Name That Painting

Make Believe (watercolor, 16×22)—click on image for full size

Although you don’t have to name your painting, a title is an additional way for you to make a connection with the piece and your customer. The title can be a conversation starter; it can evoke a special emotional or visual cue and it can even be whimsical and help add a sense of mischief to your piece.

I’ve learned that even if I’ve created a number of paintings within a series, it’s more helpful on many levels to have a descriptive name than to call the pieces: Color No. 4, Color No. 5, etc. For instance, when you’re trying to manage an inventory, it’s difficult enough to keep track of what painting is what without keeping track of indistinguishable names. And a specific name also tends to be helpful when a customer wants to talk to you about a specific painting.

Some of my ideas and strategies for naming my paintings include:

Bipolar Beets (watercolor, 18×24)

Using alliteration: I painted a series of vegetables that I named the Maladjusted Vegetables series. Each of the pieces leaned heavily on alliteration: Bipolar Beets, Cheeky Chili Peppers, Fickle Fennel, Pompous Pepper. A benefit of alliteration is that it helps make the name memorable for you and your customers.

Touching on poetry: You may choose a line from a poem or from a piece of scripture that particularly appeals to you for the name of your piece. The line you’ve chosen may have a special meaning for your customer, which helps the art seem imbued with extraordinary significance. When I did a series of illuminated manuscripts it made sense to name them according to the verse on which each piece was based.

Orange Paired With Violets (watercolor, 8×10)

Getting descriptive: A simple, but straightforward technique is to name the piece based on whatever it’s depicting, for example, a blue house, two green apples, Alfred or Palm Springs. I used this technique for one of my paintings, combining it with a play on words: Orange Paired With Violets. The playful aspect was that there were pears in the painting in addition to the orange and the violets, so by using the homonym “pair” I suggested the pears without actually naming them.

Creating a juxtaposition: An intriguing but sometimes confusing technique is to name your paintings using words that don’t go together, like Jumbo Shrimp, Desperate Wedding or The Dryness of the Ocean. Even a jumble of words like Paper Steamroller Anthill Banquet might attract attention, start a conversation and possibly make the piece seem surreal or fraught with deep meaning. (And sometimes that can give you a chuckle, too!)

Pompous Pepper (watercolor, 16×20)

I have fun naming my pieces and I recommend you do the same. Naming a painting adds to the work and lets me expand my creativity beyond the canvas.

Jane M. Mason is president of the St. Louis Watercolor Society and former president of the Greater St. Louis Art Association. She teaches locally and exhibits in galleries across the country. More of her work can be seen on her Web site:

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