signing and dating your work for artists

Signing & Dating Your Work

Many contemporary artists don’t sign their work on the piece itself. The signature may be concealed behind the work, on the back of the canvas, or the back of the mounting for a photograph. For some conceptual work, a signature comes in the form of a certificate of authenticity. Think about what kind of signature is right for your work. If you are confused, consult a contemporary art curator, professor, or historian. Most professional artists do not sign the work on the front of the art, so that the signature does not distract from the content of the work.

Make and sign your art in the same medium (except for prints and graphics, which are generally signed in pencil). For example, sign a watercolor in watercolor paint, an acrylic in acrylic medium, and an oil painting in oil paint. When you sign in a different medium, you increase the chances of someone eventually questioning whether or not the art was actually done by you.

Always put the edition size on limited edition graphics.

Sign all of your art in more or less the same way. Signatures should be consistent in size, coloration, location, style (written or printed), and other particulars. That way, people who do not know your art will have an easier time recognizing your work. Also, signing your name in many different ways or locations eventually makes it easier for forgers to sign art and claim that it is by you.

Dating your art minimizes any guesswork as to when something was completed. You may not think this is important now, but after you have been making art for several decades, you will understand why you need to date work. If you do not want to date your art on the front, date it inconspicuously on the back. The better known you become, the more important dates are for anyone interested in your evolution as an artist.

Do not sign on top of a varnished painting or glazed sculpture because the signature then looks like it was added later, more as an afterthought than a declaration.

Your signature should not be so bold or obvious that it interferes with or detracts from the composition. It should blend rather than contrast with its surroundings and look like it belongs in the art.

Do not scratch your signature into dried paint, ceramic, or similar media unless this is how you normally sign your art. Scratched signatures rarely blend with their art and their authenticity can easily be questioned.

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You can also get our popular book for artists, Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist, which includes all of this information and more here.