Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why Sign Your Artwork? Here Are 7 Things To Consider

      Today I will start a short series on the three supporting actors for your painting.  This small series doesn’t just benefit artists; it also provides value for collectors or future collectors.  Let’s consider the painting as the lead actor.  But I want to caution you that these supporting characters all have the ability to make or break your leading man (or woman).
     I’m going to start today with the most innocuous of the three.  But don’t discount the artist’s signature, as being less important.  Consider this scenario and see if it sounds plausible:  You’ve been gallery crawling most of the day in a small art town.  You know exactly what you’re looking for, but haven’t nailed down that special painting.  Mentally you are prepared to buy the right painting.
     From across the room a little 9 x 12 painting is screaming at you from the wall.  The painting has done its’ first work---it has grabbed you!  You lock onto the painting and start across the room.  Now comes the scrutiny.  The painting handiwork is remarkable; the value, color and subject matter all appeal to you.  This could be it!  This is it!  You motion to your spouse for validation, approval and common ground.  Then you wonder, who is the artist?  You scan the bottom of the piece. Whoa!  A third-grader signed this thing!  You can’t even remember the artist’s name because, well….it looks like a third- grader has signed this painting!  Surely this can’t be the same person!  Can I love this painting with that signature?  Doubt has just crept in.
     The truth is, this scenario does happen.  As artists, we are more attuned to this type of thing.  But don’t disregard the educated collector or the neophyte.  Everyone has an opinion.  Here’s why I think the final stroke is so important:

      1.  I DID THISFirst and foremost, the signature says you did the painting.  For the artist, it should signify a moment of accomplishment.  For the collector, it provides valuable information.  It says who you are; not only for today but also for 150 years from now.  The painting will change hands many times, even in the same family.  Let them know who you are.  There is empirical evidence that unsigned artwork loses value over time, compared to the same painting that is signed.

     2.  SIGN WITH YOUR MEDIUMIf you did your painting in watercolor, sign it in watercolor.  Nothing makes a work instantly questionable like a signature in another medium.  Don’t create questions of authenticity when you don’t need to.

     3.  INTEGRATE THE SIGNATUREWhether you think so or not, your signature becomes a part of the painting.  It must be considered as a design element.  Look at the painting and make a composition decision.  If you’re not sure, put your signature on a small piece of paper and move it to possible positions for evaluation.  It’s too late if you sign the wrong place, especially for us watercolor folks.  Also, I pre-build my frames, so nothing is more aggravating than realizing your signature is hidden by a matte or frame.

     4.  KEEP IT SUBTLE…OR MAKE IT BOLD!I usually keep my signature subtle.  I don’t want the size or color to compete with my painting.  So much of an artist’s job is to lead the viewer’s eye.  Why spend 3 days on the perfect painting, to put a bright orange signature that overwhelms your efforts?  I’ve seen it often.  With that said, bold signatures can work for some artists.  Think about Picassos bold stamp of a signature.  For the most part, it blended with his style. 

     5.  OVER TIME, YOUR SIGNATURE WILL BECOME YOUR BRANDI can recall many artists whose signature has become their brand:  Monet, W.F. Reese, and most recently Richard Schmid or Jeremy Lipking come to mind.  Branding is a powerful tool, and name recognition tied to your signature becomes an asset.

     6.  LEGIBLE OR ILLEGIBLE?  Many artists never stop to consider the importance of this aspect.  Generally speaking, I would suggest “legible” early in your career.  As your notoriety and fame grows, then you might loosen up a bit.  William Matthews’ signature is a good example.  Generally, his signature is a bold calligraphic statement, but most art collectors know in an instant whose signature it is.  He has built a very strong brand.

     7.  The final point is VALIDATION.   In many ways this is the most important.  Your signature says “I approve of the final effort”.  The finer things in this world have signatures.  Granfors Bruks makes the finest hand-forged axes in the world.  Guess what?  Each smith signs his work!  Your stamp of approval validates authenticity, quality, and quite frankly your artistic reputation.

     Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two, and Good Luck!

All copy © Mark Kohler Studio.  


  1. Good information - I appreciated this post. I worked out a new signature earlier this year, but I'm still experimenting with it. Not sure it is "right"

  2. Rob,
    I love the "albert" part of your signature. The "T" overwhelms, but it could be a good brand. It's very distinctive. So live with it for awhile and see if it sticks.