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What’s in a Name? To Sign or Not to Sign Your Artwork.

I’ve been an artist all my life. When my painting mentor suggested I think about IF I want to sign my art at all…that was completely foreign to me. Of course I would sign my work…I have always signed my artwork! His comment did make me step back and consider why or why not to sign. He never signs his paintings and while most artists do, I was surprised to find a small but powerful contingent of artists, galleries and art appreciators who think it detracts from the art and should not be there. I’ve got my reasons for signing, but let’s look at this from all sides.

Three Reasons Artists DO Sign Their Work

Creative and Artistic Tradition
Art historian’s relish being able to identify the signature of the artist on works of art. For centuries artists have done this to signify that they believe the art is complete. It is the last thing they add to a painting and it means they are happy with the piece as it stands. Traditionally no changes will be made after it has been signed.

Increase the Value of Art
Art appraisers will tell you that a clean clear identifiable signature will most often significantly increase the value of any piece of art. Contemporary art prints and giclées (especially if they are limited edition prints) also go up in value if the artist signs them. The signature alone adds value so it’s financially beneficial to sign your work and to purchase signed art as an art collector.

To Claim it as Their Own
Putting your signature on your art proves to the world that you created, completed and approved it for all to see. When the artist is not around (and eventually you won’t be), the signature identifies it. You are literally creating a name for yourself that can lead to future sales if people can inquire about art they like. Your signature helps them find you.

Reasons NOT to Sign Work

A Signature Can Disrupt Composition
The painting is complete, and the artwork flows only to have something completely foreign dropped on top that has nothing to do with the image on the canvas. It draws attention away from the intended focal point of the piece and is unnecessary to the overall aesthetic.

The Image is Top Priority
The color, form, texture and overall emotional impact should be what attract a person to a particular piece of art. They are buying what will work well in their space and what speaks to them. They feel the signature is an afterthought or inconsequential incident, like a signed check or a credit card receipt.

How Prevalent is the “Nameless Artist” Contingent?

I was surprised, as mentioned before that my painting mentor was in this camp, but I have since run across other artists as well as a gallery that stick to their guns on this issue. In fact, I had my eye on a contemporary art gallery in Denver for possible partnership. We had been following each other and I was in the process of pulling together my submission to them. Another artist friend was also considering them and visited this gallery in person. She came back and said they are off her list because they insist that any work they carry have no signatures on them. They said it, “disrupts the composition of abstract art and their clientele don’t want someone’s name on their walls.” To both of us that felt wrong. There is a piece of the artist IN every painting and to reject who that artist is all together in my mind is to reject the art. Needless to say I did not submit my work there.

That did start the whole signature conversation between that artist and me, however, as she noticed that I sign my paintings on the lower left corner. She wondered if I was left handed but the truth is the signature or “mark” I have created for my paintings has a block “L” that holds up “UBEL.” The block fits naturally in the left corner and would feel awkward on the right. So there…it’s a design thing!

Evolution of my Art Signature

Triptych and Diptych signature style as seen on painting titled: “We’re In This Together” 90”x36” acrylic

Looking back I can see the evolution of my art signature over time and how it has evolved right along with my work. As a kid it was my “teacher perfected” full cursive signature. Off to The University of Kansas Fine Art School and my signature needed to grow up, so I nixed the curly signature for the block all caps lettering (all in the lower right corners by the way). This was the way all my architect friends were writing on their blueprints. I thought it looked cool so I adopted the clean block signature in my art.

My photography has always been signed in pencil with my full signature off to the right. For larger canvas prints I shortened my signature to just “L. Ubel.” When I started painting abstract acrylics I decided something more contemporary was in order. Pulling from my graphic design background I put together a logo mark instead of using my full signature. I have decided that every painting will be signed with the “L. UBEL” mark in the lower left. Also, multi-panel pieces will have the full mark on the left panel and the additional panels in Diptychs and Triptychs would get just the “U” and a dot in the lower left corner so no canvas of mine would go unsigned.

As an artist, or collector, which side of the, “sign or not to sign” debate are you on? Let me know in a comment below…

Lynette Ubel

While Lynette’s 25+ year career has produced a versatile portfolio of award-winning photography and design, it is her calling as an abstract painter that is emerging in full, vibrant fashion today. Her artistic vision now manifests itself in contemporary abstract acrylic paintings that feature an explosive style of remarkable depth, motion, and fluidity.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Simple. Sign it on the back. I collect early art and it is very frustrating when a painting is unsigned or illegibly signed when trying to research age, location, potential value etc.

  2. I have always signed my artwork. That’s what my teacher told me to do. Though it has changed. Its not so big as it used to be. Some people in my class started using a marker. That’s cheating to me. I sign on the lower left of my paintings.

  3. I like seeing a signature on a painting. Also, I like when it is in the lower right side. To me, it is part of our English speaking culture, though obviously many other languages are red from left to right, top to bottom. In that sense it seems like if I am reading the painting that last this g I take in is the signature. I understand the L design and how it fits on the lower left corner. It makes sense. However, in general when I see a painting randomly signed on the left, it can be off putting, a bit like driving in Ireland. I adjust, but it’s not natural.

  4. Last week, I bought a custom painted article from a local artist. It was unsigned. The person I bought it for thought it was a nice piece of artwork, but wondered why the artist didn’t sign it. This week, I had a chance to question the lack of artist marks. This person said she was either an uncertified or unregistered artist, not sure which, and therefore it was illegal fo her to sign her artwork. A search didn’t turn up anything to verify her statement, so a query to this site seemed likely to return an answer that was the official word preventing a signature. Thanks!

  5. I don’t sign my stonework engraved rocks… It has all of me all over it. My sacrifice, my sadness, my happiness, all my thoughts while I engrave, my blood a lot of the time, my sweat in the summertime, my freezing suffering in the ice winter, I do all my engraving outside,… alone always. I have many paths I must travel from the day I locate the rock to the day I finish it,.. I always felt signing it was not respectful to the art form or the rock. I always knew my future would be a victory and a true success after all my trials and failure I knew… my rocks are engraved in as they say “it’s in stone”. Part of me is in every stone and I know it and everyone that has one knows it.. that to me is the ultimate in people knowing what they have and who did it.. it’s just like signing but the ultimate next level. It’s Is the greatest feeling to me when someone asks me why didn’t you sign or can you sign and I tell them it is! ? one more thought,,,.. I’ve always felt like this, if you do something beautiful for somebody ,, anybody,, and they never found out that it was you It was ok,,, one day that kind gesture in some way would transcend into the next good place in this world. My goodness or your goodness will make a difference definitely and will just be ,, just like my rocks.. have a beautiful night……

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