The instant you apply your name to a painting, you declare it to be officially done and ready to go public. No work is complete without a signature. While it may not seem important at the time, your signature will forever help link your artwork to you.

When someone purchases a painting, they most certainly expect it to be properly signed and identified as your painting!

If you want your artwork to outlive you and be identified as a part of your “body of work”, it is important to sign it legibly so that people will always be able to identify it as yours. None of us can be certain that our work will become increasingly more valuable over time, but one thing for certain: a painting left unsigned or illegibly signed will be difficult to prove as your painting. Why not make it easy for the experts to identify you when they discover your painting at a sale or auction?

It is helpful to visit museums and galleries to study how watermedia paintings have been signed through the ages.

The Traditional Signature Process for Watermedia

What medium should I use to sign my painting?

  • For watercolors, the traditional signature is executed in graphite pencil. Other options, particularly where a graphite pencil would not show: colored pencil, watercolor pencil
  • For canvas, gesso board (Claybord, etc.) or any unglazed surface (not under glass or plexiglass), it is traditional to sign with a thin brush or paint pen, in keeping with the media used within the painting. Avoid felt tip pens unless the painting is executed in a similar media.

Where should I sign my painting?
Your signature has “weight” in the painting. Choose a placement for your name that balances the composition. In other words if there is a darker or “heavier” side to the design, you might want to put your signature on the opposite side.

What name should I use?
Sign your last name. Add a first initial if you wish, especially if your last name is frequently encountered. Avoid using only your first name. Do not use only your initials. Sign your name horizontally, never diagonally. J. Doe is okay, or just Doe.

What if my signature isn’t legible?
If you truly have a scribbly hand when signing your name, consider legibly printing your name on the back of the painting. It is a good idea to add the title there, too. This can be handy when you or someone else want to identify your painting in the future.

What should my signature look like?
Sign all your artwork in a similar manner. This, too, is a way of authenticating your work in the future. Keep your signature in a proper size or scale for your painting. Never sign a small painting with a large signature, and a large painting sometimes requires a larger signature.

What if my painting is nonrepresentational and a signature would seem out of place?
If you truly feel a signature is out of place in the picture plane, be sure you put your signature on the back of the painting. You might also consider putting it on the back of the backing board if you package your artwork in acetate sleeves with foam or archival backing boards.

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