How to Store Art and Stay Sane

Store Art Stay Sane

There comes a time in every artist’s life when she has to answer one of the biggest questions of her art career:  “Where am I going to store all this artwork?”  Multiply that question by 500, add a few exclamation points, and you will have some idea of where I was at, as I tried to solve an art storage problem that we have all faced at one point or another.

When I first started teaching, my drying rack was small, bent, and better at holding my coat than holding student artwork. As I surveyed my lesson plans, I realized this rack just wouldn’t be sufficient to hold the artwork made by my students on a daily basis. After several phone calls, a miracle presented itself, and I managed to find a drying rack that met my needs as far as wet artwork goes. Hallelujah! The question then became how to organize the large piles of dry artwork I had for each class.

My solution was table folders.

My table folders are created from two 12″ x 18″ pieces of construction paper that have been taped together and laminated. Each grade level gets a different color folder to help keep them separate and organized. The front of each folder gets labeled with the grade level, the classroom teacher’s name, and which art room table the folder belongs to. I have three folders per class, but of course you can decide what will work for you.


Table folders can be utilized at the beginning and end of class depending on where your students are at with a project. At the beginning of class, I pass out the folders to the correct tables and students find their work. This method is much faster than calling out names one by one or having a pack of excited children hovering over your art storage space like locusts.

This operation works well in reverse, too. During clean up, the assigned “leaders” of the week are responsible for getting the folders from the cabinet, collecting the artwork that belongs in the folders and putting everything back in its place. No fussing, no rushing the cabinets, just pure and simple organization.


You can store the folders in a variety of ways.  If you find yourself lacking shelves like I was, try creating some of your own from copy paper box lids.  All you need to do is tear one small side of each lid and stack them on top of each other. This not only helps keep the folders orderly but it also helps every class to stay organized.

We all know that the school year will bring us mounds of artwork to organize and store.  Hopefully with solutions like table folders you won’t find yourself buried underneath a pile of artwork before we even make it to September.

How do you keep track of all the artwork in your classroom? 

Do you have another genius solution for us? Feel free to post a photo in the comments section!

Jennifer is an middle school art teacher in Kansas who is passionate about creating an organized, well-managed environment where students feel comfortable to learn and explore.


  • Funny, I have been toying with the idea of a cardboard made shelving for months now!! This is perfect confirmation! Thank you for sharing these great tips. Happy Summer, for now ;)

    • I’ve had mine for almost 5 years and they are still going strong! Go for it!!

      • 5 years!??? wow! i only hope mine will pass that test of time! thanks again, best wishes during this new school year

  • Lee

    I teach high school art and this is always a struggle! Really the main struggle is student accountability for their work, but that’s another topic. Any suggestions? High school work tends to be larger and since we meet daily, worked on longer…..

    • maggie

      I was fortunate to have a parent build me two rolling boxes with movable slots. I give each class one slot. My Students have folders made of railroad board. I store the boxes under a table and pull them out as needed. Students are responsible to get their folder and file it at the end of the period. Yes they misfile, but not as often as you would think. Color coding helps but not completely with the number of classes i have, i still need to double up sometimes.

      • Oooh! I am jealous of your rolling boxes! Sounds like you have a great system!

    • As far as storage have you thought of creating large portfolios? Even two large pieces of railroad board taped together might work. At least this would keep each student’s work in their own folder as well as protected. It probably also depends on the actual storage you have in your classroom. Sigh…I do remember how student accountability for their artwork was always a struggle in HS. Gosh, it is probably why I don’t let my elementary students take artwork home to work on it because it almost never returns.

    • Yvonne

      Here’s my chant, “First name, last name, class #, and chair # on the bottom on the back. This way if things do get mis-filed be the end of the week I have usually found the mis-filed piece. I also have a clothes line on which I clip unlabeled work.

  • Jodi Youngman

    I use table folders as well, but color code them to the tables for easy distribution of supplies.

  • Sheila Kopaskam

    When I was interning many years ago a traveling, elementary
    art teacher showed me her extremely efficient system. She laid out and
    picked up all the work in a practiced routine so that each child sat down to
    their already-laid-out work. At each table each space was numbered and
    always laid out in 1-2-3-4 order, the whole set placed in one stack and one
    folder. In classrooms (when she was on a cart) She laid them out
    precisely also—if seating charts changed she would have been seriously delayed.

    Now, in one of my 2 Middle school art rooms (where I have very little storage space) I use table folders: I built a set of shelves with three doors and students keep their table folders in table slots. I padlock the doors when each class leaves so that only one is unlocked at a time. We still waste time on finding work, but not
    nearly as much as with every other system I tried. When we had grade-level
    drawers with table folders they could NOT get their own work out without a 20
    minute delay daily. I prefer individual cubbies with names on them.

    • Sounds like you have a great system in place. Thanks for sharing those wonderful ideas!

  • Candace Kroells Jacobs

    I leave extra laminated edges on the ends of my folders. This way paper of almost any size will fit easily without having to be inserted just right. It also helps keep edges crisp.

  • Mari

    In the beginning of the year each student (except Kindergarten and ID classes) make their own personal folder. I use folded oak tag 24×36 with wallpaper strips on the two short sides to make a 12×18 large pocket folder. First and last names are generated by computer (I type them) in large easy to read letters with a code such as B3 for a third grade class teacher’s initial B. Every day of the week has a different colored for their code. For example Monday is pink. Every class has a large drawer and their folders are kept in the draw unless no drying rack. This system as served me well and when I need that drying rack I can have other students removed and find the correct drawers by the same letter and number code. Works for me and they are responsible for what goes in and where it is placed.

    • Wow! What a great system Mari! I bet your room is super organized!

  • ElizTownsend

    Even though I
    don’t have the volume of students that some of you have, I obviously still need
    a system to keep track of art assignments.
    Since I don’t have an art room, I can leave projects behind in the individual
    classrooms. For years I’ve assigned the
    same primary or secondary color to each grade (1-6). It’s easy for me to remember which color goes
    with which class, because I start with RYB: Red (1st gde.), yellow
    (2nd gde.), blue (3rd gde.); and then secondary colors
    for the older kids (POG): Purple (4th
    gde.), orange (5th gde.) and green (6th gde.). Kindergarteners are the ”Butterfly” group. With the exception of Kindergartners, the
    teachers have allowed me to place a colored drawer in each classroom corresponding
    to the assigned grade color. Sometimes I
    put the day’s supplies in the drawers when they’re not full of
    assignments. Where the drawers are
    situated in the rooms usually makes it possible for me to also stack projects
    on top of them. The kids know that that’s the designated art
    drawer. Students also look forward to the beginning of
    the year with a change in their art class color as they have moved up a
    grade. I often have them decorate an art
    folder with their grade color. I usually
    keep most of the art folders on or in the art drawer; sometimes sixth graders
    keep their art folders in their desks.

    • Eliz, that sounds like a great system :) Thank you for sharing!

    • Yvonne

      FYI, If kinder is uncomfortable with you leaving work in their rooms, you might try wall mounted dry racks. They fold up when not in use and hold 25 pieces. They usually mount on the back of a door. I think I either bought them from Nasco or S &S. Kinder was traveling to specials yet and this gave me a storage solution that was hard fro the kinder teachers to complain about.

  • moniv

    I use bread crates to store art work that is in progress. They stack on top of each other.
    I can fit 3 classes of work in each crate.

    • Heather Robbins

      Where do you find bread crates & what cost am I looking at?

      • I am curious too!

        • Jorena

          Cardboard strawberry flats are almost as good as bread crates- i got some for free from my cafeteria. They stack and fit on top of each other without pressing the artwork inside.

  • Cerelle

    I put an end to losing work by using a class folder/table folder system. Each grade level is color coded. Each homeroom teacher gets a folder made from a large colored poster board folded in half. Within that heavy folder are table folders (6 to match the # of tables I have) that are labeled Ms Smith 4S with marker that corresponds to each table color. Students retrieve and put back their work inside the folder on their table. We often leave the folder on the table during class to make notes on (who is the helper, how do you draw a tomato, etc). Near the end of the year the students enjoy seeing on the sketches and notes from previous lessons. I keep these folios on an open shelf. The best part is that if a student forgets to sign their work I have a 1 in 4 chance instead of a 1 in 24 chance of figuring out who it belongs to. An exception is when work is on the drying rack. It is off loaded in a big pile and placed inside the top of a class folder for students to distribute during the next class. This system is such a time saver and puts so much more responsibility on the student. Win win situation.

    • Oh my goodness I love the sketching idea. I bet the kids really do love that at the end of the year!

    • Pat Hill

      If you have the students come to the rack one group at a time and use the folders to divide the groups, they are automatically separated to hand back next time!

  • Norma

    I do something similar. I have everything color coded, and that includes the folders. Red table red folder, red rulers, red scissors, red erases. All materials are also separated in colored boxes. OMG! Then all folders go inside a larger one for that particular class, labeled with class #, HR teacher’s name and class schedule.

    • Color coding is the way to go! I wish all the things in my supply tub were the same color!

  • Tracy

    I use the red cardboard expandable portfolios that close with a velcro tab. I label each with grade and teacher and store them in order by day of the week in an old study carol desk. I like that they close, so nothing slides out or falls out. I do think I want to add smaller table folders inside to help the work get passed out more easily. Great point Cerelle! The portfolios last for a couple of years, so the initial cost does not become a yearly expense.

    • I love that those folders close! It certainly helps keep things together. :)

  • Sue Langseth

    I also used folded poster boards for each of my elementary art classes to store their artwork from week to week. Another handy idea was to use the dish rack from an old dishwasher as a drying rack for 3-D artwork (such as papier mache puppet heads)…keeps them propped up while they are drying.

  • m.davenport

    I made mine from recycled bulletin board paper double folded into a giant envelope. I could tailor them to fit any of my storage shelves.

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  • Yvonne

    I do something very similar, but I do think I will use you copy paper lid idea. The main difference is I have each kid make their own folder form poster board. I call them portfolios. Their class and name must be clearly visible. I reminder them how old I am and that I need the to write large. We only get the portfolios out as we finish a project. As a class we go through the simple rubric for grading purposes.
    I do keep the in progress work separate for easy distribution. On the back of each work is the student’s name, class#, and art room chair number. The dry rack is labeled with numbers which correspond to the chair numbers. So when I pull the work from the dry rack it stay in chair number order. This means that when a kid is handing out the work it’s already arranged in the order that the students are seated. Super fast setup.

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  • Melissa Gilbertsen

    This totally saved my bacon time and sanity-wise! 10 tables, so 10 folders, color coded and labeled by period. I will try the copy lids trick perhaps. I got some compliments by my administrator for how organized I was for a new art teacher…if they only knew it all comes from AoE!!

  • Rachael

    I started using color coded table folders this year too and it has been amazing. Another thing I did was to color code the drying rack, so students can put their artwork on their table’s color, so I can put them into their table folders quickly when it’s dry. I don’t know why I never thought of this sooner!

  • Heather L Huettner

    I am on an ABCD rotation. I have 4 flat files, one for each letter day. I have 4 or 5 classes each day. If work is dry, I have students stack their work at their tables and collect the stacks by tables. Handing out is as simple as 1,2,3,4 at red table, 1,2,3,4 and orange table and so forth. For wet work, the drying racks are color coded according to table colors. I pull off the work in order when it is dry and put it in it’s proper day flat file. Then when that class comes back, I grab their stack of work and pass by piles. I suppose putting each tables work in a folder would make it that much easier, but it would also add bulk to the drawers…I will have to ponder…

  • Kelly McTavish

    Thank you so much for this post. I am about to start our school’s first ever art show and collecting artwork for 550 students has been a looming worry, but I just started cutting up paper boxes and it is going to be a lifesaver!