Signing Artwork

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Stack of unsigned paintings.

“Put your name on your paper”. It’s literally the first thing you are taught. Even as a high school teacher, I repeatedly say “no name, no fame”. But I’m the kid that totally ignores the teacher. I procrastinate signing my art. Guilty as charged. Why do I put it off? What’s all the fuss with signatures? What’s in a name, anyway? Apparently, a lot.

It was a big deal during the Renaissance for individual artists to sign their art.  Before that, artists often worked in collective guilds. Historically, signatures can provide authenticity to an artwork. I recently watched the show Fake or Fortune (highly recommended). In Season 4, episode 2, there is dispute over the legitimacy of a Renoir because he never signed it! The provenance (the lineage) is easier to maintain with a legitimate signature.

artist signature

Inscribing signature into wet paint, alla prima.

Typically, the last time an artist puts brush to painting is to sign it. The act of signing may be the culmination of hours, days or months’ worth of work. When I sign, it’s like the entire process flashes before my eyes. So many thoughts and decisions go into a work. Often, as an artist, it’s sometimes hard to know when the work is finished. Inevitably, though, every painting says, “I’m done, please, no more!” An artist friend looked at my signature once and thought I was signing it to mimic that of a Grandma Moses because it is so primitive, lacking any artistic flair! I laughed, “No,” I said. “It’s just my name”. But then I got to thinking. I sign my work L. David. I often wonder if I should just sign David, and if changing the style is acceptable so I did some research. Yes! Turns out, artists signatures evolve over time. And it’s about time my signature changes. Maybe on the next painting.

So, you are done with your painting and ready to sign. How? Where? Are there rules? Standards? Yes, and no. Typically, a work is signed in the lower right or left corner in the same media the work was created in. The size is similar to the signature on a check. Some artists only sign their last name. Others sign the first letter of their first name, and their last name. Some sign meticulously. Their signatures are works of art. Others use an illegible scribble. It is preferred by the art establishment that the signature be legible.  Art collectors and patrons want art that is signed and legible. If they are spending big bucks on a work, they want bragging rights and a legible signature helps.  The signature should not dominate or take attention away from the art.

artist signatures

Artist signatures

Studio painters may wait until the painting is dry before signing. This allows more control with the brush. Plein air painters don’t have that luxury. They typically will sign on location by inscribing the work or simply signing wet on wet (alla prima). Collectors are thrilled when the artist indicates (on the back) where the piece was painted and perhaps a bit of information to go along with it. For example, I painted this today and inscribed it with a rubber tipped tool. It was painted partially from my car and partially from just outside my car. It wasn’t cold, a balmy 34 degrees. It was at Gurney Park, in Glens Falls, NY, just inside the Adirondack Park. Lucky for me, there was a sledding birthday party. I didn’t bring any cadmium yellow and had to make the best with the colors I had. The kids were screaming and laughing as they sped down the hill. While I painted, my husband rode his mountain bike on nearby trails. t took about an hour and fifteen minutes to complete. So, now you know the story.

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Sledding Party, 6″x 8″ Oil on panel, plein air painting. Gurney Lane Park, Glens Falls, NY

Eighteenth century landscape artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot has the distinction of being the most forged artist of all time. Art news reports  “Corot (1796–1875) was extremely prolific: he produced some 3,000 paintings and roughly the same number of drawings”, Dieterle says. Even today, real Corots still come to light “in someone’s attic or basement, at a flea market or estate sale.”

I find art forgery fascinating! Christies auction house has a great article about signing art. 

True Story: I recently delivered some work to a gallery. Lucky for me, a customer wanted to purchase one just a day later! I received a call asking me to come in; apparently, I forgot to sign the painting. I apologized profusely and the gallery said not to worry, it happens often.  Looks like we need to add one more thing to the artist’s checklist! And remember, no name, no fame!

 

 

 

 

Two kinds of people.

Richard Schmid Color Chart

Arrangement of color charts with template peeled off.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe in color charts, and those who roll their eyes like it’s a colossal waste of time and paint. I was in the first camp. I am also an admirer of artist Richard Schmid. Aside from being a master painter of landscapes, still life and the figure, Richard finds time to author some of the best art books I’ve ever read. I imagine Donald Sutherland’s voice reading his book. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Richard. In his book Alla Prima II, Schmid details how to make color charts using “his” palette of 12 colors. While there are websites that explain his technique and reasoning, I highly recommend purchasing the book. It is packed with relevant content relating to all aspects of painting. So, with a week off in the dead of winter, the time had come. Time to make the color charts.

RIchard Schmid color charts

My color charts DONE!

Prior to making color charts, I was a consummate brush dipper. I dipped my brush into colors; dab, dab, dab – two or three colors at a time. I cleaned my brush and did it again for the next color. I instinctively mixed colors. Mixing colors is a bit like cooking. Unfortunately, my Irish genes kick in when I cook. I don’t use recipes. Rarely.  So, when it came time to make the color charts, I was doubtful I would be successful.  I envisioned wasting paint and making a hot, albeit colorful, mess. But I discovered something about myself I never thought possible:  I can be methodical. I can be organized. I can slow down. I can see. I can improve. I can follow directions and I can be successful. I made colors I had never seen before! If oil paint was edible, I’d have gained five pounds. I was a paint-mixing mad ninja scientist!  It was tedious, crazy-making work. Here’s some practical advice for your chart making adventure:

  1. Save time and order pre-made color panels from Color Frontier. They arrived two days after I ordered them! They come with a palette knife and have an adhesive window template. When removed, it will reveal all your wonderful colors.
  2. It took me 3-4 days, not two weeks as others suggest. The first chart took the longest, each chart thereafter was easier because I learned the unique properties of each color. The colors reminded me of my students or pets. Some were pokey, like yellow ochre. I had to use a lot of that color to get colors to “move”; then Alizarin permanent was the sassy color, only needing a tiny bit. She is strong! You see, you will get punchy making the charts. I worked 6-8 hours a day for 3 days and an hour or so on the 4th day.
  3. Use baby wipes and towels to clean your palette knife each time you touch a color. I even found myself folding the paper towel methodically after each wipe. Place your garbage can nearby.
  4. Use a palette knife to apply the paint to the chart. It is easier to clean than a brush and teaches you about knife work. I used a small Italian palette knife that was the perfect size to apply the paint.
  5. Make all your variations of each color on your palette before putting it on panel. You will see the variations in front of you. It was easier to lighten or adjust the color mixes.
  6. Start with darkest. Next, mix the middle value, then the lightest. Lastly, make the in between values. Keep the 5 values in order on your palette – it is easier to see the subtle differences.
  7. Make enough of your base mixture for each of the subsequent 4 lighter values.
  8. Don’t contaminate tube colors you have laid out.
  9. I had a push pin, binder clip and wall space ready to hang each panel.
  10. Be “present” and take note of the colors as you go.

I’m so glad I took the time to make the charts. I am patiently waiting for them to dry so I can really study them. I think I will waste less paint, especially white. Knowing the tinting strength of colors is going to help tremendously.  And I can now say, I made the charts!