Simple as it might seem, signing an artwork can be something of a vexed question. It’s something I struggled with a few years ago and have since resolved, but having chatted with several artists who have come into my gallery it is clear that this is an important consideration for artists.
First of all, make no mistake, it is important to sign your work. Why? For one thing it shows that you’re satisfied with the painting. You’re announcing: ’This is finished!’ And if you don’t sign your work, how will people know it’s yours? You might say you have a very distinctive style so people will recognise that it’s yours. But what if it’s the first time a person has seen your work?
Okay, if it’s hanging in a gallery there will be a label with your name on it, but if it sells, what then? If it’s hanging on the wall in someone’s home, what if the owner doesn’t remember who the artist was?
For this reason it’s also important that your signature is legible. You have created the work and you’re proud of it, so let people know who you are. You don’t necessarily have to sign your whole name; maybe you just want to use your first name, or your initials, or even a symbol. If this is the case, rather put your full name elsewhere. On the back of the painting for example. But make sure it doesn’t show through the canvas.
Use the same medium to sign the work as you’ve used to create it (except for etchings, graphics and limited edition prints which are traditionally printed in pencil). Use a rigger or similar. It can be quite tricky to get a full signature to flow. If you look closely at the signature I have developed you’ll see that I break it up into a series of brush strokes.
Where you sign your painting is up to you. Traditionally the signature appears in the lower right corner, but if this area is particularly busy rather go to the left corner.
You should sign all your works in basically the same way but make sure the signature suits the style of the work. My signature is quite flamboyant on my larger acrylic and mixed media paintings, but I tone it down for a smaller or more delicate work like one of my loose watercolours, so that the signature reflects the overall attitude of the painting.
Speaking of tone, how much attention should your signature attract? You want it to be visible but not intrusive or overpowering. The more contrast in the tone you use the more obvious it will be. I use an existing colour from somewhere else in the painting. Very often this is black, but sometimes I take a brighter colour and use the signature to balance the composition making the signature an integral part of the finished work.
It is always best to sign the painting at the time you complete it, although I must confess to not always remembering to do so. Basically it looks better, especially if you want to use a colour from the painting, so sign before you clean your brush and palette. The longer you leave it, the less it looks like part of the original work and the authenticity may even be called into question. And do always double check that you have signed before you take to the framers!
I don’t put a date alongside by signature. Some people do. It is recommended to at least put a date on the reverse of the painting so you can keep track of when your paintings were completed. Some people argue that if you put a date on a painting it limits the sale potential, but then why is there an auction market for contemporary art? Be aware that better known you become, the more important dates are for anyone interested in your evolution as an artist, including the curators who will be putting on your retrospectives!