How to sign a painting, drawing or fine art print
Artist Signatures - Resources for Artists and Art Lovers
- What's the best way for an artist to sign a painting?
- Should you date as well as sign a painting?
- How should you sign a fine art print?
- How can you identify the genuine signature of an artist?
- Where can I see artists signatures?
- What does signature status mean - and why does it matter?
These are just some of the questions about signatures asked by artists and art lovers - and below you can find a lot of the answers!
Why I created this website
I started the study for this site while sat in the City of London reference library reading a book about the signatures of artists and how to tell whether or not they were real.
It was amazing looking at pages which showed how the signatures of famous artists changed over time. Rather a lot of time passed (hours!) and I was well and truly hooked on this topic. I've been looking around to see what information is available in books and on the internet ever since!
THIS SITE FOCUSES ON TWO SPECIFIC ASPECTS:
1) HOW TO SIGN ARTWORK - paintings, drawings, fine art prints etc
2) HOW TO IDENTIFY AN ARTIST'S SIGNATURE
It offers a structured introduction to artists signatures for:
- ARTISTS who want to know more about the best way to sign and date a work of art
- ARTISTS who want help with their signatures when using specific types of art media
- ART LOVERS AND COLLECTORS who want to know more the signatures of artists from the past and present
Try the three polls which quiz you about your current artistic practice
If you've got a question I aim to provide you with a link to the answer. You can also try leaving a question - see comments - and I'll try to point you to where you can find the answer
How to Sign Art
POLL: Do you plan your signature?
BEFORE you start reading - please answer this poll (but please only complete this poll if you are an artist who creates artwork)
Do you think about HOW and WHERE to place your signature when planning your art?
POLL: Size and location of the Artist's Signature
BEFORE you start reading - please answer this poll (but please only complete this poll if you are an artist who creates and signs their artwork)
Which of the following is the most like your artist's signature?
Pros and Cons of Signing Artwork - plus TIPS
- enables an artist to assert the artwork was created by them
- assists with issues and disputes relating to copyright
- collectors like artwork to be signed
- galleries like artwork to be signed
- flashy signatures can detract from a painting - and make it more difficult to sell
- no signature creates problems for dealers and those who inherit your artwork
- if people can't read your signature then it effectively has no signature and might be claimed by anybody as their own work
- leaving your signature off means an artist can be "rediscovered" as an artist of merit in the centuries to come - because nobody knew who the artwork was by!
- sign your art - somewhere!
- keep your signature simple and recognisable.
- make your signature readable by anybody (not just the people who know you) - illegible signatures help no one
- keep your signature consistent over time helps to avoid misleading people
- signatures are traditionally placed in one of the bottom corners - however you can sign a painting anywhere you like!
- you can sign artwork on the reverse as well as the front
- you may have signature status with your art society - but that doesn't mean you have to include the initials in your signature!
- it's less easy to identify an artist from a monogram or initials than you might think
Note: The signature in the image is that of Vermeer.
POLL: Do you date your artwork?
BEFORE you start reading - please answer this poll even if you don't date your artwork (but please only complete this poll if you are an artist who creates artwork)
Do you include a date on your artwork?
Pros and Cons of Dating Artwork plus TIPS
- dates help to establish an artist's progression and development over time
- dates are very helpful to establishing the authenticity of works of art
- dates age an artwork and not all collectors like to buy art which is not "fresh"
- you can always date an artwork on the reverse. That way you preserve the integrity of the record of any artist's work while avoiding the negative associations with "dated" artworK
Initials, surname - or change your name?
The question of which name to use and how to sign it is a more common one than you might think.
Here are some tips:
- If you have a very common name, you need to think of a way to ensure people don't confuse you with other artists of the same name (don't forget to do a comprehensive search online). You may well benefit by making it more distinctive. Some people use a pseudonym. The only complication comes in relation to bank accounts and people trying to pay you for your art. You certainly want to think long and hard about how you sign your name.
- If you have a very unusual name you can use it and make your art signature distinctive. However if you opt for initials then you're back in the crowd of other artists who all have the same initials.
- Would You Benefit From Using a Different Artist Name? | Art Biz Blog
The arguments against using your given name are 1) that it's difficult to spell or pronounce or 2) that it's too common. Do you see how these two problems are exact opposites: one is too hard and the other too easy.
TIPS: How to Sign a Painting
TIPS include making a decision about:
- what your artist's name will be e.g. whether to use your full name, surname, initials or a monogram / hallmark
- which name you want to use for your signature (try to stick to this!)
- what's the best way to sign your chosen name - in a way which is not too difficult to do
- whether the colour of the signature will be standard or vary with the overall colour scheme of the painting
- whether the signature will always have a consistent position - or the position will change with the design of the artwork
- whether the signature will be obvious (e.g. red paint) or unobtrusive (e.g. a monogram tucked away in the painting somewhere)
- whether to sign the painting in the same media as used to create the artwork - one risk you may run is one fades faster than the other
"MUST DO" TIPS
- sign the painting BEFORE you varnish or glaze it
- sign the painting BEFORE you frame it!
- use a colour compatible with the artwork - unless you have a monumental ego which demands everything be signed in red!
- date your art - it doesn't have to be the same place as the signature and you can date a work on the back
Below you will find a series of links to articles in which people discuss the importance of a signature and provide some tips on how to do it
- MAKING A MARK: Creating a signature on your art
One of the perennial issues which comes up time and time again concerns the best way to sign your art. Here's a checklist of things to think about before you sign:
- Signing Your Art, Sign Clearly, Signature Tips | artbusiness.com
Signing your art is an integral part of the creative process. The instant you apply your name to a piece of your art, you declare that art officially finished and ready for public exposure. No matter what your signature looks like, what form it takes
- How to Sign a Painting | painting.about.com
Find out where, how and why you should add your signature to a painting when you've finished it.
- Robert Genn - Painter's Keys | Signing and dating
I'm a member of a party who thinks signatures should be clear, consistent and pretty well always in the same place--lower right.
- Have a Great Artist Signature and What Your Signature Communicates
A great artist signature should be Legible, Proportionate to the art, Appropriately placed on the art, and Consistent.
- How to Sign a Painting, Drawing or Artwork - My Top Ten Tips | Your Art Practice | Creativity Pro
Learn how to sign your painting, drawing or other artwork with tips which will transform your signature from ho-hum to oh wow!
How to sign a diptych or triptych
If you only sign one panel of a diptych or triptych what happens if the painting gets split up either accidentally or on purpose.
Who would know who painted the unsigned panel(s)?
The safest thing to do if creating your own diptych or triptych is to make sure every single panel is marked with your name even if you only sign one on the surface of the painting.
You could choose to only sign one panel on the front of the painting with your signature - to indicate this piece of art is one piece as opposed to two or three.
However if you take the view that the signature indicates provenance there's nothing wrong with signing all the panels on the reverse to make absolutely sure it's clear who created the work
This is what Robert Genn had to say on the matter
I believe in signing every unit. To avoid the goofy repetition look, understate the signatures or hide them in some obscure place, foliage, etc. Nothing worse than an orphan tych of a diptych or a triptych that wanders the world unknown.
Signal this is a DIPTYCH
One other useful way of indicating that a painting is a diptych or triptych (or some larger number - you too could become another David Hockney one day!) is to assign a number to each panel and then indicate that it is part of a larger work i.e. the total number of panels (e.g. 2/3 meaning second panel of three in total) in the same way people do when creating a run of prints
How to sign a watercolour painting
Always sign a watercolour painting in watercolour. As always plan where you're going to sign it from the beginning.
- use a brush - such as a script brush - which is easier to use when attempting lettering
- use a colour from the painting for the signature
- sign with a stylus - which creates an indentation in which paint settles (I recommend you experiment with this technique before you try it on a painting)
- Ask Susie - Watercolor Q & A: Signatures on Watercolors
Commentary on the use of different media to sign watercolour paintings - with particular reference to art competitions
- Proper way to sign copies of an original watercolor painting
This is a discussion and not everything said is a recommendation. Note the point about the meaning of signing prints.
How to sign a mixed media / acrylic painting
Some suggestions for how to sign mixed media paintings - and note that some of the suggestions contradict one another e.g. re. the use of a marker pen.
- How to Use an Acrylic Paint Marker Pen to Sign Your Paintings
There's an even easier way to sign your paintings than using a rigger brush, something that makes it as easy as signing with a pen!
- Sign It! | Paint Happens
You’ve finished your painting. There’s nothing left to add, simplify or modify. You are done, except for one last flourish…your signature.
How to sign pastel artwork
Signing a pastel drawing - where you've not covered all the paper is easy enough - however it's not easy to sign a pastel painting where the whole of the support is covered.
In addition some surfaces work better than others if you want to include your signature as opposed to a monogram.
Things you need to think about which are specific to pastels
- the nature of the surface will have an impact on the marks made and how sharp your pastel needs to be
- the ability to sign a pastel painting is very much influenced by the amount of pastel laid down already and whether the surface will accept any more. It's a good idea to think about where you might want to sign it BEFORE you complete the pastel painting
I RECOMMEND that you always try experimenting with different methods before signing a pastel painting proper and see which one works best for you. Don't experiment on a finished work!
The general recommendation is always to sign with the medium you are using however below are
FOUR WAYS of signing a pastel painting
- sharpen a hard pastel to a point and use this on an area which still has some tooth
- use a pastel pencil
- use a coloured pencil. IMO this works better than pastel pencils in terms of control. Make sure you use one that is lightfast!
- use a soft ordinary pencil. Beware this may leave a shiny mark. You MUST experiment with it before using on a pastel painting to see the effect
- Signing your finished pastel paintings - WetCanvas
Signing your finished pastel paintings Soft Pastel Talk
- More on Signing Your Artwork | Soft Pastel News
Liz Haywood-Sullivan is giving some nice tips on how to sign your pastel work."This may seem simple but be sure to sign your artwork - redundantly. Sign your painting on both the front, AND the back. And on the back please write the name of your pain
- How to Sign a Pastel on Suede Painting - Jessica Crabtree
I'm not including this link because I'm recommending it so much as it's the only information I can find about signing on a suede surface - which is notorious for having its lovers and haters.
- Your Signature Style | Signing Your Painting | Artist's Network
Three Considerations: There are three basic signature considerations: placement, tonality, and style.
- Materials and Methods for signing your pastel painting | Artist's Network
Using Pastels: If you wish to sign a pastel painting with pastel, there are a few factors that should be considered
How to sign a drawing
This is a checklist of things to think about BEFORE signing a drawing:
- Avoid your signature being covered by the mat - I cannot tell you how often I have cursed when signing my artwork after cutting the mat only to find I've signed in the wrong place! The most common reason for a signature looking squashed in a corner if forgetting to allow for the mat before you sign - and I've committed this mistake more than once which is why it's top of the list! Remember to work out how much allowance is required for the mat covering the drawing and then remember to also allow for some space around it so it has some space to breathe.
- Use the same material to sign your drawing as that used for the drawing - otherwise it looks as if it's been done by another person and/or added afterwards.
- Artists should sign using a material which is no less lightfast than the drawing media used in the drawing - Do remember that not all media is lightfast and some media fades. Interestingly this is particularly true of a lot of ink unless designed to be lightfast.
- Check your title and/or signature and/or date before you spray the final fixative - it's your last chance to correct any words spelt incorrectly or letters which look wrong
- Consider following the contour of the image you have drawn - in order not to draw too much attention to an image, some artists align the direction of their signature with a line within the drawing
- If using pastel consider using a pastel pencil or a sharpened hard pastel for the signature - they're sometimes much easier to use than a proper soft pastel
- Try using a monogram if you've produced a botanical drawing - for some reason monograms seem to be more prevalent amongst artists who produce botanical illustrations
- If you use a monogram on the front you can also sign your full name on the back - This is my practice with most of my drawings. I sign my full name on the reverse just inside the margins of the drawing. Obviously if you adopt this practice you need to be certain that the paper you have used is think enough that the signature on the back will not show through.
Monograms, Initials and Motifs
Monograms and Initialed Signatures
Monograms have a long history when it comes to signing paintings. They can be:
- a unique symbol or logo - this might be graphical or involve letters
- initials relating to the individual who created the artwork - combined in such a way as to create one graphic image i.e. a monogram
The main problem with separated initials as a signature is that lots of artists with different names will also have the same initials.
The butterfly motif of James McNeil Whistler
How to create a monogram
A monogram is a motif which indicates a work was created by a particular person
A monogram is normally made of letters or graphemes (a grapheme is "the smallest semantically distinguishing unit in a written language"
The process used for creating a monogram for use in published documents is also one which can be used when trying out different ways you can create a monogram from a selection of all or one initials in your artist's name.
- Monogram - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos.
- Make Your Own Monogram | Monogram Guide | Mark and Graham
Discover how you can make your own monogram with Mark and Graham's wide selection of monogram fonts, thread colors and monogram and personalization ideas.
- Monograms - Artists' Signatures
Monograms and Initialed Signatures This section is arranged alphabetically, according to the letters
How to sign a fine art print - tips and techniques for printmakers
The convention to maintain the distinction between hand-pulled fine art prints and prints which are mechanical reproductions is that
- limited edition fine art prints (ie hand-pulled) are signed and
- unlimited reproduction prints are NOT signed
An artist's name on a print can increase the price by two or more times, and creators generally view signing and numbering works as a valuable source of income for themselves.
What's the value of a signature on an art print - Daniel Grant - Huffington Post (see below for link)
TIPS for signing fine art limited edition prints
- Only sign a fine art limited edition print if you approve it (ie you are happy to have your name and your signature associated with this print)
- Only sign limited edition prints
- Make sure the print is completely dry before you start to sign!
- Sign in pencil - NOT pen
- Make sure the edition number is clearly indicated before you sign - conventionally this is located on the bottom left of the print. The edition number is written as follows: the number of the print within the edition / the edition size (e.g. 3/50 - meaning the third print of an edition of 50)
- Sign close to the edge of a limited edition print - in the centre or the bottom right of the print
- Sign the Artist's Proof (A/P) but do NOT include this in the edition numbering
- Do NOT sign an unlimited edition reproduction print - it's meaningless and you risk being accused of passing it off as a limited edition print
- Do NOT sign any art prints you are not happy with - and make sure you deface them
- Do NOT sign blank pieces of paper - this totally undermines the value of the work
- MAKING A MARK: How to sign an art print
The Do's and Don'ts of Signatures for Printmakers Here's a summary of the conventions - and a few tips about what NOT to do
- Daniel Grant: What's the Value of a Signature on an Art Print?
Several years before his death in 1987, Andy Warhol sat down and signed his name on copies of the tabloid magazine Interview, of which he was the editor. Regularly costing $2, he charged buyers $50 for these signed copies and they sold pretty fast.
- How do I sign a print? What is an edition? Prints and Printmaking - a very short intro to terms and
Some basic terms and protocols have been compiled especially for those new to printmaking. It includes Â how to sign a print and definitions of those mysterious…
- How do you sign a print?
I have made prints for holiday gifts and I wanted to make sure they were signed and dated before I gave them out. Is there a proper way to go about it? Is there a different way to sign a mono-print as opposed to a numbered print? What medium do you r
- How to Sign Art Prints | eHow.com
How to Sign Art Prints. Artists should take the important final step of signing their prints. Signing your print ensures that people will know that you made it and considered it finished. Signed prints also tend to be more valuable. Artists tradition
- Epic Edits | Archive | Making Fine Art Prints: Signing
Finally, we're getting to the less discussed topic of producing fine art prints: signing. I've had a few people ask the same questions about where to sign, how to sign, what to sign with, etc. If there existed an official rule book, set of laws, or h
How to sign a copy of another painting
The basic principle of signing a painting is to indicate that you produced it.
However if you have copied a painting, it's not your painting! It's called a derivative work. If you represented it as all your own work then you'd be committing fraud.
It's therefore very important when making a copy to indicate that it's NOT all your own work.
So how should you sign it?
- Many artists leave such paintings unsigned - particularly if they were done for educational or study purposes. These after all will never be leaving your studio and won't be sold.
- Some artists reference the paintings as being connected to the artist who has been copied in some way eg "After Van Gogh" (this is the most usual form ie "After (painter's name)". This might be done on the reverse
- Some artists sign on the front - but again any painting which is a copy should indicate this fact e.g. via its title for example AND through the signature used
NEVER, under any circumstances, attempt to forge the signature of artist on an artwork you've produced - whether or not it is a copy.
Otherwise you could find yourself in Court or worse!
- Art Forgery - How to Spot Fake Signatures
This quick course in art forgery, fake signatures in particular, is part of a continuing instructional series on how to dissect and analyze ways that works of art available for sale online, particularly at auction sites like eBay, are represented by
- China Daily: Copyright campaign eyes artwork signature fraud
BEIJING - China's National Copyright Administration (NCA) has vowed to cooperate with related departments to crack down on forged signatures of renowned artists on artworks, and to warn buyers against counterfeit items in the chaotic relics market.
- Art fraud: High court legal battle continues over Christie's 'fake' - Criminal law - The Solicitor
A Russian oligarch is suing the renowned auction house Christie's after claiming that they sold him a 'fake'... - Criminal law
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Overlook TP (November 2, 2004)
BOOK: The Art Forgers Handbook
Eric Hebborn used to be a master forger
This book describes what you should NOT be doing if you want to avoid any accusations of being a forger!
Rated an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars (6 customer reviews)
How to Identify an Artist's Signature
The history and meaning of the artist's mark
- ArtLex on Signatures and Signing
signature, signed and unsigned - A signature is a person's name as written by that person, as distinguished from how anyone else would sign either that person's name or their own name. A signature on an artwork usually establishes the identity of its
- Signatures, Monograms, and Markings / American Art
Be aware that not all names found on an object belong to the artist. For example, previous owners may have written their names on the back of an object.
Paperback: 686 pages
Publisher: Antoine Versailles Publishing
(April 17, 2012)
The Art Signature File - by G.B. David
This is a comprehensive dictionary and a standard reference tool for many art dealers.
It's not expensive an investment if you want to check out who the artist is behind a signature.
Examples of Artists Signatures
To be able to recognise a signature you need to have seen other examples.
There are several websites which make a point of recording artists signatures in a database. Below are links to some places where you can browse artists signatures
There's also a book which is well used by art dealers and galleries.
- Artist's signatures and monograms, biographies and prices by Art Signature Dictionary.
See thousands of genuine and forged paintings and signatures. Created in cooperation with international police authorities.
- Artist signatures - Browse Artist signatures - page 1
Signature for the artist - art prices. Antique paintings, modern art, watercolor, prints, sculptures and more.
- Signatures and monograms. Find the artist. Auction price
signature for the artist - art prices. Antique paintings, modern art, watercolor, prints, sculptures and more.
- Category:Monograms of artists - Wikimedia Commons
Monograms of artists From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository Monograms of visual artists used as signatures on their art
- Signature Finder - Artist signature identification
Identify Artist Signatures with our database containing over 430.000 artist names This site matches the name you find on a painting to the name and dates of artists in the database
- Identify Artist Signatures - a collection of illustrator and commercial artist signature examples
A Selection of Illustrator and Artist Signatures from the 20th Century
John Castagno's Artists' Signatures and Monograms Database
There is a comprehensive resource available online for all those who are trying to identify the signature of an artist - and who are willing to pay for the service.
John Castagno has been researching Artist's Signatures for years and in the process has indexed and creates a comprehensive database of signatures by time period and continent across very many countries
It represents an amazing resource that helps to identify the signatures, monograms and initials of thousands of artists
His research is made available in two different ways - via:
- books - specific to the area of interest. These are emphatically not cheap! In fact they are generally very expensive. They are however the standard reference books used by galleries, museums, libraries, and collectors around the world. They are used to help identify, authenticate, or verify signatures and works of both well-known and little-known artists.
- an online service which enables users to access the comprehensive database which has been set up of both artists signatures and their monograms.
- Artists' Signatures - Fine Art Research and Signature Discovery Service Directory
Welcome to Artists' Signatures By John Castagno, World Renowned Fine Arts Researcher 65,000 Artist Listings
Can you recognise an old master painting by the signature?
BOOK: Old Masters II: Signatures and Monograms
This book lists more than 800 artists and provides examples of more than 1,100 signatures associated with them. It's not cheap and costs over $100 even on Amazon!
Hardcover: 896 pages
Publisher: Scarecrow Press (September 1, 1990)
Series: European Artists: Signatures and Monograms From 1800
The series of three books about European Artists is one for the serious art collector or art dealer. They cover:
- monograms and initials. One volume is devoted to one devoted to European Artists' Signatures and Monograms
- common surname signatures,
- alternative surname signatures, and
- illegible signatures.
BOOK: Jewish Artists
Hardcover: 636 pages
Publisher: Scarecrow Press (August 20, 2010)
This volume relates to Jewish artist and covers 1,100+ artists and their associated signatures and monograms
Artists of the Americas
American Artists Signatures and Monograms
Another three volume series - this time about the Signatures and Monograms of American Artists.
As with the other books produced by this publisher they include sections about monograms and initials, common surname signatures, alternative surname signatures, and illegible signatures.
- Volume 2 covers an additional 3,500 artists with 4,600 signature examples associated with these artists
Volume 3 (from 1800) covers a further 4,070 artists with 4,250 signature examples.
Hardcover: 844 pages
Publisher: Scarecrow Press; First Edition edition
(June 28, 1990)
American Artists: Signatures and Monograms
Volume 1 covering artists working between 1800-1989 covers:
- 5,100 American artists - including biographical notes
- the signatures and monograms of some 600 important Canadian and Latin American artists
- 10,000 signature examples associated with these artists
- reference sources
BOOK: Latin American Artists' Signatures and Monograms
African, Asian and Middle Eastern Artists
Artists as Illustrators
This book focuses on artists as illustrators.
It includes some 14,000 entries of nineteenth- and twentieth-century illustrators, sculptors, and fine art artists who have done illustrations for books, magazines, records, and posters.
Abstract Artists: Signatures and Monograms
Another volume by John Castagno which focuses on painters, printmakers, sculptors, and photographers who have spent all or a part of their careers in abstract art. This volume includes some 3,900 signatures and monograms examples of how some 2,300 sign their works.
This is the term used when artists have earned their membership of an art society
About Signature Membership
This is MY definition of signature membership
"Signature membership (for artists) means all those people who have qualified to use a set of letters after their surname and be known as a full member of an art society. The process of becoming a signature member is almost always defined by a set of criteria which varies from art society to art society. It usually means you are also a fully paid up member in good standing as well."
However not everybody seeks letters after their name.
Take a look at Robert Genn's perspective (below) on credentials
- Those important letters | Robert Genn - Painter's Keys
I'm told that in some jurisdictions credentials are important, but I'm not sure where those jurisdictions are. Further, I've never heard of someone coming into an art gallery and saying "Do you have anything by an RA?" And while this may happen, espe
- Signature Membership
Signature Members are committed artists whose work is of professional quality. They have exhibited in galleries, museum shows or professional divisions of open juried exhibition. Click here to see the qualifications for and benefits of signature memb
- How to Become a Signature Member of the American Watercolor Society and Member Listing
Any artist who has exhibited in 2 previous AWS Annuals may be considered for membership. Write for details to:FRANK WEBB,5 Grandview Avenue, Apartment 401,Pittsburgh, PA 15211.
- International Plein Air Painters Signature Members
International Plein Air Painters juried Signature Members. No Signature applications are being accepted.