Fine Art Signature Tutorial

Make Your Signature a Wonderful Finishing Touch to Your Painting

One of the first things I teach students is to create their fine art signature. It is different than signing a check. The signature says much more about you than you realize. A fine art signature is unique. Often I have seen paintings that belie that the artist was either an architect (too clinically slick), a designer (too flamboyantly neat), a commercial artist ( too bold, like a slashing movie poster.) Or an amateur with a signature like B. Smith or Bob.

The reason I have them learn their special signature is because I want them to own their art. It prepares them to make an artwork that is special and meaningful to them. Having a generic signature destroys that.

First. Practice on a piece of paper. Instead of using a pencil or pen, use a brush. And use either watercolor, bottled ink, or acrylic paint.

Second. Use the fine art name you want to have for the rest of your life. If you are woman you don’t want to use Jones, get divorced, then become Smith. Only use your first name if your last name is insanely long or unpronounceable. Van Gogh often used his first name, Vincent, as his last name is nearly impossible to pronounce unless you are Dutch. Those two “g”s are two guttural sounds, like back to back vomiting sounds. Imagine if his first name was George?!

Third. Use one or two marks for each letter. There are exceptions like Degas’ connected his “a” and “s”. Make each mark with new paint, it is not a scrawling signature in one go. Look at Vincent’s “n”s, they are beautiful made with two marks.

Fourth. Try to make your signature have hills and valleys like a landscape.

Fifth. No initials.

Sixth. Make about 25 signatures. Pick the one you love.

Seventh. Finish a meaningful work.

Eighth. The color is up to you but I love making my signature lighter than the background. It has to do with vibration, it is easier to add light to a painting than a dark. If you are working in oil, a lighter signature looks especially good. If you are making a watercolor than dark works great (the water medium gives a stain-glass-like glow.

Ninth. If it is meant for canvas, do a few trial runs. Sign the painting, don’t get cutesy like making it look like an engraving the wood table edge, or signing the pot (Van Gogh can be forgiven for anything), or drawing attention to any part of the painting. Just find a relatively empty space in any corner and sign it.

Lastly. It should be clearly visible, don’t hide it, and don’t be pompous by making it huge. But you want to be able to see it from 15′ away. If you make a mistake, wipe it, paint over the area in the painting’s original color, and then sign it again.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 6/24/2020

4 Replies to “Fine Art Signature Tutorial”

      1. Hi Michael, I have a question for you kind of tangentially related to this. I recently saw an old painting in which the artist had shown an open book and wrote a legible poem on the page, which I thought was very cool, as it set an interesting tone/theme. Is there an easier way to paint fine print or handwriting to a canvas? Are there certain markers you could use? Thanks so much, Kirti

      2. Oh yikes! Michelangelo believed the image was held inside the marble block, likewise painting is bringing out the vision. Writing on a painting is disrespectful of visual art, it means you dont have the tools to make the image speak for itself. Haha i cant help you cheat!

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