Signing your artwork

Signing your artwork

One of the top questions artists ask is how and where and should I sign my paintings? There is no real simple answer as to where or how as such but it is something you should do in that when you add your signature, it is like you are adding your stamp of approval and saying this is finished and I am proud to put my name to it. The amount of times I have seen artwork get rejected by buyers when it’s not signed is something that should make you sit up and listen if you are contemplating not signing your work. Be proud of your accomplishments and let everyone know it’s yours by signing it. Another reason to sign your artwork is to claim ownership of it, and to prove that YOU, not anyone else, created it. If you read my earlier post on HKHs I mentioned that the students who sell these mass produced artworks often sign the works in front of the buyers and lay false claim to be the artist to impress them and get the sale, imagine that happening to your hard work!

It's not actually a legal requirement to sign your art, but if you don't add your name to a painting, how will anyone know who the artist is? Some artists have a distinctive or familiar style that people will recognise, like Picasso for instance, but even his unsigned work is not as valuable as the signed stuff. But also consider the first time someone's encountered your work? How will they find out who the artist is then if it’s not signed? If it's for sale in a gallery it will usually have a label with your name on it, but what if it's hanging in an office of home of someone who's bought it and they can't remember who the artist was?  

So what about where to put your signature? Well, that’s up to you, although traditionally your signature is usually towards one of the bottom corners and normally the right hand side.  And although a signature should be an important part of your painting it shouldn’t detract from the painting itself as in glaring hot pink on a landscape (maybe on an abstract!) or covering a huge area that says ‘it’s all about me not the painting’ sort of thing! I like to try to make my signature blend into the background if I can or make it part of the picture if it works like in the label on a handbag etc. I don’t actually hide it, I just make it more subtle but if someone is looking for it it’s obvious. The most important thing for your signature though is that people must be able to read it. An illegible signature isn't a sign that you're extremely creative and it doesn't add a level of intrigue to the painting. You're the artist, so make it known. But at the same time, don't make it look like you're using a stamp either. It’s not a necessity to sign your whole name on the front of the painting either, you could just put your initials or like me I use an abbreviation of my first name. If you choose this option it does pay to put your full name on the back of the painting as well. Ladies what about signing with your maiden name or married name? Changing your name when you get married means you need to consider how should you sign your paintings? Should you continue using the name you had been or should you change to your new married name? Ultimately, it's a matter of individual preference. I struggled with this and chose to use just my first name on my art but married name on the reverse. There are paintings that are from many years ago with my old name on them and they come up sometimes in auctions but I’m sure no one recognises them as mine just from the signature, never mind the completely different style! Maybe if I ever get really well known one day hmmmmmm! Now if an artist is already known professionally by their maiden name, it would make more sense to keep it at that because you'd quite likely have to start from scratch in marketing yourself.

Then there is dating, no not the ‘who should I go out with’ dating, I mean the adding a date to your painting. Should you or shouldn’t you? I think you should add the date it was painted to your painting, but it doesn’t have to be next to your signature on the front it can be on the back. You see when you first start painting you'll probably be able to keep track of when you painted a particular painting, but several years' and many paintings later and you'll simply won’t  be able to remember. Serious collectors and galleries like to be able to see how a painter's work has developed over the years, so you need to get into the habit of dating your work now. There is also the argument that putting a date on a painting limits the potential to sell it. Although I have seen some people react badly to ‘last year’s painting’ most people do not see it that way after all art doesn’t have a sell-buy date, it doesn’t go off or perish as such. If buyers only wanted the newest and latest work, then how come there's an auction market for contemporary paintings? Funnily enough I saw one of my paintings in just such an auction the other day and they had noted the ‘signed and dated’ bit on it, most paintings didn’t have a date but I felt proud mine had1 I didn’t remember Id painted it in 2002 so it was a timely reminder of how important dating your art actually is.  

Lastly, what to use to sign your work, I’m going to start with what not to use though,  like don’t use felt pens or worse yet a biro ink pen (Yes I have seen that done too, it spoilt a beautiful painting and detracted massively from its appeal.) A bold black marker may look okay today but once the ink starts to fade it goes a hideous green like an old tattoo or even worse it disappears altogether and makes your work now unsigned. Tacky gold or silver metallic pens are a no go too, leave them to the prints and photograph genre, and sign your work with the medium you created it in. Whether its acrylic, oil, pastel, watercolor, gouache or whatever, use the same medium and use a suitable colour that will blend in with the work. It’s best also to add it at the time of completing your work so it doesn’t look like a late addition and means also that you won’t end up adding your signature on top of a layer of varnish putting it at risk of it being erased years later when conservationists go to clean it.

One thing I should mention is that art forgers don’t only need to re-create the work of art they’re forging, but they need to perfectly replicate the signature of the artist. Your signature is unique and often the only way that your work can be recognised as in being your original work is from that little scrawl you add to your finished product, make it worth it!

Posted: Thursday 30 December 2010


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