One of the most rewarding moments of any painting is reaching the point where we feel satisfied enough to place our signature. This physical act signifies ownership. While the purpose of the signature is basically that of authorship, its placement and appearance can also play a significant role in the overall design of a painting’s composition. When thoughtfully executed, it can strengthen the composition. When not, it can become distracting and weaken what is otherwise a good design.
Three Considerations: There are three basic signature considerations: placement, tonality, and style.
Signature Placement: The symbolic marks used to represent a signature appear artificial when compared to the rest of a painting. This draws attention to the signature. Traditionally, Western artists have tended to sign paintings in the lower right-hand corner. This is the place where the eye naturally ends when reading a printed page and consequently has become the most comfortable. But, if the right-hand corner is already visually busy, the addition of a signature will draw even more attention, exasperating what may be an already fragile composition. In this instance, the next best corner is the left. The signature will still be at the bottom of the painting, which represents a closer proximity to the viewer and is therefore easier to accommodate. When neither of these corners are an option, the upper left and right-hand corners become possibilities. If it feels right to place it there, do it.
A Signature’s Tonality: Deciding on a hue and value for the signature again takes into consideration the amount of attention an artist wishes to bring to their signature. The more contrast the signature has to its surroundings, the more attention it will garner. Most painters want the signature to be visible but not too intrusive and, therefore, select a hue and value combination that is analogous to the area where it will reside. Conversely, it can be helpful to repeat an existing tone from somewhere else in the painting to strengthen the painting’s overall color/value composition.
Signature Style: When it comes to the style, or flare, of the signature, it is important to make sure it reflects the overall attitude of the painting. A bold, gestural painting can withstand a more flamboyant signature. Conversely, a quiet, calm painting is better suited to a modest signature. When one of America’s founding fathers, John Hancock, placed his signature on the Declaration of Independence, he authoritatively demonstrated his pride for the document. While it may not serve us quite as well to sign our paintings with the same Hancock flare, it is still important that we take prideful authorship of our work. Where it is placed, how it appears, and the personality it demonstrates are all part of the presentation.