Ask a Gallery Owner | Creating Awesome Titles For Your Art

In this week’s ask a gallery owner I’ll talk about how effective titles can help sell your art.

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Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

30 Comments

  1. As an artist, I enjoy reading your articles. Unfortunately the video would not open either thru this site or on facebook. I would look forward to reading a written version of your thoughts on titles.
    Thanks

  2. Great topic. Scrolling through some of my painting titles, I can see that I need to be more imaginative. A few of my better ones: “Sun Seekers” (sunflowers), “Splash of Gold” (autumn leaves), “Edge of Dawn” (sunrise), “Inquisitive” (little fawn). I won’t bore you with the mundane ones, but I’ll try to avoid them in the future.

  3. My work is abstract. I have done a b it of “academic” tasks like teaching art history. I have always been inquisitive, curious, restless. While in art school I was introduced to ancient greek proportions. (Hopefully you are still awake.)
    SO, when I started making art works that reflected these proportions, I needed a title for what has become a nearly f decade series. I fastened on “Harmonic Square”. which I still use.
    Almost from the beginning I was seeing “landscapes” sometimes. The titling changed and the change continues.
    I have work that is titled “Harmonic Square – √2” as well as work that is titled “Harmonnic Square – Lake Country”, or “Harmonic Square – Red and Purple”, etc.
    My occasional watercolors are usually place names but not always. “Lake Country” is in private hands. So is “Wings of the Morning” which is in brilliant acrylics yellows and pearlescent whites and some darker blues.

    My problem is each time I work, I go through a lot of thoughts and changes, so a title becomes very difficult as I want somehow to be honest and encapsulate my experience. Any thoughts or suggestions? Kind of desperate actually.

  4. I’ve always thought titles are important, but I have struggled with them. Lately, I’ve been naming some abstract paintings based on 60s song titles. Many of my buyers are Baby Boomers, so I think it makes sense. So I now have “Twist & Shout”, “Your Love is Lifting Me” and “Light My Fire”. Too soon to see if it helps with sales, but I have clients who say they love those titles!

  5. I share my paintings to my FB friends, especially one specific group and I ask for name suggestions. That way I am getting people engaged with my work and hearing how my paintings are making others feel.

  6. One of my most successful paintings ever (I created two commissions after the original and the gallery had requests for more), was titled in Japanese: Komorebi, which translates to “sunlight falling on the leaves of trees.” I had wanted a Japanese title because, from the moment I took the photo that the painting was based on, I knew it would have a Japanese feel to it. I asked a native Japanese speaker to help me title it, not realizing there would be one single beautiful word to say so perfectly what was happening in the painting. I included the translation in parentheses as part of the title. What do you think of foreign words for titles? And do you think there is a risk of misappropriation using Japanese titles, even though I myself am not Japanese? I have been told many times that my paintings have a Japanese, or Asian, influence.

    1. That’s an awesome Title – foreign words provide an extra opportunity to engage with a customer and tell a story.

      I’m probably the wrong person to ask about cultural appropriation – I feel we are all citizens of the world and that in this day and age we all share culture and influences.

      1. Thank you! I am preparing for a show right now and since I watched your video I have renamed several paintings. It is good to know that it is worth the time and effort required to come up with an engaging title.

  7. I have used a Thesaurus for words to work for abstracts/non objectives. I also change the spelling of words, such as ‘Treeze’ and ‘Afflair’, or make up new ones such as ‘Orchidstration’. Some of my other titles are ‘Really?’ , and ‘Say What’?’ for sassy looking egrets. I’ve had compliments on my titles and really enjoy naming them – most of the time.

  8. I need to improve most of my titles, but here’s one I like. It’s an oil landscape of a Midwest farm with the barn reflecting in a pond, titled “Reflection of Tradition”. I enjoy reading and listening to all your blogs. Thanks,
    Ann

  9. Much of my art is not representation, so I like to have my titles be a “key” to the understanding or to provide a stepping stone to the viewer finding their own meaning. I want my title to contribute to the viewers’ experience. While I understand “Untitled” is a statement that the art is a thing and not a picture of a thing, I think most people are sophisticated enough these days that that is no longer an issue.
    Sometimes I just come up blank and use something obvious like “back study,” but if I wait a bit, usually something will emerge, in this case, it became “Back Story.”

  10. I created a fused glass combing .. when I opened the kiln for another combing .. I saw a flamenco dancer in the image. It was not what I had initially intended, but I stopped.
    I tried to sell it with the simple title “Dancer” … it did not sell.
    I realized that it could be two very different things, if I just turned it sideways.
    I removed the title.
    One day, I was at the gallery, when a potential buyer was looking at the piece, and I told her about the image that changed the creation of the piece. She did not see the dancer, but liked the piece and bought it. Later she told me that she had talked to her grandchild about the piece, and the child immediately saw the dancer.

  11. I have a question about the story behind my glass art.
    I have a piece that broke, about 1/3rd of the piece was destroyed.
    I took the remaining large section and fused a few of the broken pieces back into it. (not perfectly)
    I wrote a short story to go with the piece.
    The story behind the finished piece was about the Weave of life,
    and how people come and go from our lives,
    ending with a statement that,
    “as long as my light shines, I will travel on .. into the Autumn of my life.”
    The story is a bit sad.
    Is this a bad idea ?

  12. Sometimes a title flashes in my mind before I start the work – that helps me to paint it, as in “Shroud of Silence” or “The Boneyard.”.
    Some are common phrases we use, but give a different meaning as in “On the Rocks”.
    “Café et Conversations” (French) has a myriad of little group conversations going on at a street cafe, when you see the characters and the body language, you imagine all the little stories happening.
    I do enjoy seeing people laugh, when they see or hear “ A Pigeon, a Chicken and a Bear Walk into a Bar…” (only one person has ever asked me, “so, what happened?”) (BTW, I need to change that blue corner to dark red ASAP!)
    Tongue in cheek poke at the weatherman…an approaching storm titled “Chance of Rain.”
    Double meanings are fun, the viewer will choose what the title means based on their own life experience. (I never correct the viewer!)
    I do have a view with place names, if they are obvious, then it’s sometimes good locally, for someone who loves that place. Good advice to identify only iconic places! I will watch for that.
    There are those days when you are on deadline and nothing is inspiring…and Thesaurus is my friend.

  13. One of my favorite titles works on three levels. I frequently paint grain elevators — those sentinels of the West that are being pulled down at an alarming rate. One day my husband and I discovered an elevator alone on the plains, after most of the town had disappeared. Attempts had been made to save the elevator, but that caused irreparable damage: its’ side was collapsing inward and the two grain silos had fallen to the earth alongside it. To add a third element to the story, this grain elevator was located in a town that was named after a horse — the only cavalry horse to survive Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn. The title for this painting: “We Cannot Stand Forever.”

  14. Titles come to me in their own way. Some happen even before I put my first mark down, while others take time to stew. I love a clever title, but sometimes a simple one just has to be a bit generic. What I have found I’ver the course of my career is that a title has a big first impression and aids in the collectors relationship with the piece. I view it much like my own personal first name as I am introducing myself. The more clever, the more likely they will remember my work, and hopefully want to live with it.

  15. I love the idea of having imaginative, evocative titles. A few have come to me easily, most do not. I have an idea in my head using the words “Once Upon a Moroccan Restaurant.” The painting (or series) will be from sketches I did when I performed in a Moroccan restaurant. It will feature the belly dancer, diners, servers, architectural details, and moody ambience. I did a painting called “Sky Spirit” that features clouds loosely shaped like doves flying, a flower field with a lake and hills, and two figures. The rest of my work has bland titles or no titles. Yet. “Unfinished Winds.” That’s from some of the poetry I wrote years ago. I’ll use words from my own writing. I also like the idea mentioned above of asking face book friends. It’s amazing what people come up with.

  16. I paint expressive abstracts, that often have a feeling of place. Titles usually are suggested by what I see/feel in the final painting, but I try to avoid words that tell the viewer how to interpret it. Eg. A self portrait that I made specifically for a show (and I never do self portraits! It was very abstract) is a line from a poem that struck me as perfect, probably one of my favorites: “No skin at all can contain my stars”. And one from another poem: “Goldengrove Unleaving”, another favorite. Sometimes a painting will sit with a “working title” for a very long time, because one just eludes me. Others are immediate. I draw from poetry, lyrics, memories, a-ha moments, quotes, thesaurus, whatever works. I have pretty much given up trying to find titles from Facebook or Instagram people. I’ll throw it out there to get engagement with my posts, but they nearly always say concrete things like “trees in winter”, swimming hole”, etc. for totally abstract works! Those are exactly the names I avoid. I did use one, maybe six years ago? Feedback on what the art evokes though, is helpful.

  17. Thoroughly enjoy these sessions. Thanks for your direction.
    Naming each piece is almost as much fun as finishing it.
    I start each one with “what do I want to say” then travel along the many routes/detours, (even say a few bad words along the way), When done, the whole has come together and I can immediately give it its name.
    I sold a pastel, Earl Grey, I Presume, (Goth girl, with gloves, sipping from a china cup) because the man’s wife liked Earl Grey tea. It does help to give the viewer a jumping off point, to pique curiosity and a direction to start exploring your piece. I like the way a touch of humour works too. Just finished “Not Mad, Just Crazy”

  18. Thank you so much for this video. One piece of work that I had seen had an orange and two pears leaning in together. The title “Gossip” that title and the art was perfect. I went to the artist years later and asked if she still had that piece and yes she did. I got it. If it would have been called fruit I would never have thought twice. In my own work I find that Titles are extremely important and have sold my work as well. A wonderful lady gave us a quick exercise on how to create titles. Get a pen and start with a word and start to write anything that comes into your head and when focused it is amazing on what you can come up with to have fresh ideas.

  19. I find that I love giving my artwork titles because there is a certain poetry that is created when you title art. That may be because I also write and the words form in my head as I paint. Most often, the piece seems to name itself and before I am even done,I have a title firmly in my mind. Some of my favorite titles are those I have given to portraits I did of Frida Kahlo. Two, I took from her own journals: “She Who Wears the Color. He Who Sees the Color” and “All This Madness.” Another was “LLevo Mis Muchos Amores” (I carry my many loves)–in that she is tattooed with portraits of her many lovers. Sometimes the titles are less narrative, but most often they tell stories. That’s very natural to me; my work is narrative by nature and I feel the title adds to the effect of the piece.

  20. Thank you, Jason. I have to leave my art for awhile to come up with a title. It is colorful, mark making, abstracted images with oils. Sometimes I have a title, then change it for more meaningful emotions.

  21. A title contributes an additional light on a work- emanating from within the viewer’s mind. It’s a hint of what the artist thinks of the piece. I think the title is as important as the framing, or perhaps it is a frame of a different kind, adding a mystique to the entire experience of standing before works of art. The monicker, “Untitled” is akin to creating a beautiful multi-tiered cake, and deciding not to ice it.

  22. Good one! The comments are also helpful. I’m wondering about titles that might only be understood by other artists. Eg: I painted a house painter in only violet and yellow and thought about naming it “Complements on the House”.

  23. As an abstract artist, “storied” titles seem to work. I have some pieces with a single word, such as “Virgas” (the rain “fingers” that never quite touch the ground, but denote that somewhere up in the mountains it is raining), but others may be a bit wordier. Recently I named a piece “The Consequence of Sunlight on the Soul”. I had tried quite a few single or two-part word names to no avail, and it was the only title that felt right. Sometimes I know the name as I begin or before I finish a piece. A few have been more difficult, but they do appear – just a little like childbirth – each in its own time. My latest painting named itself and as I was putting the final touches it stated very confidently that it was “Even the Clouds Know My Name”. I love when it comes that easy.

    I have also listened to music for a string of words or an idea and always keep the thesaurus handy. Sometimes I call my daughter and ask her (for a totally opposite viewpoint), which helps me in what not to name a piece. For some reason hearing a name it will never be, helps me find better possibilities.

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