How to sign your artwork – and make sure people know who you are!

Last Updated on July 8, 2022 by Dee

Want to know why and how to sign your artwork?

A hand signing an artwork. A painting of figs signed Jenni Mabin Krige

So many people wonder about whether or not they should sign their artwork. What are the ‘rules’ for signing your art? Since the beginning of the Renaissance period, artists have questioned whether they should sign their artworks or not.

Table of Contents

  1. Want to know why and how to sign your artwork?
  2. Why should you sign your artwork?
  3. How should you sign your artworks?
  4. Where should you sign?
  5. When should you not sign the piece?

Some artists like Leonardo DaVinci didn’t sign their artworks, as they often worked collaboratively.  Basquiat’s signature is very well known but can be quite illegible at times. Picasso signed his art with the initials P.R (Picasso Ruiz) in his early works, but later he dropped the ‘R’ and signed a new, decorative version of ‘Picasso’.  

Let’s go through the conventions in signing your artwork, and what the best practice is today.

Why should you sign your artwork?

Putting your signature on your artwork is important in establishing you as the legitimate creator of the work.

Now more than ever we live in a society where digital reproduction and plagiarism can easily happen. Although signing your artwork doesn’t completely prevent someone from stealing your image it does make it more difficult for them.

Your signature becomes part of your brand identity. The more of your artwork people see, the more they will associate your signature with you.

It is also important to note that the signature on an artwork suggests that the artwork is complete.

How should you sign your artworks?

Many artists in the past and today have used monograms. These are essentially a motif of two or more interwoven letters, typically a person’s initials. This can almost be viewed as the artist’s logo.

If you are starting off with creating art, and figuring out which signature to use, I would suggest not going this route. By using a monogram, viewers cannot establish what your full name or even your surname is. However, if you have envisioned this monogram as part of your identity and are dead set on it, make sure to write your full name and details at the back of the artwork.

Recently I attended a local informal art exhibition and came across a beautiful landscape painting. The artist had only written their initials ‘R.J’ on the bottom of the painting, and there was no other nearby information on who they might be. 

To be fair this was an unusual occurrence. Any professional art exhibition would have had the name of the artist, and the details of the piece on display for viewers to see.

Include your first name and surname, or even just your surname in your signature.

Date your artwork. This becomes an important reference when you look back over your art-making history. You will get a sense of how your art has developed over time.

Make it easy for people to see your name easily when they look at your artwork.

That brings me to my second point. You don’t have to have font-like handwriting to sign your painting, but you really should try to make it legible. Once again, if the viewer can’t read the name on a painting they may not come back to look for the artist’s other work.

Make your signature consistent. Try to keep it the same on each of your artworks as this will, once again, help people to recognize who the painting is by.

Your signature should be visible and clear, but not so much so that it detracts from the painting. A good idea is to sign in the same medium as your artwork. So, if you have painted in acrylic paint, sign in acrylic. By signing in the same medium, people won’t question whether the artwork is yours or not.

Artists often will scratch their names into the wet paint if they have painted thickly onto the canvas. In this way, their names become part of the artwork and cannot easily be removed or altered.

When I sign my paintings, I often use a slightly darker or lighter tone of the main color in my artwork. By doing this my signature fits in with the aesthetic of my piece and doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb.

When signing a watercolor painting, you can sign in lead pencil or in watercolor paint. Some watercolorist’s I know, write their signatures in a fine liner of a similar color to their subject matter.

When it comes to art prints, an artist has to sign their name and record the edition of the print as well as the date. This is usually done in lead pencil as is the standard convention.

Write the details of your painting or drawing on the back of the paper or canvas. Write your full name, the date, the medium, and the title of your piece. This is especially important if you have not signed your full name on the front of your artwork.

Where should you sign?

Most artists sign either on the bottom left- or right-hand side of the artwork. Try to sign a couple of inches away from the edge of the canvas or page, in order to compensate for the framing of the piece.

Take time to carefully consider where you are going to sign your artwork. Your signature doesn’t necessarily have to be in the bottom right-hand corner on a straight line. You can sign your name up the trunk of your painted tree, or alongside another form in your subject matter.

Once again, make sure that your signature fits in harmoniously with the artwork. It is also important to remember that most people will look at the bottom left- or right-hand side of the artwork to see who the artist is. If your signature is placed somewhere obscure, they may not see it.

When should you not sign the piece?

If you have copied someone else’s painting it is considered plagiarism if you sign your name. You are essentially passing off the image as your own. On the back of a painting you have copied, you should always cite the original artist’s name and date.

Perhaps you would like to read more of my articles on artist tips and tricks like Painting on an Easel

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An artist signing his artwork - how to sign your artwork

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