How to Create an Artist’s Signature and Sign Your Paintings

An artist's signature should be an extension of the artist. Here, Richard Ensing signs his painting in a bold red.

More...

An artist's signature is a calling card. Signing a painting claims ownership, gives additional value, and marks it as a complete, sellable piece.

However many artists struggle with signing their paintings. The addition of artist's signature can feel jarring to the painting if done incorrectly. Figuring out what your signature needs to be is an important part of establishing yourself as an artist. 

A signature is meant to be a part of your painting. It ought to effortlessly complement the rest of the painting without drawing undue attention to itself. With thought and some practice, your signature can do just that and become a seamless addition to your paintings. 

Your signature should feel like your work. It should feel like punctuation at the end of a thoughtful personal monologue.

“Artichokes on a Crate” by Brent Erickson, signed with the artist’s initials in a trompe l’oeil style, fitting in with the rest of the painting. (Courtesy of The Art League)

What and When to Sign

The first question an artist's signature must answer is the identity of the artist. When signing a painting it must be clear who has painted the piece. If you choose to sell your work, a signature is a business card, it tells people who created the painting. With that information, they can find your website or information to contact you. 

Your artist's signature should be consistent. If you choose to sign with your first initial and last name, then have that be a harmonious part of your work. Changing the name on your paintings often will make it difficult to identify your work. A first name or initial and last name usually does the trick. 

Once you’ve discovered what to sign, the next question is where and when should you sign it? Because a signature is an integrated piece of the painting, many artists sign as they work, rather than at the very end. This allows the signature to become a part of the painting. Signing at the end is a tried and true example, but will have a slightly less integrated feel to it, which works for many painting styles. 

Rembrandt’s painting, “A woman Holding a Pink” (1656) shows his signature, signed in similar colors to the rest of the painting. (The National Gallery of Art)

Where to Sign

When choosing a place for an artist's signature, it is important to consider composition and your personal style. The signature is a part of the painting, so it must be balanced and in line with the rest of the piece. You may consider using the signature to balance out a compositionally uneven area in the painting. Or perhaps the signature will be hidden and integrated as a part of the painting, painted to look as though it were etched into bronze or carved into wood features. 

Your signature is meant to be a part of your painting, so consider your style as you sign. If you produce elegant work, you must have an elegant signature that feels as though it comes from the same hand. Having a beautiful elegant painting and a signature scrolled across the middle in pure black won’t line up with the look and feel of your work. 

As an artist, your work should be an extension of who you are, and your signature is a part of that work. Considering composition, style, and placement will help to explain who you are to your viewers. 

Vincent Van Gogh’s signature is etched into the wet paint with the backside of the brush.

How to Sign

Many artists choose to sign their paintings with a small, round or flat brush. Add medium, so the paint flows freely, and the brushes are somewhat similar to a pen, depending on the substrate you choose to paint upon. Practicing to see how the paint reacts to your signature is a good idea. Taking the time to practice, but not obsessing over the action will yield a thoughtful, but natural, artist's signature. 

The color of the signature depends on the painting. If you want the signature to stand out, perhaps you will choose a bold color in a red or a blue. But if the signature is meant to quietly compliment, you should choose a color that complements the overall colors of the painting. 

If you are working with thick paint in puddling or an impasto technique, you may choose a different route for your signature. You may wait until the entire painting is dry. Or you may follow in the footsteps of artists like Vincent Van Gogh and scratch your signature into the wet paint with the wood end of the brush. 

Evolve Head Instructor Piper Talladay’s signature is done in a small script, often placed in the foreground of the painting. 

Conclusion

As you develop your artist's signature, remember that your signature and your work is an extension of who you are. So when you're trying to figure out what your signature should look like, take a look at your work. Is it harsh or jagged? Delicate or bold? Does it shout or is it a whisper? 

Your signature should fall in line with your personality, and your personality should be seen in your work. The best way to find your artist's signature is to study your own work. 

Want to improve your painting skills and techniques? Read more here:

FREE MASTERCLASS:
The 4 Part Framework to Develop Artistic Excellence in 12 Months


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. I would suggest to those who paint in acrylic that they use a technical pen and acrylic ink in an appropriate contrasting color to sign their paintings. It makes a very fine line and the right elegant touch to finish a painting

  2. I can ALWAYS go back…to the ones thst are long gone sold to strangers,etc…but I have been at a personal conclusion for awhile now that a signature ( mine in particular) ruins or takes from the painting…afterall- no matter what- it is not part of the picture…not the reason I painted it…& my soul- a piece of it….of the heart…of the emotions seen or unseen in each piece should speak volumes to the viewer rather than some old scratch marks….I am opened minded enough to go ahead & start signing the front & I certainly see reasoning in these perspectives…but afterall: should the painting reach a conclusion? It's but a page, paragraph, maybe chapter in to a lifes work- but let it breathe on to the next…your work IS your signature,therfore….in saying this- I actually really like my signature & have even altered my last name back to the ancestrial original version. Not sure about signing in paint, though..ink or enamel on oil ( dried or cured) always works…mine is simply : J.Dörflinger.2022 …Thanks- I hope to make it " big" in the art world someday!
    – J.Derflinger
    J.Derflinger

    1. Hi Jesse,
      Such a beautiful way to think about your paintings, as signatures in and of themselves! You might even experiment with incorporating your signatures into parts of your painting. If you have fabric, make it look like your signature is stitched into the cloth. If there is wood in the painting, maybe your name is carved into the wooden surface. This could allow the viewer to know who made the painting but won’t take away from the elegance of the piece.
      Happy Painting!
      Piper & the Evolve Team

  3. Hi, Is it okay to put initials at the bottom of the canvas when the name is lengthy and difficult to pronounce? Thanks!

    1. Hi Gayathri,
      There are a couple of things to consider here. First, if you use your initials, will your audience (or people who come in contact with your work) know who the painting is by? You could also simply use your first initial and last name if your name is unique. I would recommend using at least your last name so that people can discover you through your signature and work! In 100 years, if someone sees your painting, we want them to know who it was created by =)
      Happy Painting!
      Piper & the Evolve Team

  4. ON MY PAINTINGS I NOT ONLY SIGN MY NAME, I ALSO PUT THE DATE BY IT. (MONTH DAY YEAR) (OR JUST THE FULL YEAR.) 2022……

    THE DATE WILL TELL THE VIEWER HOW OLD IT IS AND WHEN IT WAS PAINTED.

    IF YOU DO JUST THE LAST TWO DIDGETS ('22)OF THE YEAR, THE VIEWER MIGHT THINK IT WAS PAINTED RECENTLY INSTEAD OF 100 YEARS AGO! (1922). DATE ALL YOUR PAINTINGS & DRAWINGS.

    ALSO, DON'T GET DISAPPOINTED OF YOUR PAINTING. EVERY ARTIST HAS THEIR OWN PAINTING STYLE….SO YOU ALONE, MIGHT HAVE A STYLE THE PURCHASER LIKES!

    PAINTING IS FUN AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAINT SO METICULOUSLY TO MAKE IT LOOK REAL. IF YOU WANT IT TO LOOK REAL, TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH AND MOUNT IT ON A CANVAS. (SAVES TIME) !!!!! JIMO

    1. Hi Jim,

      We definitely agree that you should sign and potentially date your paintings!

      And each artist definitely has their own style, and it is a wonderful thing to develop! But I’d challenge you to dig into why realism and being able to be meticulous in your artwork are both important. Without realism or the ability to confidently paint exactly what you see in your mind’s eye, a lot is left up to chance. You might enjoy digging a bit deeper into realism with our article about why realism matters! We hope you’ll check it out.

      Happy painting!

      Piper & the Evolve Team

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Take the FREE Evolve Masterclass

Register to learn the 4 Part Framework taught at Evolve to develop professional level art skills in just 12 months.