Signing and dating

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Marjorie Moeser of Toronto, ON, Canada, wrote, “I sometimes place my signature to the left at the bottom because it suits the composition better than having it on the right. I try to make the signature inconspicuous. Mostly I sign in black, but sometimes white or a neutral tone. But I’ve done paintings that seem to say “no” to a signature up front. So, I omit it, opting for signing on the back. What is your advice? Also, what about dating?” Thanks, Marjorie. I’m a member of a party who thinks signatures should be clear, consistent and pretty well always in the same place — lower right. There are times when lower left is okay too. Further, if the style of signature is consistent, the colour of the signature can often be harmonized or integrated into the painting, as you suggest. My advice to most artists is “unobtrusive but clear.” While the unique style and painterly quality of your painting is more important than your signature, a good reason for putting a signature on the front is in the interest of the observer. People love to be right. If someone sees a “Joe Bloggs” from across the room and says, “That looks like a Joe Bloggs,” and moving closer, sees the signature “Joe Bloggs,” then this observer confirms his brilliant connoisseurship by merely recognizing the Bloggsian style. Leaving the signature off the front of a painting may be okay for internationally-famous iconic artists whose style is so recognizable that anyone who didn’t know who was responsible for the work might be considered a knuckle-dragging Philistine. Dating is another matter. For artists who regularly exhibit in commercial galleries and switch their work around from time to time, the date needs to be left off both the front and the back. That way the art remains “new.” I’ve had ten-year-old paintings with more exposure than Mitt Romney’s dog arrive at a new gallery and quickly find a discriminating collector. If the work had borne a stale date people might think it substandard for being so long an orphan. The exceptions to the no-dating advice are commissioned portraits and work executed at events needing to be memorialized. Similarly, do not sign “dogs.” Put them on the roof of the car and take them to the dump. Best regards, Robert PS: “In those days he was wiser than he is now — he used frequently to take my advice.” (Winston Churchill) Esoterica: Signing and dating is not often covered by the “how to” art books. Perhaps that’s why these questions come up so frequently. It’s valuable to make a note of the date, however. I have this and other info put on a file card and filed alphabetically by title. That way it’s always available when people inquire. Since the advent of the Internet, collectors seem to want more provenance. As well, you need to think of the future. What, when, where, why and how may be of interest to latter-day students and researchers. Speaking of books, we’re constantly refreshing our oft-visited Books on Artists’ Shelves. Please feel free to add your own current favourites.   Old paintings not stale by Casey Craig, Wimberley, TX, USA  

“Ode to Winter”
mixed media
by Casey Craig

It is unfortunate that a “stale date” may cause some to question the quality of a work, but I think for some this is true. For this reason, I agree completely about not visibly dating work. Sometimes it takes a while for a painting to make it out of the studio, but that doesn’t mean it is of less value than newer works. I often sell older paintings, but they are “new” to the gallery and the eyes of the collector. Since my work has remained consistent in style, paintings done a few years ago don’t look different than those done last week. There is 1 comment for Old paintings not stale by Casey Craig
From: obdadA — Jun 22, 2012

Fair & Balanced: i was wondering why you didn’t mention “eating dog” {{probabLy just too ‘crass’ though]]

  How many failures? by Vicki Kestranek, Atlanta, GA, USA   You mentioned putting your dogs on the roof of the car and driving them to the dump. I have a lot of dogs as I am not a career artist and have only discovered pastels in 2008. I am curious how many dogs you create at this point in your career. I’m sure you could encourage some of us newbies if we knew failure happens to all of us. (RG note) Thanks, Vicki. It is a truism that as you get older you get more particular (and less desirable). While I’m still confident a lot of the time, I still anguish over every one and reject about 20%. Incidentally, putting them on the roof of the car and taking them to the dump was a euphemism. I burn them in the fireplace.   A good ‘dump’ story by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France  

“Porcelain dog”
oil painting
by Jeffrey Hessing

Taking work to the dump is not sufficient for the “dogs.” I once took a roll of life-sized erotic drawings, starring yours truly, to the dump and watch them drop into a deep pit. I used to see the smoke and flames rise from that same pit every evening as I drove home. Much to my shock and embarrassment those same drawings showed up at a dealer who said he bought them at a flea market. He wanted me to buy them back from him. It dragged on for years. Fortunately there were no takers for my erotic fantasies and he finally traded them back to me for a couple of small landscapes. The last time I did some spring cleaning I hired a kid to spray paint over the rejects or tear them into tiny pieces before they went into the trash. He thought I was crazy but I’d learned my lesson. What a crazy profession! There are 2 comments for A good ‘dump’ story by Jeffrey Hessing
From: Susan McLean, Acworth, GA — Jun 22, 2012

I happened to see a sanitation worker pick up a discarded painting I had left on top of my bin, look at it, break it over his knee, and toss it in the truck. A harsh critique, indeed. I haven’t had the courage to let him view more. I find destroying them myself and putting them in a trash bag much less humbling.

From: Nancy Cantelon — Jun 24, 2012

Jeffrey Hessing: I’m drawn to ‘Porcelain Dog’ due to its whimsical subject matter, loose style and warm colours. Like Robert, you simplify forms into abstract shapes for an overall joyful, fascinating effect. I admire your skills!

  Lefties sign left by Claudette Lee-Roseland, Grafton, WI, USA  

“Italian cooking school 2”
oil painting
by Claudette Lee-Roseland

I always sign in the left corner — I am left handed and it is easier. I definitely agree with your dating comments. Shows often want work executed in the last year. Perhaps a painting is your favorite and you have hung it in your own house for a time before parting with it. Dates can interfere with entering it into a show.     There is 1 comment for Lefties sign left by Claudette Lee-Roseland
From: Dana S Whitney — Jun 22, 2012

I prefer to sign on the left because sometimes I don’t plan for enough space… and the end of my name would need to be squished. I suppose if I always signed with the same brush, I would eventually learn… but for some reason I sign bigger on big paintings and smaller on small ones. Does anybody else have that problem?

  Are digital prints originals? by Mary Ann Liscio, Chestnut Ridge, NY, USA  

oil painting
by Mary Ann Liscio

My question pertains to creating an original, signed work when created by “painting” on the computer. If a piece is created, then printed, is it proper to call it an original if only one copy is printed and signed as the original? Does the digital then have to be destroyed? (RG note) Thanks, Mary Ann. The proper designation for exhibition is “one-off digital print.” There is little need to designate as “original.” If you want to maintain your integrity, destroy the file.         Signing, archiving, and estate planning by Brad Michael Moore, Perrin, TX, USA  

“East of Eden”
by Brad Michael Moore

Coming from a photographic background, the dating aspect has a whole different and iconic meaning for my genre. How many pieces of one work did the artist create — and was this early period, prime, or ‘sunset of the career’ reproduction. I have always had a self-imposed limit of how many reproductions I would sell of any one work, and that is five — size does not matter — just count. As an abstract artist — even though I am generally a traditionalist, and see most of my work as positioned in one way — occasionally, even I can admit some creations have both a horizontal, and a vertical pose… On the rare occasion this aberration occurs, I will sign my name on the bottom right side to each position, and wire the frame both ways as well — then the buyer can feel empowered to choose which juxtaposition fits their ‘frame of mind.’ The second signature is always a buzz creator in a gallery opening. How I love to anonymously stand near and listen to some, “expert,” during an Opening — with one, or a few followers, expound upon their theories over why the artist did such a thing, and why it is creative, or a bad practice, etc. While I know you have broached the topic before, from however many directions — still my biggest worry is my estate. Not only do I have a legitimate art collection of other people’s art, but my art — such a big part of it is not so much the prints I may leave behind — (I have regular burnings for the best test prints I kept for a time to surmise over — but all of my work from 2003 on is digitized, and I have many external hard drives holding exact, and varying, captures of those works. Pre-2003 — going back to 1957, is all negative. While I have refrigerated aging negatives for years — the color films do falter with age (like my libido). The B&W negatives hold their own to the test of time in much better fashion. The best of all my film works have been digitized anyway — so that is not my worry. Do I commit my collection to, “The Cloud,” somewhere, so I have more, or less, worry over the eventual handling of my old hard drives? Even as technologies progress, between each transition is a period where you can transpose your older works into the newer formats of archiving. Still it is a daunting dilemma to face with all certainty. Even a painter wants digital artifacts of their work to be held within the estate for as long as protections by law are available. If only to control, and allow, reproduction rights to periodicals, textbooks, and other publishing opportunities that may be beneficial to the future estate, and for art history — if one is so lucky.   Faulty use of the word ‘dog’ by Barbara Steinberg-Orlowksi, Hawaii  

“Boat Harbor Reflections”
giclee print
by Barbara Steinberg-Orlowksi

Exactly what do you mean by don’t sign dogs and take them to the dump! That could be taken offensively by those who care about animals. “Animals have been regarded as property for way too long. It’s high time we took on a more loving and responsible relationship with our kindred beings in the web of life on this beautiful planet. I always think and act as a guardian towards my kindred beings, never as their owner.” (Jim Mason, author An Unnatural Order)  

Both Stanley (left) and Dorothy (right) had their noses out of joint about my ‘dog’ remark so I had to drive them around for a while.

(RG note) Thanks, Barbara. Sorry, I’ve made this boo-boo before. It’s too bad, but since my art school days the term “dog” has always been associated with bad work. I also apologized to Dorothy and Stanley.     There are 5 comments for Faulty use of the word ‘dog’ by Barbara Steinberg-Orlowksi
From: Richard C Whalen — Jun 22, 2012

We are all way too sensitive these days, BUT…point made. Way too much animal cruelty in the world, mostly by “small” people that need to have something smaller, helpless to take out their low self esteem on.

From: JR — Jun 22, 2012

Stanley and Dorothy are two lucky canines!

From: Lucy — Jun 24, 2012

Many words have more than one meaning. Just sayin’.

From: Nancy Cantelon — Jun 24, 2012

I hope we don’t get so politically correct that we stop using figures of speech, or, as in this case, witty references to current campaign fodder. Good creative writing uses imagery. I don’t think the flesh and blood dogs will mind.

From: Schnauzer — Jun 25, 2012

It’s all my fault. Robert used to refer to bad paintings as Schnauzers and I barked at him for being a dog-racist. I can live with just “dogs” (too bad that cats are so cute).

  The value of dating by Dianne Mize, Clarkesville, GA, USA  

“In Search of a Morsel”
by Dianne Mize

I’m often in the school of least acceptance and on this matter, I find myself in disagreement with you, something that doesn’t happen often. I know intentions today are more market-driven than in the days of our predecessors, but I continue to think of painting as a product of my journey rather than inventory and so I date my work so that it can be chronologically placed within my total oeuvre. When I see a piece from years ago, it is informative to see where I was as an artist when that piece was done. As to my collectors I find they appreciate being able to pinpoint where that particular piece fits in the journey.     There are 4 comments for The value of dating by Dianne Mize
From: Janet Badger — Jun 22, 2012

I would put the date on the back for my own and future reference, leave it off the front. If the date matters to someone, it’s there.

From: Lori — Jun 22, 2012

I put a code on the back, and keep a spreadsheet with the info, including date. This also helps exactly identify a painting.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Jun 22, 2012

I agree with Janet; I sign/date my work. My work has changed in many ways over the years and I’d like to have that clear to people. I started in acrylics, tried watercolors, now in oils, sometimes do drawings. I started with wildlife realism, toyed with abstractions, mostly do still life now. I was better back then with some things, better with other things now!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 24, 2012

I sign my work on the front- because it’s a piece of ART. Most people (women) working in fiber, especially quilters, put a label on the back. I’m an ARTIST, not a quilter. I sign my work with my initials JB so nobody knows just from looking at my signature if I’m male or female, at least not up front. Then they all get that glazed-over stare when they realize a MAN, working in a gender non-conforming medium, made what they are looking at, even when there’s nothing female about it. I date everything on the front. Get over it. I only finish a few pieces a year. I want to remember what year I finished something that may have taken several years from start to finish, in an ongoing timeline, and it gives credibility to both me and the piece. And I want everybody else to know what year I finished it too. There are only hundreds of pieces- not thousands. And I have a stack of about 40 pieces that have been built, but not finished- so they sit until I’m ready to finish them, and that may be years. As Diane states, it’s part of my journey too- although it’s also absolutey inventory. I’m a male. It’s my business. But the older each piece gets- in intrinsic terms and monetary terms, the more valuable it becomes, not the less valuable because it’s been around a while and hasn’t quite found a home, as it all will outlive me. So its AGE is part of its value. As is mine.

  Encrypted date by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA  

original painting
by Mary Moquin

For the record, and my own, I encrypt the date in my inventory number that I list on the back of the painting. It is a 4 digit number, the first two numbers are my age and the second is the order in the year it was completed. So, the first painting I painted the year I turned 49 for example, the number was 4901. That way I at least have a vague record of when the work was completed for posterity. Some day when I am dead, hopefully someone will unlock the code for my major museum retrospective.   There are 5 comments for Encrypted date by Mary Moquin
From: Linda Harbison — Jun 22, 2012

Great idea.

From: Susan — Jun 22, 2012

That is a great idea. I might use that one too.

From: Mishcka — Jun 22, 2012

Great painting!

From: Dana S Whitney — Jun 22, 2012

When I get into my new house (and newer) studio, I think I’ll start that system. I love the idea of helping who ever curates my posthumous collection. (Nobody NOW seems to care that much! ;-p

From: Nancy Cantelon — Jun 24, 2012

“Intervals” is deceptively simple, yet highly striking. Excellent!

  ‘How much do you make?’ by Debra Keirce, Ashburn, VA, USA  

mixed media
by Debra Keirce

Maybe you get asked this every day. I do. And I am fresh out of ways to convince myself that people mean well when they say it. “Is your art selling well?” “How much money do you get for a painting these days?” Never mind that even good friends ask this over lunch. Never mind that they could get the answer from my blog, newsletter or website with just a few clicks to links I strategically place. And never mind that I feel judged every time I am asked, as if my worth as an artist is directly linked to how well I am selling and how much I get for a painting in any given moment. Is this the only profession where people feel they are feigning genuine interest by asking you how much money you make? And what is a good way to answer them? (RG note) Thanks, Debra. There are many who compulsively need to know about the money. I generally say “I can’t complain.” A few years back a studio visitor who happened to be CEO of a large forestry company, remarked “I guess you’re able to eke out a living from art, eh?” On another visit he happened to notice a tax assessment that my assistant had carelessly left lying around. By the look in his eye I could see he was realizing that I was eking out more than he was. There are 5 comments for ‘How much do you make?’ by Debra Keirce
From: Susan Avishai — Jun 22, 2012

I also love when people always ask, “How long did this take to make?” (implying perhaps that the price should correspond to an hourly rate?). I’ve learned to respond by simply giving them my age.

From: suzanne jensen — Jun 22, 2012

well said Susan , I will use that!

From: Anonymous — Jun 22, 2012

Susan, I like your answer very much. Good thinking!

From: Rose — Jun 22, 2012

I really don’t like to talk about this….works for me.

From: Ken Flitton — Jun 22, 2012

Don’t you like it when they ask how long it took you to do a painting, and you can see the wheels going round in their eyes that they’re struggling mightily with the “math” that they inaugurated. Really amusing!!!!

  Feel the balance before signing by Urania Tarbet, Pollock Pines, CA, USA  

“Monet’s pond”
original painting
by Urania Tarbet

I’ve always believed that signing a painting is totally subjective to each artist. To me, the word ‘balance’ comes to mind. When one extra item such as a signature is added to a painting, it can possibly throw the entire balance of the painting off kilter. It is a quiet fact that most beginning artists who are right-handed tend to want to sign their paintings on the lower right hand corner. Conversely, a left-handed artist tends to want to sign their paintings on the lower left side. This seems to come automatically from the balance of the mind, and who knows, perhaps the universe. My personal technique and the advice I give to my students on the proper signing of paintings is to always hold a thin brush handle at all four corners of the finished painting, pausing to look at the overall canvas to check the feel and balance of the painting’s subject matter. If it makes the look of the painting feel too heavy, that is not the place for the signature. Your ‘eye’ will tell you the correct corner of the painting where the signature should be. I’m amazed at the many times a student will discover the correct corner may be one of the top two corners, which is not the norm for artists to sign their paintings. In their excitement, I always remind them that the top corners might not always be the best place… it is a must that this process of checking all four corners be used before signing each painting. There are 2 comments for Feel the balance before signing by Urania Tarbet
From: Sandra Donohue — Jun 21, 2012

I agree with you about signing where you feel the balance works best. I was shown a neat idea by Carol Lynn Davidson, to get a piece of transparent film a little larger than the space you would need to write your signature, write your signature on it with a permanent marker. then you can place it over an area of your painting to see where it suits you best. I hope you are reading this Carol Lynn. I don’t know where in BC you are, but I hope you are well, painting lots and happy as can be!

From: Julie Roberts — Jun 22, 2012

I have a sheet of clear plastic with my signature on the corner made with a fine tipped permanent marker. To determine where to sign my name on a finished work, I move the signature around (always somewhere at or near the bottom) to find out where my eye likes it best. That is where I do the final signing.

  Free art retreat by Keith Thirgood, Markham, ON, Canada  

“Yellow Porch”
original painting
by Keith Thirgood

I organize art retreats. As you probably know I advertise these retreats on The Painter’s Keys Workshop Calendar. For the artists who read The Painter’s Keys and Robert’s remarkable letter, I’m offering the chance to win free attendance to our art retreat in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada this coming August. All entrants have to do it submit their name and contact information here and they will be entered for the contest. The chosen artist will receive a $600 art retreat. Everyone who enters will be kept informed about our future retreats. I’m also wondering if any of your readers could use a similar tactic for promoting workshops or classes. (RG note) Thanks, Keith. While we can’t guarantee we will do it for everyone, it looks to me like a good idea to encourage people to come to recommended workshops. Good luck with your contest. There are 2 comments for Free art retreat by Keith Thirgood
From: Wanda — Jun 21, 2012

I am always curious about where the workshops are when you show us the photos of them. Some places are mentioned,but not the country or if in the USA, the state they are in. Could you give us a little more idea in the title? Thank you.

From: Keith — Jun 21, 2012

Hi Wanda, Our workshops are held in Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Specifically, Charlevoix, Quebec; Prince Edward County, Ontario; Muskoka, Ontario and Haliburton, Ontario. Keith


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Signing and dating

From: Faith — Jun 18, 2012

A hot tip for signing dogs: Take a nail scissors and carefully clip your signature into the right flank of the animal. If it is facing the wrong way, you can use force to get it in a suitable position. Enhance your signature with sheep or food dye. I also advocate making your signature even more forceful on dog-free exhibits by using neon paint/ink and placing it more centrally. It is also a nice idea to include your middle names. If someone sees the exhibit and says “Look, that’s old Tommy at it again” you can then verify that Tommy is in fact Frederick Oscar Thomas Mayhew-Archer without actually having to be present. Paintings based on familiar paragons such as Caravaggio or Matisse should not be signed on the front so as to preserve the illusion of great value for as long as possible.

From: An Unnamed Source — Jun 19, 2012

I title and sign everything on the back side of the canvas. I never date anything. Leave it for the overly anal critics and lecturers of the future to argue over which came first. In the end, which is more important ? That piece hanging on the wall, or the details of “how-why-who” ? The name is not the product.

From: Rene W. — Jun 19, 2012

I recently acquired two watercolors by James Green. Both are signed in the lower right corner with complementary color. However, nowhere are they dated. With the help of people on the Internet I have a window of when he may have painted them. That window is in the 1960’s or 1970’s but that is just a guess. This artist passed away in 2005. With my own work I tend to sign in the lower right but will sign in the lower left. I date it on the back in pencil with a short note about the inspiration for the painting. I work in watercolor so that is easy.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jun 19, 2012

I advise my students to sign their work either the lower left or right in a clear and readable manner and not to hide it in the design. People looking at paintings almost always want to know who is the artist and don’t want to search all over for the signature. I usually wait to sign my paintings until after they are photographed because I enter several competitions each year. My earlier paintings are dated, but I no longer do this for the reasons you, Robert, gave above. However, I don’t think the art lovers buying my paintings care about when they were done, they know what they like.

From: Mike Young — Jun 19, 2012

Sad. I disagree with any conscious decision to leave off the date to avoid works being judged stale if they do not sell quickly. Ethical? You decide.

From: Trish Acres — Jun 19, 2012

Thanks for a great article. I agree with the ‘no dating’ suggestion. I dropped that practice years ago and I find it interesting, that I never get asked the question “when exactly did you paint that?”

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Jun 19, 2012

My name is on the right lower corner big enough that there is no doubt it’s me. I make sure my composition includes my signature so there is no conflict. I too stopped dating my work after a gallery owner refused to put work in a show that was more than three years old, “It has become redundant now it is over three years old why would you show it?” she said, to which I replied “You have worked here over three years are you redundant?”

From: Julie Golden — Jun 19, 2012
From: Marvin Humphrey — Jun 19, 2012

History is important. I always want to know when things were brought into being. Books, music, movies, paintings, automobiles. I date my work on the back…usually including the month.

From: Rick Rotante — Jun 19, 2012
From: Wilma Aubel — Jun 19, 2012

I sign my work “W. Aubel”. Unfortunately, I think, now even my husband calls the paintings “waubels,” rhyming with wobbles. I like signing W. Aubel and will likely continue, but thought I’d mention my problem for anyone who might have a similarly structured name. I’ve been in the local gallery when someone said, “I like the Waubels.” It’s actually sort of cute, but could lead to embarrassment, though not to me.

From: Gertie Philborn — Jun 19, 2012

Lack of a date is not an ethical consideration at all.

From: Tatjana M-P — Jun 19, 2012

Dealers request paintings not to be dated as a selling strategy which makes their work easier. That is similar to requesting the edges and back of the canvas to be neat, framing to be done in a certain way etc. It doesn’t affect the artistic expression, but it is one of many little annoying considerations around presentation of the work. Unfortunately many hours in the studio get wasted on that kind of formatting work. Those hours would be more preciously spent on creating so it’s best to make it as efficient as possible. It takes less time not to date the work, then having to erase it later after shipping it back and forth several times. In the ideal world, we would just create a piece of art and not worry about anything else (sublime). In the real world we have to cooperate with other people, and find compromising strategies and work around solutions (dull). I like to make this dull part pleasant, friendly and respectful. Humor also helps when something annoying has to be done – how about enclosing a note with a next year’s date and a warning “this painting will self-destruct if not sold by this date”. I am convinced that the collectors would enjoy the piece just the same, regardless of the date or not, but the people who find it’s home have a certain way of doing their job which I respect. As for an ethical consideration – the artist is not lying about the date, just omitting to write it on the painting. The archives are kept accurate and can be shared.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jun 19, 2012
From: Ellen Lyons — Jun 19, 2012

I think signing on front is extremely distracting and ruins the painting. I sign on the back with date, and time, that is quite useful.

From: Paula Dalton — Jun 19, 2012

I sign my works and up until a couple of years ago, dated them as well. Now however I only date my sketches and supporting documentation – so it’s “on the record” somewhere in my archives.

From: Joni DiPirro — Jun 19, 2012

To not have a legible signature and date is a restoration artist nightmare.

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 19, 2012

I used to insist on signing my full name to establish my gender but I’m over that. Now my initials and last name are sufficient. Signing in lights or darks may fade into the painting but cadmium red solves that nicely.

From: Susan Mogelin — Jun 19, 2012

Loved your comment about not signing “dogs”, in fact, I have to remember to close the sun roof before loading on top of my car to go for a freedom from the dogs ride!

From: Rick Rotante — Jun 19, 2012

When finishing a painting either in the studio or in a public demonstration I believe it’s a designation of finish to sign a work. It tells me that I have made the best work I can. As for works with dates, I never put a date on a work expressly because I believe a work is new until it is exhibited or sold. I’ve exhibited work ten or fifteen years later and no one would ever know it wasn’t painted last week unless I tell them. Also there are works that I repaint or “fix” years later until I believe it is finished. For my money it is part of a body of work done over a lifetime all of which is valid as part of an artists portfolio. The only time a work is assigned a period of time is when your fame increases and the value becomes important when placed into a “period” of an artists development. I strongly believe that its the artist job to paint and let others worry about time frame. The other reason not to date is if a work gets shown and doesn’t sell in one show that it won’t sell in a different show or at a later date. Signing and dating is important only for those who keep records of such facts. In the end, it’s all my work. When it was done is of no consequence- to me.

From: Ann Rubino — Jun 19, 2012

I follow your example for signing and (not) dating. However, my record-keeping is chronological, by “title” and it occurs to me that if a question comes up regarding a painting, the owner will most likely not know the title and/or date painted. This could pose a problem. Should I be indicating the “title” on the back of the work for cross-reference? Also, is it inappropriate to use a title more than once? Thanks for all your valuable help!

From: Charles Sikes — Jun 19, 2012

Re: the signing and dating issue. I take exception to both…especially the signing. Was it you who quoted someone who said “to sign is egotistical and to not sign is egotistical”? I say”yes” to a representational piece but “no” to a non objective, non representational work. Signing a non objective piece is – in my opinion-just “bad form”. About “dating”: I have taught seminars about the early Taos painters (1898 to 1929) and found that the great Victor Higgins (as well as others) often did not date their work for the reason that you stated. This has made it difficult for the art historians. Why not this: let the artist code the painting date? The gallery and the buyer can then have this information if needed but it will not be on the painting. P.S. Isn’t it unfortunate that “who” painted it is important?

From: Maxine Price — Jun 19, 2012

I agree with Robert about not dating your paintings as well as signing unobtrusively and in the same place – lower right. I paint an under color on all of my paintings and since I paint pretty thickly I scratch my signature into the wet paint. If I am painting an abstract on a gallery wrapped canvas and I think the signature might distract from the design I will scratch my signature on the side of the canvas. I also keep a file that has the date of the paintings in case I get inquiries although I have never had anyone ask for that. On some older paintings that I put the date on the back side I have gone back and gessoed over the date. I agree that clients might make a judgment about a painting with an older date even though it is still a good painting.

From: Robin d’Arcy Shillcock — Jun 19, 2012

Look at art history, see what others have done before our times, when commerce and all the nonsense that comes with it leans heavily on artists. I was shocked to see North American artists sign their name with the addition of the copyright symbol! How deep can you drop? I’d like to break a lance for art, as opposed to commercial art. I know the dividing line is far from clear, and that all good art as to do with money, but still… I prefer to sign my paintings, either full name, or initials, plus the date. To be sure, I sign the back and add the date, even day-month-year if I feel that it the moment or encounter was an important one. If finished in one sitting I might scratch my name with the back of my brush in the wet paint. I agree with Robert, unobtrusive and clear. Some artists sign with a grand flourish: yuck. What it spells: commerce and an over-blown ego.

From: oliver — Jun 19, 2012

Currently, I sign very small and include a web url – this has caused some issues with galleries saying they want sales to come through to them. I say fine I’m giving you a territory and always ask, that it is in my favor to have my galleries be happy. I have given commissions to galleries in their territories, even though I know the customer has found me on the web. It has caused some friction and some galleries who have otherwise been willing to represent me have declined if I wouldn’t change. Here is the deal though, with some notable exceptions, galleries come and go and relationships with galleries change over time, and ultimately I want interested people to find me. (Some galleries also wanted me to take down my website) Though everyone calls me a painter I am photographic based and work in limited editions, and I also sign and date originals on the back printing archival pieces as needed. The plate sign on the front has the date when I finished the piece. So my pieces currently have a plate sign with date the image was created and url small left or right which ever is better for the piece. On the back I sign again, number and indicate the inventory number of the piece. If I found the correct gallery to act as a master distributor, I might change these practices and take down my website or better yet have the gallery be the only contact on the website.

From: Gerda Hook — Jun 19, 2012

Good topic! My medium is watercolor and so far I’ve kept my originals. I’m totally new to the commercial side of all this, but have found a meticulous giclee printer in nearby Greenville, SC. There are times when he has actually improved my paintings by deepening the saturation of certain hues. . . I’m wondering how the pros handle signing–do they sign each giclee print? Do they number their prints as well (understanding that there is no real reason for doing so)? I’ve been asked to number (“and make it a low number”) by some people to whom I’ve given giclee prints. Others seem to like “artist’s proof”. Neither strikes me as particularly honest. So, what do the pros do?

From: Peter Worsley — Jun 19, 2012
From: Carolina Medina — Jun 19, 2012

I recently saw several Monet works in the same place. They were all signed with the same signature and it was always on the bottom. But some were signed on the right, some on the left, and some in the middle. The coloration of the bottom portion of the paintings seemed to be the deciding factor: he always signed with a dark signature in a light area– in this particular show, at any rate.

From: Karen Benedetti — Jun 19, 2012

I agree with all of your comments about where to put a signature and if you should put one on a painting and also dates.

From: Richard Nelson — Jun 19, 2012

Sorry, folks, but if you have to ask questions like this, find another profession. I don’t know of any other profession that would even deal with such uncertainty and still be considered a professional. How very sad.

From: Carole Perry — Jun 19, 2012

I just wanted to thank you for your clear and well-stated input on this often debated subject. I mostly work in glass, and have followed my many predecessors lead by unobtrusively dating my work on the bottom, but I believe I will stop doing that immediately. I have also found it true that when an older piece is new to a gallery, it frequently sells as “fresh & new” work. I will also make a point (in my paintings) to be much more consistent with my signature – your thoughts on this make excellent sense.

From: Terri Higgins — Jun 20, 2012

When I was in art school they kept telling us not to sign the front of the painting because it was pretentious and I noticed other artists from other art schools doing the same thing, even a high school student I met. Out from under the art school thumb, I now sign the front of my paintings and also date them because the buyers request it, that made my decision for me.

From: Peter Brown — Jun 20, 2012

Most of my work is small and precise. The idea of putting my name on it, on the front of it, just feels silly. My composition is the painting, my name is on the back of the panel, and then on the backing of the frame. Having paid much attention to the painting itself, and having ample space to include my name, data, and address on the back, why would I then chose to deface a square inch on the front with my signature?

From: Alex Nodopaka — Jun 20, 2012

I’m of the school to sign and put any pertinent or impertinent data as to location for instance and circumstance. Such data on the back of the painting adds a personal touch though I also agree with a discreet lower left or right corner front signatures. The signing on the back is much a Russian philosophy… frontal incognito, anonymous and ego-less, it’s the art not the signature that’s important.

From: Peter Waters — Jun 20, 2012

Perhaps you intentionally did not comment on it to stir up conversation , but would not a signing thereon be of value in any copyright dispute?

From: Ralph Hislop — Jun 20, 2012

Some years ago you remarked to another artist that having an older,dated work hang in a commercial gallery might make a potential buyer think of stale buns in a bakery. I took that to heart and immediately stopped dating my pottery. I now cringe a bit when I turn over an older piece and see a date on the bottom.

From: Helen Opie — Jun 20, 2012
From: Sue Pownall — Jun 21, 2012

I disagree about dating the front, I think an artwork doesn’t have a use-by/sell-by date. I generally sign bottom right plus year, but if the composition doesn’t allow it, then I move it to the left.

From: Tom L Steuben — Jun 21, 2012

Sargent’s signature was often in his regular written signature and incised into the oil paint with a pointed object. Unless you know what your are looking at, it is practically indecipherable. The signature itself gives the feeling of additional haste. Was this a ploy?

From: Joel Danziger — Jun 21, 2012

Picasso writ large or put a “P” and dated on the front

From: Kathleen Lenshyn — Jun 21, 2012

My problem is my last name is too long, in my handwriting anyway. So I thought up a simple sign, but then who would know what that sign means.

From: Gabriella Morrison — Jun 21, 2012

Signing and dating artwork is a matter of convention. Personally I find signatures on paintings to be obtrusive and intrusive to the process of immersion in considering the impact of the work. In fine art printmaking (not reproductions) the convention of signing in pencil, giving edition number and title is somewhat less disruptive of the viewing enjoyment. Personally dislike signing my own work, because it is not important that I did them, but the impact the work may have on another. If someone wants me to sign the front of a painting, I do so reluctantly, while holding my nose, so there are few of my signed painting floating around, includng one which ended up in a second-hand furniture store That little experience reminded me to remain humble, and to set little stock in the illusion that my work will have legs into the future, or have anything beyond fleeting importance.

From: sarah clegg — Jun 22, 2012

To me, an unsigned painting is an unfinished painting, floating somewhere in limbo between being approved by the artist and destined for the dump… Not only that, I always consider placement of signature as carefully as I might any other element of the composition. It is therefore not an ‘afterthought’, but an integral part of the design and should also work in terms of its colour. I do tend to date my signatures on oil paintings as I find most clients prefer this (and so do I) but on my watercolours and drawings I confine things to initials only. No idea why, but this is just what I’ve always done and I like to be consistent!

From: misspeggyartist — Jun 22, 2012

I like your easel and description . . . and the “window” above the canvas (I realize the “window” changes as the canvas size changes) but I like the idea that there is an open space in which to gaze and not feel boxed in, similar to painting outdoors and letting the energy in

From: Thomas Nelson — Jun 22, 2012

I will usually sign my work in a somewhat unobtrusive manner, usually on the lower right side.I like to think my style and work is unique enough that most local folks know who did it, should that matter, so I don’t make a big deal out it. I like red ocher so long as the color does not detract. This works nicely for the neighborhood in which I live and work, however we really must be aware of the times in which we live, Peter Waters has a good point. One must be prepared to deal with copyright disputes. Several times now I have found my work showing up in places and in forms for which I did not give permission and felt embarrassed by the use. Since the use has generally been localized it hasn’t been much of a problem. It motivates me to now “embed” the date and copyright into the paint, usually quite small and/or in an analogous color, in a a way that few can find so as to actually prove my ownership of reproduction rights if ever necessary. I also clearly spell out reproduction rights in my bill of sale. As a side point, I have done a reasonable amount of restoration work. I am also something of an amateur historian so I get asked to look at old paintings a lot. I like to be able to do some research and tell something about a nice old painting that has been in someones family for some time. This motivates me to take digital images and a written record of the work, sometimes even while it is in progress, and include the provenience in an envelope attached inside of a canvas. I have always attached a piece of thin fabric or sometimes paper over the back of a canvas to keep out dust and bugs so its fairly easy to hide this envelope inside.I guess I hope that my work will be among those old paintings that will have been in someones family sometime in the future. Finally,I hate to see signatures that are little more than banners that detract from the work.There’s this story about a guy who was asked to paint a horse on a barbershop wall for free, since he was going to get a lot of free advertising in return. . .

From: vivian longfellow — Jun 22, 2012

Page 23 “Love letters to Art” you are using a “sit down” easel for plein air….I’d like one….can an 80 year old gal make one?

From: Tikiwheats — Jun 22, 2012

Robt, you must have a big, healthy, sturdy, cushioned butt. I need lots of padding and pillows or my traveling wedge to be comfortable (polio at 3yrs

From: James Bright — Jun 23, 2012

This is an excellent easel. Care to give more details chance that someone else would like to make a copy for their own “altar piece”. Truly one of the more straight forward and uncomplicated easels that I have seen in a while. Thanks for sharing.

From: Renee — Jun 23, 2012

And you forgot to mention…a faithful companion by the chair…I find my dog a perfect studio friend

From: Renee — Jun 23, 2012

And you forgot to mention…a faithful companion by the chair…I find my dog a perfect studio friend

From: Stewart Turcotte — Jun 23, 2012

No name, no date, in full agreement. There is a lot of knowledge and words of wisdom in Robert’s letter, so do as he suggests. Having a gallery, I can tell you stories of rejection because of an older date on the front or back. People do think they are dogs if not sold in a decent length of time. If you want to place them in your Raisonee in proper order, you may be able to do it yourself because you may still have all of them. Do your due diligence and take the time to start your own inventory list. Keep records of all pieces. Take a photo, so easy now that we have digital, add the name of the piece, the size and the person or gallery that it first went to, and the date with lastly, an inventory number that you can in years to come refer back to, to find out when you painted this beauty and finally, put the same inventory number on the back of the painting. Easy and not much time involved if you do it one at a time as you paint them. Remember to use some letters and some numbers so your code won’t be broken. People respect inventory numbers because it shows them you are a serious painter and may have painted at least one other painting. And having a gallery that does evaluations, collectors come in regularly after the garage sales close on Saturday and they have something that their mother owned forever ? and they would like to know what they are worth. Well, I can’t tell them if I can’t read your name. Its great if you have super cool logo or chop and you are famous but come back in thirty years or so and squiggle, squiggle, dot, dot won’t mean anything to anyone. Do us all a favour sign your full name, first and last, small so as not to appear overconfident or conceited and in a colour that lets it blend it a bit so it doesn’t overpower your creation. Sorry, this is a business so let’s get businesslike.

From: Terrel Jones — Jun 23, 2012

Just a comment about what I’m doing concerning dating paintings. I have a collection of large paintings dated 1999 & 2000 on both the fronts and the backs. At the time, (I was in graduate school pursuing an MA in painting) no one said not to do this. in fact, while in undergrad school (early 80’s), I was encouraged to date paintings under the signature, so I did. This collection of large tree paintings have had some, but very little, exposure in exhibitions. I am interested in exhibiting new paintings along with the older, original ones that influenced the new ones. I have just spent hours trying to cover up the dates on the fronts and backs of these paintings so that they may be accepted for future shows. I think you are right about the perception that if you’ve still got them in your studio & storage, they must not be good, which is too bad. It makes me think that the paintings are not fairly judged for their quality. Any additional thoughts or advice? Other than don’t date anything except on a notecard? Troy, MT

From: John F. Johnson — Jun 25, 2012
From: Jane Wilcoxson — Jul 01, 2012

I laughed when I looked at the photo of your altar. You work as boxed in as I do, with junk on the floor, rags and sketches on random pieces of paper floating around and a pile of sketch books. My husband wonders how I can work in all that mess. But I don’t see a mess. I just have to put all my ideas and ruminations around me as I paint, so that I can channel them into my paintings.

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Red Sight

acrylic painting, 72 x 47 inches by Silvana LaCreta Ravena, MN, 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 oliver of Texas, USA, who wrote, “I have gone ’round and ’round on this — the real purpose is to let people find you.” And also Terri Higgins who wrote, “I have a painting done by another artist hanging beside my front door and people think it’s mine because it’s signed on the back. I constantly have to tell people that it’s not my work, but it only became annoying after the 100th time.” And also Annette Waterbeek of Maple Ridge, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Works of Art have an expiry date?”