Monday, May 11, 2009

Creating a signature on your art

One of the perennial issues which comes up time and time again concerns the best way to sign your art.

Untouched by human hand
12" x 9", coloured pencils on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Here's a checklist of things to think about before you sign:
  • make sure you sign your art - that makes it your art and not art that somebody else can claim as their own. If copyright is important to you, you really need to sign your work
  • have a legible signature - if you want to be known by your name and not as "that artist with the funny scrawl". If you think illegibility equates to creativity think again!
  • keep your signature consistent - that way people know it's you and not somebody trying to be you!
  • don't overpower your art with your signature - artists with enormous egos seem to have enormous signatures but do remember that the purchaser is buying the art and not your ego.
  • do you want a multi-purpose signature? - seriously, in these days of identity theft, think about whether you really want to use the same signature as the one you use to sign contracts, bank cheques and hotel chits? (You'll never ever find my personal signature on a single piece of my art!)
  • think twice if you sign with your initials - on the basis of how many other people share the same initials as you! Do your initials actually indicate that you and you alone are the artist?
  • use a monogram or create an icon which means it's your work - in the past a number of artists signed using a monogram or icon. I was reminded of this when looking at Kuniyoshi's work last week. This means that anybody who knows you use a particular symbol knows it's your work. To anybody else it's completely meaningless! My longtime goal has to come up with the perfect monogram for me!

A monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol. Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos. A series of uncombined initials is properly referred to as a cypher and is not a monogram, although ciphers are frequently referred to as monograms.

A monogram may be a craftsman's signature on pieces of art such as sculptures and pieces of furniture, especially when the guilds enforced measures against unauthorized participation in the trade.
Wikipedia - monogram

  • think about where you place your signature - most people agree it should work with the painting and not fight against it. The ones I like best are the ones which you only notice after admiring the painting for a little while.
  • think about the colour of your signature - I know people who always sign the same way in the same place with the same colour - probably because they don't want to think about it too much. However it is possible to vary the colour so that it 'fits' with the artwork
  • try and match the media to the signature - this is a general recommendation because it suggests that the work was signed round about the same time as it was created . I have to confess I've always found it difficult to sign pastel pieces in pastel!
  • if you want to print, learn how to print - I saw some lovely work at the SBA exhibition which was completely ruined by the fact that the name of the piece and the artist's signature were printed without the same level of attention to detail as the rest of the piece. To my mind it completely ruined the overall impression.
  • use an embossing stamp as part of your signature - difficult to duplicate if you work on paper
  • and finally....think before you sign - Is the piece finished? Do you want to release it for sale? Have you thought about the best way of signing it?
This is what I do
  • use small initials in a box on the front of the piece. Always very small and as unobtrusive as possible. My preference would be for no signature at all - and that's the way all the pieces that are "keepers" are 'signed'
  • print and sign my name on the reverse of the work plus I date it. This means that it can always be identified as mine and overcomes the reservations about the use of initials.
What do you do? Leave a comment below and commit your angst or your solution to the internet! :)

Note: The drawing of course needs a signature - hence why the topic is on my mind. I'm also mulling over whether to sign up for the Diploma in Botanical Art run by the Society of Botanical Artists and this was a try-out at being a bit more botanically correct than usual. I think I now need to learn calligraphy! Plus note my book review today (see below)!

Making a Mark reviews......


  1. If it's an oil painting I paint my signature towards the bottom of the painting in a shade that is either slightly darker or slightly lighter than the painting. If it's a watercolor I sign in pencil. In general I try to make it as unobtrusive as possible.

    I was told by an art teacher years ago to make sure to sign in a way that is not easy to remove or paint over.

  2. Another tip on placement of signature... Make sure it is an inch or two from the edge, taking into consideration the bit taken up when matted and/or framed.

  3. I paint very small oils. I find it a challenge to sign on the front in a way that doesn't spoil the composition.

  4. I'm still trying to get my signature figured out. this is all great advice :)

  5. Sometimes the signature seems to be the most difficult part of the painting to execute! Thanks for providing some food for thought.

  6. I agree, sometimes this is more difficult than doing the actual artwork! I go for initials now, in a colour that I've used in the drawing but I like the idea of designing a monogram. I used to think a full name was necessary (for instance if you want people to be able to find/Google you easily) but I think we need to think objectively about the names we were given and what they might be saying about us - and do they match the subjects we draw/paint.

  7. Good point Felicity

    Thanks for all the other comments as well - it's always interesting to hear other peole's perspectives.

  8. i was a bit embarrassed reading the following

    don't overpower your art with your signature - artists with enormous egos seem to have enormous signatures but do remember that the purchaser is buying the art and not your ego.

    the signatures on my paintings are rather large because i use the brush that i have painted with and off late these have been big brushes. the signatures on the drawings are smaller as i use a pen or a pencil. had not thought about having a big ego :P i've not given it the attention it deserves. i will certainly give it more thought going forward. thanks for all the advice.

  9. I don't think that everybody who has a big signature necessarily has a big ego, it's just that there's a distinct tendency. Often with a signature you need to look at the size of the signature relative to the rest of their handwriting. It's the disproportionate size which is the giveaway - especially the leading letter!

    The only ones I'm absolutely convinced have enormous egos are the ones who have big signatures AND sign in bright red!

  10. thank you Katherine for letting me off the hook : )

  11. I have been signing on the back only some of the time and feeling uncomfortable about it. Mostly I sign my initials and surname in fine black near the bottom right if at all possible. I think changing to more of a monogram could make me happier. Perhaps I need to have a play with the idea.

  12. This has always been a problem for me, I tend to paint in spurts. a lot of my earlier paintings have my initials, then divorce, new initials, change back and forth. Not good. so I did a google search. These comments and suggestions will help me decide and develop a permanent signature and to write the info on the back or edge of the canvas. thanks.

  13. Dagwood
    Hells bells, I had no idea how trixy this was going to be. In the past I have tried to follow what I thought was common sense - using my full name, using complimentary colours, created in the same medium/material/colours as the original artwork, create a legible signature, positioned on the bottom right of the front face and only upon full and total completion of the 'work'. I'm now in favour of adding my full name and date to the reverse.
    Thanks for all of the for thought indeed ;o)

  14. I see many on social media sign the photos of their art (otherwise unsigned on the front) by electronic watermark or with a piece of paper placed on the art simply penciled with their Instragram (for example) name or "(c)" and their name. I assume they must sign the reverse.

    Great tip about a different art signature than official "business" signature ... I need to find my art signature still!

  15. I had no idea this was going to be so tricky! The few I've framed I've signed first initial last name - not happy with the look. But since they are discreet and only on my or family walls, that's OK. Now I'm more serious about painting I'm looking at a better way.

    Thanks for getting me thinking!

  16. I am painting with my sister.we both are involved in every single piece
    Of artwork . Please suggest us about signing our artwork . One person's name or both names should be signed ?


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