Signing your life away

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Dear Artist,

Yesterday Chris Bingle of Stroud in Gloucestershire, UK, asked about signing paintings. She recently turned down the purchase of one because the artist had signed her name “quite high on the lower left in a thick, black stylized script. It jolted the eye and brain,” she said. “I knew it would bother me.”

Self-Portrait -- by artist Chris Bingle

“Self-Portrait”
by Chris Bingle

Chris signs her own work “in a colour a few degrees darker than the background.” Simple and understated is Chris’s thinking. I agree. I like my name to be neat, legible and not too intrusive. It’s a personal preference, but I’m here to tell you there’s more to a signature than meets the eye. Like paintings themselves, they carry a meta-message about the artist.

Think of the range of signatures you know. They may give impressions of strength, weakness, haste, ignorance, naivety, stiffness, contrivance, carelessness, obscurity, egocentricity, humility, commercialism, etc. Just as handwriting experts speculate on the nature of the writer, viewers pick up information from a few innocuous letters and flourishes. Some artists, consciously or unconsciously, bring their signature into harmony with their work. If you look around, you’ll also see signature styles that are in contrast to the style of the work. Concerned with the toil of their personal process, they may sign cursorily to convey the impression of bravura. Painters with bravura, on the other hand, may sign neatly to magnify the contrast. I’ve noticed that the size of my signature fluctuates with the size of my current feelings of prowess. Signatures are a window to the machinations of personality.

Mysterious, cryptic and illegible signatures aside, many artists simply want to be known as fellow humans — folks with consistent first and last names and sometimes an initial or two. These days, whether a mouthful or a singular moniker, your name needs to be somewhat distinct for Internet purposes. Singular can be problematic. “Vincent,” for example, has been taken. In my case, I like them to know my first name as well as my last. When strangers call me “Robert,” I know they know my work. Everybody else calls me “Bob.” But then again, you are you, and your signature is part of your entity. It’s your life. Sign your life as you would live it.

The Ethiopian Bowl -- still life painting by artist Chris Bingle

“The Ethiopian Bowl”
still life painting by Chris Bingle

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Prince, you are you by accident of birth; what I am, I am of myself. There are and there will be thousands of princes. There is only one Beethoven.” (Ludwig van Beethoven)

Esoterica: Chris also wanted to know about the current fashion of not signing work at all. Or if at all — on the edge or the back. People look at these works with puzzlement and ask, “Who is this person who is unable to identify himself?” Actually, some artists feel good about doing this. It seems to me that front-signing is a simple, time-honoured convention worth caving in to. I like the company. Bending down with a small sable, I figure if Titian, Turner, Tissot and Toulouse-Lautrec did it, it’s gotta be okay.

 

Confusing names
by Ni Elli, TX, USA

 

I would think that with a man, most of the time, their name is used from birth till death. However, in the world of woman, she can easily become lost using her birth name and then confused when using a husband’s name. And it can go on endlessly. I, being born with a name I never used, given a name that was not my name, married under the wrong name and still later adopted under a previous name of a mother, I decided initials were just fine, simple and obviously less complicated. I decided to write under one name, paint under initials that depicted a hint of being the same person even with name changes and lost. Thanks, Ni, NV, NvB, NvE, and NvT.

 

A curvy little ‘yes’
by Jean-Ann Holzenthaler

 

I have always felt that the signature should blend with and be part of the artwork. I use my initials “jah” as my signature and in my usual handwriting, but in all lower case letters. I like the idea that “jah” means yes in German. When I sign my work, I feel like I am saying YES! and giving a fist pump like Tiger Woods. When I first started painting, I did not have the confidence to sign anything and I felt my whole name would distract the viewer’s eye. My name is very long. Jean-Ann Holzenthaler has 19 letters! My curvy little “jah” in the lower right corner says just the right amount and in a color that coordinates.

 

Signature to add to composition
by Paul Massing, Amelia Island, FL, USA

 

original artwork by Paul Massing

original artwork by Paul Massing

My Art School instructors encouraged their students to sign the works in a manner to add to the composition. Later, as an independent easel painter, I signed my paintings and drawings with initials in a flared script to fit the expression of the work. One recent comment from a purchaser was that he didn’t know whose work it was from that signature. He now calls me “pnm” in a kindly way. Calligraphic marks in the work are made to attach a signature meaning to the composition. Having had a good work session doing the attached drawing, I felt a strong signature would fit the work.

(RG note) Thanks, Paul. It’s been my observation that a clear, consistent full name avoids confusion and is best for the long term. Many artists feel that a signature can be creative, dynamic, and even dominant. But viewers need a simple bit of information at one point in their looking, and a flamboyant signature, while irresistible for some, simply overstates that which ideally might be understated.

 

Problems with acronyms
by Pauline Varnell Sager

 

My full name is Pauline Varnell Sager from which I created the acronym, PAVASA. I’m known as Pavasa by my peers, my in-laws address me as that, and I’ve been signing my work as such for years. Pavasa is succinct, but recently I got to thinking maybe I should be signing my work with my true name, Pauline Sager, as a better identification for the public. The Pavasa signature with a business card attached to the back of the framed piece helps with the full identification, but the card could easily become detached in time. What is your opinion?

(RG note) Thanks, Pavasa. Acronyms, avatars and aliases are hot these days, spurred on by the current anonymity rampant on the Internet. Pavasa is mysterious and fine, but it googles up an island in the Pacific, a town in Columbia and one in El Salvador, and not you. I’m willing to bet that you’re the only Pauline Varnell Sager on earth.

 

Special hidden thanks
by Kelli Maier, Westerville, OH, USA

 

Moon Flowers digital painting by Kelli Maier

“Moon Flowers”
digital painting by Kelli Maier

Some people just stink at lettering so the signature becomes larger than they intended. I started signing my work with colored pencil for just that reason. It works. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it. I had been hiding minute secret messages… actually the names of my spouse and children in every painting for quite sometime. I owe all I am to them. I paint because my husband made it possible for me to do so from a financial point of view, long before we married. He and my children give me reason to laugh, love and create every day (and lately to carry on through the rigors of art school, at age 40!) …so they go in there with the painting… unobtrusively. I was inserting the name of my youngest daughter in a painting, using a color that matched the area where it was going, when I realized I could solve my lettering/signature issue by just using a colored pencil.

(RG note) Thanks, Kelli. If you are painting in oil or acrylic and signing in coloured pencil, I suggest you put a note on the back of the painting: “Attention cleaners. If I’m history when you’re cleaning this, please be careful or my pencil signature will be history as well.”

 

Go ahead, create a mystery
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA

 

Self Portrait in a Cold Studio oil on canvas 12 x 9 inches by Nancy Bea Miller

Self-Portrait in a Cold Studio
oil on canvas 12 x 9 inches
by Nancy Bea Miller

Having worked for several years for an art appraiser and conservator, let me warn not to rely solely on signing on the back of the canvas or the stretcher bars! Supports can change, a canvas might need re-lining or the stretcher bars become damaged and need replacing. Over time it is surprising how often this kind of thing happens. Then a later appraiser or even art historian is left with a mystery: who did it? If you are hoping for fame after you leave the earth or that your work will skyrocket in price to the delight of your heirs, make sure your name is legible and on the front of the canvas, and that your signature is under the varnish! If you sign on top of a varnished painting, when the varnish needs removing (as will happen if your piece lives long or survives a house fire) your signature will be cleaned away with the dirty varnish. On the other hand, if you really don’t care about being identified as the creator of the piece, please don’t worry about it! There is a certain beauty and bravery in the anonymous.

 

Don’t sign potential Giclees
by Marie Martin, Fountain Valley, CA, USA

 

Follow the Road acrylic on canvas 20 x 20 inches by Marie Martin


“Follow the Road”
acrylic on canvas 20 x 20 inches
by Marie Martin

My work tends to be clean and minimalist. A signature often interferes with design and composition. Back-signing has been the best alternative. There’s another practical reason to not sign the front: Giclees. Giclees are numbered in series, often on the back of the piece. Typically, it is undesirable for a signature to appear as part of the reproduction. A signature can be Photoshopped out, but it’s time consuming and, no matter how skilled a person is, sometimes the alteration is going to be obvious.

 

 

 

Out of the nest
by Asterio Tecson, Cape Coral, FL, USA

 

Sand Rock Corals original artwork by Asterio Tecson

“Sand Rock Corals”
original artwork by Asterio Tecson

Ideally, it would be nice to exhibit artworks without artist signatures on them so that each art piece could speak for itself and be judged, appreciated on its merit or weaknesses. Many times I’ve noticed viewers check the signatures first before they give the artwork a serious thought while others cross-check the price list first as some guide to its ‘value.’ It’s common practice among artists to sign an art piece when they so decide that the particular artwork is ‘done’ and the artist has nothing more substantial to add. It is my belief that my paintings are only “mine” while I work on them and cease to be “my artwork” the moment I sign my name; once signed, a painting is for the world to enjoy and the viewing public “owns” it. The artwork then takes a life of its own, and the artist lives forever as the art piece continues to touch and move the next generation of art lovers.

(RG note) Thanks, Asterio. Signing a painting before it’s finished can help prevent overworking.

 

Inventor of the ‘logo’
by Sidney Chambers, East Sussex, UK

 

Cave Canem II pencil and watercolour by Sidney Chambers

“Cave Canem II”
pencil and watercolour
by Sidney Chambers

I have always been interested in the flowing style of James McNeill Whistler and intrigued by his signature in which he painted a butterfly. Over the years this butterfly became more and more abstract to the point that it no longer looked anything like a butterfly, just a series of lines similar to the evolution of Chinese and Japanese writing. In the process I think perhaps Whistler inadvertently invented the Logo.

 

 

 

 

 

Compass rose included in signature
by Hal Moore, Jensen Beach, Fl, USA

 

Pecks Lake Sabals oil on linen 36 x 24 inches by Hal Moore

“Pecks Lake Sabals”
oil on linen 36 x 24 inches
by Hal Moore

As I am a landscape painter and mostly of the botanical kind, I add (most often) a compass rose with a little arrow indicating north. The thing is as simple as can be, and unobtrusive as possible next to my signature, the whole thing consisting of a circle in a low perspective with a tiny arrow on a very short shaft pointing to the north and giving the viewer an idea of which way they are standing in the picture, helping to give an idea of place. I make the thing as small as the height of my signature and the same brush and color of my name.

 

 

 

 

Identity theft
by Erika Schulz, Red Deer, AB, Canada

 

Mister, Mister acrylic on canvas 30 x 36 inches by Erika Schulz

“Mister, Mister”
acrylic on canvas 30 x 36 inches
by Erika Schulz

What about the possibility of identity theft? I have two signatures. One I use for everyday use, signing cheques and whatnot, and one I use to sign my work. For some reason this makes me a little more comfortable. If I signed my check writing signature on the front for the world to see, some enterprising thief could take it and parley it into my life. Should I be concerned about this at all or am I just paranoid?

(RG note) Thanks, Erica. I’ve never heard of it happening, but maybe someone will report it. Your worry is, in my opinion, just another argument for developing a distinct and clear lettering signature.

 

Corresponding mediums
by Marilyn Brown, TX, USA

 

Awakening mixed media 28 x 36 inches by Marilyn Brown

“Awakening”
mixed media 28 x 36 inches
by Marilyn Brown

Isn’t it also a good idea to always sign your painting using the same media you used to create the work, i.e. pastel, oil, acrylic, watercolor paints? I have many students who want to sign with a felt pen because they feel their signature is written better than using a brush. I have been discouraging this technique and urge them to practice signature using brush, pastel pencil, etc and practicing signature. Also I personally dislike seeing signatures that are scrawled at an angle up through the painting. I feel the signature should be level with the bottom of the work. What is your opinion of these points?

(RG note) Thanks, Marilyn. Level signing is my preference too. I’m dead against scrawl. I’ve discussed this with my therapist. Most “permanent” markers are fugitive. A friend of mine signed his watercolours with them until he had to go around to people’s homes, unframe, and sign them again in India Ink. It made him really nuts.

 

When to find a stage name
by Karen Foster, Arlington, TX, USA

 

My name is Karen Sue Foster. It just doesn’t get anymore common than that. Should I do anything drastic, like finding a stage name, or spelling it different to make my name a little more artistic? I would really appreciate your comments on this.

(RG note) Thanks, Karen. Since artists now recognize the worldwide potential of the Internet, we’re not local anymore, and your plight has become a growing concern. Some artists solve it with a modest, almost unnoticed but complex name change—Karen Soo Foster. Sioux or sault would dioux.

 

Dating signatures
by Pat Spencer, North Bay, ON, Canada

 

Excellent letter regarding the reasons for signing a painting and the type of signature. I use my three initials and last name. What about putting the date beside your signature?

(RG note) Thanks, Pat. If you are in commercial galleries—particularly if you are moving works around between them — it’s a good idea to leave the date out. That way there’s no stale buns. I make date and other info available to collectors who write and ask after the fact.

 

Off put
by Alcina Nolley, St Lucia, West Indies

 

orginal artwork by Alcina Nolley

orginal artwork by Alcina Nolley

I have stopped adding the date to my signature. I felt that possible buyers would be put off by a painting that had been painted years before. I now put my copyright and full name and date on the back of the painting. Is this OK?

(RG note) Thanks, Alcina. Many artists have now come to this conclusion. Further, as other artists have suggested, putting the copyright mark (C in a circle) on the front of a painting is tacky, pretentious and unnecessary.

 

Paper problems
by Tom Bennick

 

original paper artwork by Tom Bennick

original paper artwork by Tom Bennick

I’m a paper artist and since my work isn’t a flat surface what would you suggest about signing the work? Some of my work won’t allow for me to even use an attached name on the back. A card on the front of the work would really be out of place.

(RG note) Thanks, Tom. I’ve seen some very fine cast paper work with an embossed logo. These can be produced by striking a specially cast “cut” with a hammer, or a prepared clamp such as lawyer’s use for their seals.

 

 

 

 

 

World of Art Featured artist James Morreau, Louisville, KY, USA  

'Kentucky Landscape No. 6 by James Morreau, Louisville, KY, USA

Kentucky Landscape No. 6

acrylic on painting canvas, 16 x 20 inches
by James Morreau, Louisville, KY, USA

 

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Glenn Waggner who wrote, “I always sign the back of my paintings. Try as I have, signing the front competes with the image and becomes a focal point.”

And also Bridget Busutil who wrote, “Most of us evolve as artists, and as a consequence go through different styles. And the signature remains!”

And also Susan Bainbridge of Ramona, CA, USA who wrote, “As a family historian, I value a clear indication of the creator of a piece. With that in mind, I sign on the back as well with any pertinent information as to the subject. I often leave a fingerprint by my signature on the front and embed a hair sample for the DNA.”

And also Leonard Rattini who wrote, “What does lettering a name imply rather than writing the name?”

(RG note) Thanks, Leonard. Lettering implies a desire for clarity. It’s been my observation that artists with messy studios sign neatly, whereas artists with neat studios sign messily. Writing the signature can also imply the desire to convey haste, which fortifies the “genius” possibilities. John Singer Sargent was a painter who wanted to imply haste.

And also Linda Lopez who wrote, “I don’t know about signatures. It seems mine has always been somewhat illegible. What does that mean?”

(RG note) Thanks, Linda. It means that people can’t read it.

And also TJ Miles of Spain who wrote, “I often think that the large signature is just a way to hide the insecurities of exposing your soul. Either that, or a rampaging ego that has started to believe its own hype!”

And also Kim Rody of Stuart, FL, USA who wrote, “I had been painting 3 years when I got divorced, and had to make a conscious decision to keep my “rody.” The main reason I did was because it was on about 300 paintings by that time. I’m glad I kept it.”

And also Alfredo Rainho of Brazil who wrote, “Hamada, the most famous Japanese potter, did not sign his works. He explained that when he became a potter, it was not appropriate because his name was unknown. Later it was not necessary to sign because everybody could recognize his style and his work.”

And also Laura Garrison of Montague, MA, USA who wrote, “The paintings that look appropriate unsigned are the ones that speak more about craft, for example an encaustic’s appeal is the overall surface texture, glow, smell, etc. Abstract art in general rejects identification or ownership. I sign and date my work although my peers and some galleries devalue a dated piece. I love seeing dates on historic works.”

And also Herbert Pryke who wrote, “I have chosen to use my first two initials, HP and leave it at that. I write my full name, Herbert Pryke, on the back of the canvas. It’s not only long, but hard to pronounce. I won’t even begin to comment on what I’ve been called all my life. Sometimes deservedly!”

And also Joe Kazimierczyk of Neshanic Station, NJ, USA who wrote, “My last name is long and even if I signed that name in a very subdued manner, it would still take up too much space. Although I’m proud of my name, I’ve settled on signing my nickname, ‘Kaz.’ Since I’ve adopted this way of signing, I stick to it — even for my larger works. Consistency is very important.”

And also Winy of the Netherlands who wrote, “When I was young I was so proud of myself that I signed my paintings with a big WINY. As years passed by my name has gone smaller.”

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Signing your life away

 

 

 

From: Patty LeBon Herb — Nov 02, 2007

About signatures: With each painting I include the year along with my initials PLH, which is a great way of keeping track of work. I have such fun making this tiny little composition/insignia upon my paintings. I look forward to the painting’s completion so that I can finally make my signature upon the painting. With each insignia I include the pallete colors of the actual painting, and each marking is slightly different than the next one; I hope to complement the mood of the painting with my “signature” which is a very significant and important finishing touch of the painting.

From: Tatjana M-P — Nov 02, 2007

Most Iconographers sign their name close to the edge of the Icon in miniature letters that are not visible unless looking from a few inches distance. If I am worried that the signature will affect a particular painting, I may sign it in a color that is analogous with the background and the same value – so again the signature is not very prominent looking from distance. I was advised that collectors like to know that the painting is signed on the front, so that’s what I do. It’s not for my own sake since all the details, including the date are already noted on the back. Perhaps we should ask our collectors what they like, the signatures are for them.

From: Bob Ragland — Nov 05, 2007

Once I found a painting in a salvage warehouse here in the city. I liked the work and was going to hang it in my personal collection. The painting was signed “Jane Peterson”. Thank the muse for that. I sold the work for some good money. I am glad the signature was readable in bold letters. I sign all of my work on the front and on the back also. I sometimes tell a little story about the art work on the reverse. I am thinking of history and the provenance of my work. The antiques roadshow proves that signatures matter.

From: Sol Wexler — Nov 06, 2007

Your art is you, a reflection of who you are and who you are becoming. It might be a good idea to number each painting, as well as date each painting. Signing your painting is a very important part of that piece of art – it lets us all know in this world who you are… signing front or back or under the varnish is all up to you. It is your Name, or pseudoNAME.

From: Valerie Norberry — Nov 06, 2007

I think I am really “lucky” in that I have a last name that is unusual. As for forging checks with my signature, I doubt it. My signed name is done draftsman style on my paintings and calligraphy that I sign. I do, though, have a hard time signing calligraphy. I would like to get a “chomp” (is that the right term) one of those red stamps the Chinese include in their calligraphy sets that you can carve yourself, and then stamp on, just for calligraphy, as it is less obtrusive. Especially when doing Sume-I. I usually do not sign at all the calligraphy pieces that I do for church, 11 x 14″, but when I make them into postcards my name and number is clearly printed on the back. I do have a couple abstracts oil paintings that I did, they were sort of beginnings of paintings, and they are not signed.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Nov 06, 2007

I also have a longish name. I chose to use my first 2 initials and last name, discreetly, on larger paintings, using the medium in which I am working, and a fairly distinctive style of printing. For very small images, I use my initials and write my full name on the back. Then, like others, it occured to me that this was a good idea. Now, even when I sign in full on the front, I put my full name on the back of all my paintings, along with my town, the year, and the name of the piece.

From: Sally Browning Pearson — Nov 06, 2007

I gather from all of this, that signing watercolors with a Sharpie permanent marker is not a good idea. How long did it take for your friend’s name to start to disappear? I want to move before this happens to me.

From: Brad Greek — Nov 06, 2007

There is nothing worse than finding a nice piece of artwork and there isn’t a name or date on it. The first things that I look for. I won’t buy a piece of artwork that isn’t signed. It is meaningless to me. Own up to your work, be proud, the world will appreciate it. A note on dating your work. As Robert mentioned about how it makes a work look old in a gallery setting, it also is left off because artists want to use older pieces in shows that have limits on when it can be created (wanting only fresh work). I feel that it is saying that you have something to hide. So what if the work hasn’t sold the year it was painted in. It could have been in a private collection for years. A lot of collectors appreciate earlier works of an artist. A date is just that, history loves dates.

From: Ginny — Nov 06, 2007

Zoltan Zabo (spelling?) now unfortunately deceased used to sign his name by using an old ball point pen (no ink) and insizing his name into his watercolor paper and then painting over it, the paint would fall into the creases and voila…a signature.

From: Jane Whittlesey — Nov 06, 2007

When I developed the style of my signature back in the early 1990s, it was after I read an article in an art publication that revealed that men’s work consistently sold for more than women’s work. So, I developed a very “masculine” signature, block letters, no frills.

From: Laurie Leehane — Nov 06, 2007

I signed my work L.Leehane for ever until recently when I decided I wanted my first name on there also. The gallery agreed it would be ok to change ( I was concerned there may be an issue, not really knowing much about galleries and the art world. ) I am happy now to be using my full name. My only annoyance is figuring out what medium to use. My signature is printed and looks like it did when I was in grade 3. Now that I am using oils it is even harder to get it on there neatly. It looks big and chunky. I do use a colour slightly lighter than the background so it isn’t too noticeable. I can’t even imagine WRITING a signature with a fine brush and oils. Any suggestions?

From: Carol Lopez — Nov 06, 2007

Does anyone have an idea of how to clean acrylic paint out of brushes in a responsible way? With oils, the pigment settles to the bottom of the thinner jar, and eventually turns to sludge that I can let dry out; with acrylics, they don’t seem to settle even after a long time. So eventually, I seem to have no choice but to see all those chemicals (cobalt, cadmium, etc.) go down the drain, or out in the yard, to eventually reach the water table – not good!

From: Kenneth Flitton — Nov 06, 2007

I find signing the painting one of the hardest trials. It’s always too big, too small, illegible or wrong colour. I have removed and re-signed on a single painting as many as 5 or 6 times!!!

From: J. R. Baldini — Nov 06, 2007

My mother, aged 87 years young, took up painting this year. Aside from providing her with a professional set of watercolors, etc., I have had no input on her art. She paints ‘only from life’, or what she can see out her window. In good weather, she gets to go to be ‘up close’ with horses, now her favorite painting subject. About 3 weeks ago, I was updated on her progress. The comment was ‘she’s signing them now…’ Loved it !

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Nov 06, 2007

Pre the seventh grade I went by Jerry, my first name being Jerald, which I never felt fit. But I got tired of being called Jeraldine by the a**holes I grew up with. So entering junior high I switched to my middle name, Bruce. Bruce proved worse. So I first started signing my work with just my initials, JBW. But I’m a fiber artist, and in fiberland, and with art quilts specifically, most artists are women, and traditional functional quilts were occasionally labeled, but on the back. So now, and for most of my career, I’ve signed and dated my work in acrylic paint on the bottom right front, using my first/second initials and last name, JB WILCOX, in small block letters to negate the reality of fiber pieces having no signature on the front. Right off, it’s gender neutral, which means that until you delve deeper, you don’t know for sure who created the work, which can give you a good jolt when you realize you’re looking at what may be the only piece in the gallery in a group show made by a man. In other words, I’ve had to do the same thing many women painters have had to do initially, disguising their gender. I wish it weren’t so, but it still is.

From: Sydney Harper — Nov 06, 2007

I always dread signing my work, especially watercolors. My signature always ends up too sloppy, too bold, or too big with a brush. Lately I’ve been using a bamboo pen for signatures. It has a nice point that I can sharpen if needed and it feels like a pen.

From: Helen Scott New Bern, NC — Nov 06, 2007

I sign my work “H.Scott” and no date for all the reasons listed above! Gender neutral and no ‘stale biscuits’!

From: Kandy Lippincott — Nov 06, 2007

Signatures and signatures. Paintings, Murals, and Petitions. I usually try to sign paintings in places that are difficult to see. Mixed in with folliage or dappled shaded areas. The color I use is close to the surrounding area. In murals I also “hide” it. People ask me to please make sure that I sign the painting or mural and I tell them that I already have but they need to look for it. One annoying thing that I have noticed is that I have to spend more time than I would have thought in finding the signature myself. As time passes I can no longer just remember where I signed the work, especially on room murals. I am going to rethink this and perhaps change my signature techniques on murals. It IS annoying to have to look all over the place to find a piece of information that you want to know. On petitions and letters my technique is noticably different. I sign large and clear.

From: Esther J. Williams — Nov 06, 2007

For many years I signed my work just Esther Williams and if you were born before 1960, you know the comments I would get all the time. “Are you the swimmer?” I grew up hearing that all the time, anywhere I had to give my name. I even learned to swim professionally, I had to measure up to that name. When I married, I kept my name, nothing sounded better to me. Ever since the internet came into my life and I developed a website plus sold on eBay for 10 years, I was emailed constantly about being the famous swimmer. I googled the name and I came up with both a jazz singer and an impressionist painter with the same name as the swim/movie star and myself. Too much confusion! All those years I signed my work just Esther Williams would surely frustrate any historians after I leave this earth for several hundred years. Being that the swim/movie star also paints. So, a few years ago, I decided to place a J. for my middle name Jane in between the Esther and Williams, now I feel a great distinction has been made. I still get the “Do you swim?”comments but I feel rest assured that in case one of my oils turns up against any paintings done by the other famed Esther Williams`s, they will not be confused. You can google me by Esther J. Williams and not be lost in a sea of the famous ones. If you google just Esther Williams, I will be found on page 10 or 12 I think. Now, it is much longer to sign my name and I have been working with a sable brush with all but 8 hairs or so cut off to get a fine script signature that fits in the corner. I use a glazing medium to thin out the paint and the application still isn’t easy, but looks finer. One point I want to add is that you sign into the wet paint so it adheres to the painting. Even if you are not done, but I don’t follow that all the time either. I like to sign in gold oil paint, it looks rich and gives a touch of class.

From: Corine Barton — Nov 06, 2007

Although I try to use a signing brush and keep in mind that I want my signature to be uniquely my own I often have trouble with the letters being too large and running into each other. I go over them, wash out my signature with turpenoid, dry it with a paper towel and start all over again. I find that there is no set rule for signing as long as your signature is legible and you include the date. If you have a good writing style that is as impressive as your artwork then it will show. Red is good on certain paintings especially if the lower right hand corner has shadows it makes your signature stand out or use the color that is predominant in your painting because the eye follows that color very naturally along with the other complementary colors. If I try to use a color that I had not used too much in my painting it usually doesn’t fit and I have to redo my signature. My uncle who also paints says that he does not date his work because he feels someone will look at it and say it’s too old. To me dating gives you a clear sense of an artist’s progression and where he or she was in her stage of development. It also helps when your work is later analyzed long after you are gone.

From: Keena — Nov 06, 2007

I have to laugh about people’s too long names… check this one out: Christine Barbara Friedrichsmeier. 31 letters! Friedrichsmeier, while completely unique, is so long that it tended to detract from the artwork itself. I tried initials, but that didn’t work well for me. When I was 13 I decided to use a pseudonym. Keena. It is a contraction of my first name, and a nick name – short and sweet. So it works for me! It is in stylized block letters, and I sign in colours used on the paintings.

From: June Raabe — Nov 06, 2007

I also prefer signed paintings. I used a logo for a brief time as a student, a triangle with my initials, I tried using the copyright sign, and yes it is too pretentious. Especially if you feel your talents are slipping. Zoltan Szabo’s imprinting with an inkless ballpoint is great, except you need to do it on a damp surface, with a medium value colour, so that the signature will show up. I find it hard writing with a brush, water colour pencils well sharpened might be a solution. I stopped dating pictures on the front because people do think “old” isn’t as good as “new”. I also sign my full name, the month and year on the back and often my own filing code. I keep a card for each painting listing the date painted, it’s code number price,size and the shows I have entered it in. My code is a simple single letter to denote the medium, last two digits of the year and 2 digits to denote if it was the first or which for that year. A0701 tells me it’s acrylic,painted in 2007, and is the first painting of the year. I really enjoy your letters, the demos, and the chance to view other people’s paintings. It’s an education! Ciao, June R.

From: Janet Sheen — Nov 06, 2007

Name signing has been such a trial for me. I painted before I was married, thus signed my maiden name. I also signed Jan, not Janet on some, with my surname. I married and signed first name plus new surname, some Jan, some Janet. At one point enjoyed hiding just Jan in watercolors. (I think I’m at five ‘signatures’.) First husband died. Remarried. Now signed Jan or Janet Sheen. Makes seven! I know actor Martin Sheen has a wife, also an artist, named Janet Sheen. There is a pressed flower artist and author in Britain named Janet Sheen. I now sign Janet Sheen. My how I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have simply stayed with my birthname, as my surname was distinct. Then, all these years, my art would have been consistent in signature!

From: Ann Orhelein — Nov 07, 2007

Your remark to Karen Sue (Sioux- Saulte) was hilarious! It reminds me of my editor, Forrest J. Ackrman, who had more “play on words” than I ever thought possible. (my last story was included in his ACKERMANTHOLOGY)

From: Hiria Ratahi — Nov 07, 2007

The ideas above on ‘how to sign’ your paintings have been encouraging. Signing for me is using my first and last name although there have been times when I sign initials and last name, but for the future I need to use the one type and be consistent. Like others I try to sign in the bottom right hand corner in such a way that it doesn’t distract away from the painting.

From: Tatjana M-P — Nov 07, 2007

Here is a thorough essay on the subject of signatures: http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/s/signature.html

From: Julie Roberts — Nov 07, 2007

So far, no one has mentioned what I use to sign my name – a sharp graphite pencil. I take great care to place it in a spot that collaborates with the design of the piece and doesn’t detract from the work. In order to do this I have my signature in ink on a piece of clear plastic that I move around the bottom part of the painting to get an idea of the best placement; then I sign with my pencil.

From: Mickie Acierno — Nov 15, 2007

The best signature/acronym ever (imo), Neil Boyle, BSWCA. Big Shot West Coast Artist. Check out Neils bio… http://neilboyle.com/biography.html We miss you Neil!!

From: Mary — Nov 18, 2007

My initials are MJB. I always thought a unique way to sign my pieces was to bring my initials together into a new design. In this case, the 3 initials are put together as one ‘letter’. The body of the J goes over the last line of the M and the B is based on that same line as well. The result? An MB with a few jagged pieces. It creates a personal symbol which fits into a piece unobtrusively.

From: nancy — Nov 18, 2010

I just purchased a couple of paintings done by the same artist (one in “72”, the other “73”). Rural country life type folkart. They are both signed: “Mary”. There is a leaping antlered deer to the right of the name. Also a circled capital R under the name Mary. Under the deer image, there is and arrow pointing diagonally upwards toward the deer. These are very nice paintings done on canvas panel. Has anybody heard of this artist?

From: wil — Jul 30, 2012

Hi Nancy, I also have a painting by this artist, and am looking for more information. Have you ever discovered who this painter is?

From: valerie norberry vanorden — Sep 25, 2012

I now sign in handwriting (Spencerian) with initial I. as middle name. There is another Valerie VanOrden in KY so I try to separate myself from her with the middle initial. I don’t sign with my maiden name, but I do use it on business card for Googling.

 

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