How to choose names for your paintings

How to choose names for your paintings

If you asked me how I come up with names for my artwork I would be the first to put up my hand and admit that sometimes I have no idea where to start myself. Usually I will create the painting first and the title will follow but sometimes a really juicy idea for a title precedes the artwork as often a title can be a huge selling point for an artwork so some thought does need to go into it.

Just as it does in music or movie making, a title can just pop up out of no where and then suddenly seem so inappropriate at the end so you end up having to rethink it anyway. The right title is really important and can make a difference as to how a work is perceived and understood. Choosing the right title for an artwork can make the difference between a person purchasing the work or not. I have seen works of mine that are understood much better when the viewer reads the title (Often with a bit of a laugh involved!) and it being the reason they have brought the painting in the end.

There are several different types of things that make up an artwork title, they are – Sentiment, numeral, facts, abstraction and mystery

Sentimental names are about the reasoning behind your work and its importance to you or what was going on at the time. You can name a collection of works the same with a series number like Apples I, Apples II, Apples III for example , that’s where the numerical comes in and it makes it easier if the works are a series that don’t have much in the way to differentiate them.

Factual aspects can be literally what the artwork is of, so Apple for a painting of an Apple is appropriate if that’s the way you want to take it.

Abstration naming doesn’t apply just to abstract work, it can apply to an artwork that requires a bit of cynicism or pointing out the obvious for example calling the apple painting ‘Banana’ we all know its not a banana but you as the artists would have some reasoning behind it and it wont be because its what the title depicts.

A mysterious name could be to do with making the viewer think, is the message about what the artwork depicts or what the artist wants them to think. An example for the apple painting it could be called simply ‘Alone’ which is more to do with the apple being singular, or it could be much deepr than that and depict all sorts of reasoning.

Abstract art can be challenging to create titles for or on the other side of the coin, extremely easy. I’ve seen works titled ‘Red” that are simply the colour red was used in its creation and because it isn’t obvious what it is of, the colour used makes it easy to name, if its messy and violent, it could be ‘Red Storm’ or a serene abstract could be ‘Red Lake’ I suggest it’s a good idea to be a bit more cryptic though and have a go at titling your abstract work with more adventurous titles. You would have had some idea in mind when you were creating the work so let the title reflect that. Leaving the viewer to make up their own mind on what it depicts can be just as good as well so best not to state the obvious e.g. ‘Blue circle with red dot,’ when it is literally that!

I advise artists to not leave their artwork untitled. It leaves the impression on the buyer that the artist didn’t care enough to give that artwork a name and can leave one feeling cold.  A little time taken to finish what you started can make all the difference in selling your work.

Having created somewhere in the vicinity of 800 – 1000 artworks in my art career so far I have had to come up with numerous titles for them. A method I use when I’m really stuck is word association. This website is an online thesaurus where you can type in a word like ‘Fire’ for example and it comes up with alternate words such as blaze, bonfire, campfire, charring, coals, combustion, conflagration, devouring, element, embers, flame and smoke, flames, flare, glow, hearth, heat, holocaust, hot spot, incandescence, inferno, luminosity, oxidation, phlogiston, pyre, rapid oxidation, scintillation, scorching, sea of flames, searing, sparks, tinder, up in smoke, warmth. Choosing any one of those can give you something to build on and hey presto a title for your artwork, like “Incandescent Pyre’ could be an option for such a work. Im currently working on a series of cats and Im looking at the feeling I imagine the cat is having as the title for each piece, an example of one of my cats here nonchalance

Finally just use your imagination; you might be surprised what you come up with.

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Posted: Wednesday 31 March 2010


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