An Artist’s Signature

40-signing.jpgPlacing your John Hancock on a painting is the ultimate statement of pride and ownership. Some artists choose to prominently display it for the whole world to see, while others opt for a subtle approach, making it barely visible. Like so many aspects of paintings, it’s personal.

The signature is a natural part of the visual composition and should be thought of in those terms. The main things to consider are placement, size, value, color, style and content. Traditionally, the lower right-hand corner is the spot for the signature. When we read a written page, we end at the bottom right; thus this location feels like a natural end-point in Western culture. If, due to the content of the composition, this isn’t a suitable location however, look to the lower left, and then consider the upper right and left corners. Remember to consider the matting or frame when positioning; otherwise, you may be cutting it off or setting too close to the edge.

The size of the signature definitely makes a statement, and moderation is recommended. You want the viewer to see and appreciate the painting before your name. If it can be read from across the room, it might be too large. The value and color of the signature should complement the painting. I recommend choosing a value either slightly darker or lighter than the surrounding area. For the color, I prefer something neutral that pertains to the dominant color scheme of the painting. Historically, a popular color choice was red, which could be near the value of the area upon which it would rest, yet stand out and be recognized. It was especially useful for the illustrative market as red photographed darker in black and white, making it stand out when reproduced.

The style of a signature also makes an artistic comment. The two extremes are the signature as handwriting and block printed. A beautifully hand-scripted signature relates the flair of the artist it represents, just as our individual signature does. The simple block printed signature makes for an unobtrusive, easily read, statement of authenticity. I have used both, migrating to the simpler blocked style over the years. Placing your full name or just the last name is again a matter of personal choice. What is advisable is to never use just a first name or nickname. This informality lowers the viewers respect for the piece. In the past, due to gender bias, many women used just their last name as a way of increasing sales and desirability, as the market would accommodate higher prices for works by men over women. Hopefully, this is no longer a concern.

When signing our pastels, a few methods may be employed. Pastel pencils offer a ready tool in a variety of colors and values. Harder pastel sticks can be sharpened to a fine point facilitating easy application. Even a simple carbon pencil can do the job (The photo shows a drawing pencil, pastel pencil and hard pastel sharpened to a point; all good options for your signature). If there is a heavy build-up of pastel in the area where you wish to sign your name, you might have to use a softer pastel stick. This isn’t easily accomplished when a delicate aesthetic is desired. A light spray of fixative to the signature area, or a gentle scraping off of some of the pastel may prove helpful.

Whichever style or method you choose to use for signing your pastels, do it with pride. You deserve the credit for having created something for the whole world to enjoy. Bravo!

Check out my latest “Pastel Pointers” column in the May/June issue of The Pastel Journal.

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4 thoughts on “An Artist’s Signature

  1. Anne Hevener

    Richard is going to follow up with some comments about the question of dating after he returns from a workshop in Italy! There are pros and cons to the practice, so we’ll await his insight! –Anne, Editor

  2. Debbie

    I sign, then use a device made from a piece of mat board with a small rectangle "stencil" shape cut a bit bigger that my usual signature (pretty small) and give a spurt of fixative. If needed, I then touch up, but this protects the sigature and mutes the area around it. My question- do you also add a date? I belong to a ccop gallery and adding the date is considered a big no-no, since then if you show "old" art the viewers will think it is stale art. they will?? I like the idea of knowing just when the piece was painted.

  3. pcworks

    Putting my signature on a painting has been a source of concern and confusion for years. I’ve been told so many different things that I have an anxiety attack every time I have to sign a picture. Your article certainly cleared up much of the confusion and I especially liked the ending – so sign with pride. Thanks for your wonderful blogs.

  4. Roseann

    I don’t really like to sign my paintings with pastel as it can easily be removed from the painting with a swipe of the finger. (It happened to me when having a painting framed) I prefer to use an acid free permanent marker. I also sign the back with this, adding the title, and dimension. Love your work, by the way.