If you’re an artist, take some time away from your art making and think about your signature. Do you sign your name to your artwork?
DO NOT dismiss the importance of signing your work.
Every well-known artist from Banksy to Picasso, from Frida to Albrecht Durer, has a clear, distinct signature. Whilst their work, particular art style or art medium might differ, they all sign their work. One could argue that is the very reason why they are well-known – they improved their public profile by 'making their mark’.
Girl with TV. Stenciled with Banksy signature.
Why should I sign my artwork?
Do you want your art to lose its identity? Trying to identify artists is an industry in its own right. Over time people forget who painted the piece they just bought. Paintings and art are sold, donated to charities or given away to friends and family through an inheritance. The name of the artist can be lost forever.
Historically, unsigned art by famous artists have been thrown out and sit ‘forgotten’ in someone’s attics because the artist didn’t sign the work and the person who now has the piece has absolutely no idea they own something potentially worth thousands of dollars. They just inherited that weird painting from Aunt Jemima and it’s ‘not really their thing’.
The basic idea behind signing a painting or piece of art is to indicate that you produced it. You are the creator of the piece. A signature usually indicates that the painting is finished and complete. If copyright is important to you then you should sign your artwork.
Your signature helps people to find you, and connects you to your artwork.
Until your art style is instantly recognizable and becomes its own signature with a large public following, people are only going to be able to identify your artwork as yours if it is signed in some way, shape or form. In a world full of lots of amazing artists, everything helps.
Collectors and purveyors of art will always want an artwork that is signed by the artist. It increases the value of the piece and is an indicator of authenticity.
The mark and signature of Toulouse Lautrec.
Wayward works of art by famous artists are rediscovered all the time, and usually only by pure luck. Future-proof yourself and your work and plan for the future of your art thirty, fifty, one hundred years on.
How to sign your artwork:
Sign your name so that anyone can read it. It is important to make it readable. People will not be able to identify you from a scribble or illegible signature. Note that it can be less easy to identify an artist from initials only. Once you settle on a signature, keep it consistent. Your signature will soon become a piece of artwork in its own right.
Experiment with your signature in the media on another piece of paper or canvas before committing to a look and marking the real piece. This allows you to test what works, and what looks best.
Think about what you want your signature or craftsman trademark to look like. Will you use a stamp? Perhaps create a monogram like Albrecht Durer? Your mark could be around for a very long time, so it’s important to invest some time and thought into how you want it to look and how it will work across a variety of media.
The monogram of Albrecht Durer. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
What to sign your artwork in:
It is important that you sign your name in the same media as the artwork itself. For example, if it is a watercolour, then sign it in watercolour. If it’s an oil painting, sign it in oil paint. This increases the credibility that the work is actually yours. It also keeps your signature in a similar lightfast medium to the art itself. Not all media is lightfast and some inks have been known to fade or vanish over time, along with your signature!
Make your mark in a colour that is complementary to your piece. Ideally you want it to blend in and not take over the artwork.
Where to sign your artwork:
Traditionally most artists sign two-dimensional works in the bottom right hand corner. But that’s totally up to you. You can sign it wherever you like. Will your signature become part of the piece? Think about how your signature will work with the composition.
Plan the placement of your signature to avoid it being covered by a matt or your framing. Your signature may look squashed in the corner if you forget to allow for this. Space for your signature to breathe is important.
Always sign your piece before using any fixative, varnish or applying the final glaze. If you don’t it can look like an afterthought.
Will you sign your artwork on the front or the back? Some artists choose to sign just behind the back of the mounting. Be careful that your signature will not become separated from your work. Triptych or diptychs may get split up or lost. It is best to sign each piece in some way, even if those signatures are on the back of several pieces rather than the first.
Dating your artwork:
When signing your artwork date it as well. Dating is important for future archivists of artwork. It helps them to know in what period during an artist’s journey the piece was created. Date your artwork on the back, not the front.
When not to sign your artwork:
If you have been commissioned as a commercial artist there are some situations in which you should not sign your artwork. Graphic designers, illustrators and commercial photographers for example, will find themselves in this situation. You have sold the copyright to your work to the person commissioning you.
Signing 3D artwork:
Sculptors tend to sign their artwork on the bottom, jewelers make their mark where it is hidden, or on the back of the piece.
Follow this advice and people will soon start to know about you and be able to clearly identify your work. If your artwork is to be sold, hung in an exhibition, even if it’s just sitting in your studio, always endeavor to make your mark and sign each piece at the time of its completion.
Remember that your signature is your brand. It identifies you as the creator, improves your profile and gives credibility to your artwork.
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