

What are you using? Do you have any recommendations or comments on the products I mentioned? Please leave a comment and help other readers if you have.

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