Your own brand


Dear Artist,

Here on Kauai there are a lot of people with “Tommy” written on their clothing. When you think of “branding,” names like Coke, Nike and Marlborough also come to mind. A long way from the world of art. Art has integrity, uniqueness, we like to think. It’s perhaps surprising that people would walk around advertising Tommy Hilfiger — the guy that actually took their money for the duds. Then again, we artists do something similar:


Artwork by England-based graffiti artist, political activist and film director, Banksy.
Real identity unknown.

The minute you put your first work of art on somebody’s wall, you’re starting to brand. “Joe Bloggs” it says down there in the corner. Others see the brand and say, “We need to get a Bloggs too, dear.” Later, works will be referred to as “Early Bloggs,” or even “School of Bloggs.” But more than that, like Nike’s “Just do it,” and “swoosh” logo, it’s not only the product, it’s the image that we’re buying. It’s a lifestyle choice or a statement of persona. I know there are lots of artists that don’t even want to think about this — but when you put your stuff out there you are making a branding choice and collecting sympathetic collectors. We can all think of artists whose work is cozy, edgy, cutesy, peaceful, powerful, childlike, shocking, controversial, bland, anti-social, sensitive, safe, liberated, conservative — you name it. Next time you’re looking at some work, yours or others, look for the underlying spirit, the agenda, the message.


Our profession is distinct. For the most part we build our brand one work at a time. Each work is unique because we are unique. Some of us may make a lifetime of issuing many brands, but that in itself becomes our brand. Our lifestyle, our attitudes and preoccupations put the spin to our brands. The fruits of our efforts find walls, are honoured, respected, talked about and enjoyed because of the connections they make. By happenstance or by calculation, while we labor in our individual solitudes, we build our own brands.


Best regards,


PS: “The Buddha said, ‘Monk, you and you alone are your refuge. You and you alone are your pathway.’” (Buddhist saying)

Esoterica: “No Logo” by Naomi Klein discusses the growing pervasiveness and social consequences of big brands and the big bucks that are invested to make us think we need them. It seems that we artists are in a position to frustrate the McDonaldization of our small planet. Pass the pupus.

This letter was originally published as “Your own brand” on January 29, 2002.



  1. Well on reading these thoughts on brand ( and the title got me hooked ), I thought you would complete the loop by also stating that the signature in itself is part of the brand. An “artistic” signature, always recognizable and consistent as well as of the right size and graphic quality ( what is he talking about? ), signifies some sort of serious application and consistency n the artist’s work. I for one have recently created a seminar group for other more technical subjects. But even there we decided we needed a small visible identity to appear on our slides and our stationary. Pretty basic marketing you might say. I have also consistently used the same type of signature on my watercolor and ink work. But I do admit I struggle with putting a date beside it. This date issue was the subject of Painter’s Key some time ago. You may also want to revisit it.

  2. I have struggled with putting my signature on my work. Friends always have to remind me. I think i just want the work to fly free. However when i create card prints of my collage i stamp with a logo identifying them as mine. Slowly I’m signing, but dating is something I’m sorry i haven’t kept track of somehow. Thanks for the conversation

  3. Thank you as always, Sara! My comment today? ““The Buddha said, ‘Monk, you and you alone are your refuge. You and you alone are your pathway.’” (Buddhist saying)”……I jumped for these in young adulthood, and thrilled at the triumphs of the spirit – the growth and ripening of it all in my life! But I laugh today, because I really believed that , once learned, such insights and triumphs would remain always to light the way…….HAH – never! Even if the inspiration is the same quote or insight, we need to refresh and renew, and renew and renew……or it doesn’t happen. Indidious, no?

    :-D doing it.


  4. For me, the most important aspect is the artwork itself. However, I do sign all my work but these days bury my signature within the work. My style and subject matter along with my “hidden” signature have become my brand. Viewers spend time at my work looking for the signature and judges have positively commented on its hidden nature. I find large or brightly contrasting signatures a major distraction from understanding the artist’s message. As well, I catalogue all my work and add the catalogue ID and a business card to the rear of the frame of all my works.
    Thank you for continuing to republish Bob’s letters and for your own insightful letters Sara.

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