About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

18 Comments

  1. I was recently told in a large group critique that signing my work made it worthless in the contemporary art world and that it showed I was ignorant and unsophisticated. It was an embarassing moment and now I wonder if all of my signed work is worthless. I am at the beginning of trying to show my work and this combined with your discussion leaves me very perplexed about whether to sign or not to sign. I have thought of a compromise, a cryptic symbol.

    1. I would be careful about putting too much stock into this kind of advice. A quick survey of the art market reveals that there are plenty of artists signing their work.

      For example – this work by Damien Hurst

      Damien Hirst's signature. Courtesy of MSCHF.

    2. Having purchased thousands of paintings and other artworks, abstract, contemporary, realist etc over 45 years i would not purchase an unsigned piece of a more contemporary artists work [past say 1850s] ] as there is absolutely 0 provenance thereafter. mediums can be copied but style and form are more unique. the signature is part of that style. artworks can be copied almost instantly now even without the observation of the original work. look at the millions of copies of picasso works by tens of thousands of art students!! Unsigned, undocumented works may as well be reproductions by another name in todays world.

    3. There is a lot of bad advice out there! Usually, it’s self serving. The people who’ve told me some of that drivel were usually the same ones trying to use or take credit for work that wasn’t their own. How convenient for them if it wasn’t signed, and was hard to track down the real artist because of lack of signature.

  2. In a conversation with a gallery owner about a friend’s work, who he was representing, he expressed his dismay that she had signed the work so prominently on the front. In truth, the signature was very large and distracting. The particular piece we were discussing was an abstract and quite large with a white background, and her full name in script in black at the bottom really stood out. I asked him what she should have done instead, and he told me that the trend today is to only sign contemporary art on the back. As I continued to view the rest of the work in his gallery, I saw that most of the other artists he represented also signed their work on the front, although not so prominently. This discussion with this gallery owner has stuck in my mind and caused me to look for signatures whenever I’m in a gallery, and my casual research has lead me to believe that most artists continue to sign on the front, lower right or left. I’ve found very few pieces unsigned but then I’ve not been everywhere! I agree that we need to sign our work so collectors can recognize us.

    1. My goal with my signatures is to make them as unobtrusive as possible. I sign small, and in whatever color is still visible and yet matches the value of the surrounding area as closely as possible. The goal to me is to have the signature basically disappear until the viewer is quite close. When I was fresh out of college I was under the impression that signing the front was sort of gauche, so I only signed the back. I had so many people, including the people who ended up buying all those paintings, ask me why I did that. They all would have preferred a small signature on the front. If someone trying to represent/sell my work had a problem with an unobtrusive signature on the front, I’d say Byeeeeeeee Felicia! I work hard on my art and I’ve worked incredibly hard to get where I am and I’ll take a little recognition for that, please and thank you.

      1. Thank you for this observation. I had many mentors advise only signing on the back of the painting, but COLLECTORS ask me to sign the front.

        Also, my printers, who are very knowledgeable and have their own online gallery, often encourage the artists to sign far enough into the piece so that it shows up on the prints.

        Over the years I have taken your tack, signing in a distinctive way, but also in a way that the signature is part of the piece and doesn’t stick out

  3. My name is part of the artwork I create. I also sign and date each piece that I finish. It’s kinda like a letter you like to know who sent it to you and when.

  4. I like the idea and have just started Signing small and add a number of the piece. Any comments on this would be appreciated.

  5. As someone who restored paintings for many years to supplement my art l know how frustrating it is to be unable to read a signature on an old painting.

    If you cannot identify an artist’s name it can make the painting far less valuable.

    I always sign and date my paintings as discretely as possible, but also legibly.

    Robert

  6. When I sign my name to one of my paintings , I try to make it subtle enough that it’s not noticeable unless you are looking for it . It is also important to me that it is legible . I used to work as a custom picture framer and oil painting restorer at a gallery . We would get clients bringing in paintings created in previous centuries , mostly from the 1800s but a few as early as the 1500s . We had various who’s who books and would try to research some of the painters . We had a devil of a time with some of their signatures ( Is that a “t” or a “j” ? ) . I want people to know who painted my work .

  7. I’ve heard every argument on all sides of this issue, but as someone who owned a gallery myself and sold other artists’ work, I can share a couple insights.

    The first is that the old school, art school artists thought signing your work was gauche and it should only be done on the back. Just remember, these are the same old school, art school artists who think that SELLING your work is gauche.

    Collectors want to see your name. They want the collection of your work which they own to be recognizable not only for your distinctive style, but I guarantee you, they are walking over to find your signature somewhere on the piece.

    I cannot tell you how many – hundreds – of times, collectors have asked, “Why doesn’t he sign his work?” and I would explain that “he signs it on the back,” and the next question would be, “If I buy this, can you ask him to sign the front?” Honestly. So many times.

    That said, here are a couple of personal observations about signing on the front. If tyou don’t have a distinctive signature, and you simply paint your name in block letters – keep it small and unobstrusive.

    If you have a distinctive signature that people will look for as you become famous, put that anywhere on the bottom front.

    BUT, unless you ARE famous, making your signature what stands out from all the rest of the piece, is not the way to go, and may interfere with sales of your work. I had an artist I showed whose work was stunning, hard-edge abstract paintings, large and colorful and very, very appealing. Unfortunately, he also made his signature run up the who side of the canvas, no matter how big. Not on the front, but on the right side stretcher. LARGE capital letters.

    He lost a number of sales because of that. Yes, a collector could have framed the piece and hid the signature but in the mid=2000s, most people had thick stretched canvas with painted sides which people were not obligated to spend additional money to frame.

    In my two decades of painting and selling my own work, I have taken both routes, the front signature and the back signature, and after many requests from gallerists and collectors, now sign all my work on the front. However, I only sign my initials, in lower case, and always dot my “j” in red. It’s distinctive enough, but I also often incorporate small red dots in the foregrounds to further camouflage that signature. My collectors look for both my signature and my “signature red dots.”

    I have researched many older works of art for people over the years and not having a signature, or a distinctive one, will make it more difficult for your work to reflect its true value.

  8. For a number of my early years as a painter (since mid 70’s), I only signed my artwork on the back of my canvas because I didn’t want to distract from my abstract paintings. But, my patrons always asked me to sign a piece after they purchased and I’ve signed them now for years … but still try to blend the signature in with my painting as much as possible. After listening to this, I agree with Jason that purchasers want their artwork signed by the artist. I have also had the experience that Jason mentioned by signing in the bottom right corner which I typically do … and the buyer wanted to hang the painting horizontally, in which case on this particular painting, the signature ended up in the top corner, sideways — the patron was local, so I was able to paint over the top signature and resign.

  9. Hello
    I sign with my artist name not with my real name. Can be this a problem for galleries? I will make a research where I can sell my abstract work beter. I paint large canvases with acrilics and oil colours.
    Till now Idon’t know all the procedures of selling/signing a contract with a gallery. Do you have an advies for me?

  10. I sign all of my paintings on the bottom edge with a silver oil paint pen (a play on my last name) as well as on the back of the canvas (along with the title/year of the painting). That way, the front of the painting is never obstructed with a signature. I think my collectors would be upset if they didn’t see my signature on my paintings.

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