Branding: Artists, Build your Brand Around Your Name

I’ve written and spoken extensively about branding. I don’t consider myself to be a branding expert by any stretch, but as I’ve worked to build branding for Xanadu Gallery and RedDotBlog.com, I’ve learned quite a bit about the branding process. I’ve also learned how important branding can be when you are creating a relationship with art buyers.

In today’s post, I would like to address a branding question that comes up quite frequently in relationship to branding for artists:

Should an artist use his or her own name when building a brand, or is it a good idea to create a business name and brand around that name instead?

The most common form of the question I hear is whether it’s okay to use the artist’s studio name instead of just using the artist’s name.

How we Named our Gallery “Xanadu”

I can understand where the question is coming from. There is something very alluring about creating a business name and using it for branding purposes. I remember the excitement my wife and I felt when, in 2001, we decided to open a gallery. It was a lot of fun thinking about how the gallery would be organized and how we would try to make it different from other galleries. We thought about the type of artwork we would carry, the location, the layout of the gallery and about a million other things you have to think about when you are opening a new business. We distilled all of these thoughts into a business plan and began working toward getting the gallery off the ground.

At some point, we decided it was time to come up with a name for the gallery, and, surprisingly, the naming process turned out to be one of the most agonizing parts of the whole launch process. A name is so important, and once you select a name and have signs and letterhead made, you are pretty much stuck with it. Naming is something you definitely want to get right.

GallerySquareI remember spending days brainstorming about names. We first thought about what we didn’t want use. We decided using our name or last name, as some galleries do, wasn’t going to work. My last name, Horejs, is both unpronounceable if read, and unspellable if heard. With that out of the way, we started thinking about everything else we might call the gallery. We must have come up with hundreds of names, and sorting through all of them was a real chore. Finally we landed on one that we thought was perfect. It distilled into a single word exactly what we wanted to convey through our gallery name: “Quintessence”. “Quintessence Gallery.” It had, we thought, a nice ring to it.

We asked our attorney to register the name with the state corporation commission. By some cosmic coincidence,  someone had registered the exact name several weeks earlier. What are the chances that we would have thought of the same name for a gallery at almost exactly the same time someone else?

Of course, now, I am very happy that we didn’t end up with the name – it doesn’t sound nearly as good in retrospect as it did at the time and can you imagine how expensive a sign with 19 letters would be!?

Now we had to go back to our list of names and try again. I wish there was a great story about the flash of inspiration that lead us to Xanadu Gallery, but the truth is my mother-in-law saw the word “Xanadu” on a personalized license plate  and said, “how about ‘Xanadu!?'” The name stuck.

Once we had a name we got to work on logo design, stationery, business cards, and our website. It was a lot of fun, and building Xanadu’s brand has been an undertaking of love ever since.

That’s a long way of saying I can completely understand why an artist might decide to name her studio and then think about building a brand around the studio name. It’s fun to employ your creativity in coming up with a name instead of using the one your parents stuck you with, and, let’s face it, “Last Chance Studio” has more pizazz than “Jane Smith, Artist.”*

*(my apologies to any artists named “Jane Smith” who are reading this article – it’s a perfectly lovely name!)

Should you Use your Name or a Business Name?

Unlike other businesses, as an artist, you are your brand

In spite of this, I’m going to strongly recommend that you build your branding around your name, rather than around a studio name. Unlike other businesses, as an artist, you are your brand. When collectors see your work, they are going to feel a connection to you, the artist, even if they have never met you. Art is a pure form of communication – your vision is going through the viewer’s eyeballs, straight into his brain, and is going to stir an emotion. The connection is going to feel very personal, and that collector is going to want know your name, not your business name.

Art is one of the last things a human being can buy that hasn’t been engineered by a marketing committee and mass-produced in a factory. Using your name is going to help convey this message.

Because you are your brand, I recommend keeping the spotlight on yourself. Use your name on your cards, your brochures and your portfolio. Try to get a website URL that includes your name. The more your buyers see your name, the more they’re going to remember you.

Can you create a business name to use in addition to your studio name? Sure! There’s no reason you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I would recommend that you use the studio or business name in subordination to your name. You could include it below your name in your marketing materials, as a kind of subtitle.

Exceptions

There may be reasons that you would want to disregard this advice. If you aren’t focused on creating one-of-a-kind works and have a production studio set up where employees are helping you crank out work, a studio name may make more sense. This is especially true if the business might one day be sold to someone else.

Another exception to the rule would be if your name is impossibly long or complex. Even then, I would suggest thinking about changing your name or creating a pseudonym around which you can build your brand.

What do you Think?

Do you have a studio name you use instead of your given name in marketing? What made you decide to do so. Did you think about using a business name for marketing and then decide not to? Why? Share your experiences, thoughts, opinions and random ramblings in the comments below!

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.

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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

38 Comments

  1. When I first started branding myself, I found that the words “Madison Woods” was also the name of an area with subdivisions and apartments in another state. No matter how much effort I put into it, if you type in “Madison Woods” to Google (for the few years I worked at using only my name in branding), you’d still have to go to the second page to find me. So I began focusing more on building “Wild Ozark” but always used it in conjunction with my name. Finally, now, if you type in “Madison Woods” you’ll often find me at least once somewhere on the first page of results. But if you type in Wild Ozark, or Ozark nature artist, or any other combination that gives a regional tag, even the name of my paints that I make, it’s easy to find me. Now I’m working on longer tail descriptions like “Arkansas artist using natural pigments”. I’m not showing up on that yet. But if you substitute “local” for natural, I’m good. I think it would have been an endless uphill battle to go only with my name for branding, if I intended to be found in a Google search. But I think if my name would not have already been associated with something else with such a big footprint online, I would have continued that angle.

      1. That’s a good idea. Before, I just had it as madison-woods.com, because madisonwoods.com was already taken. And at the time, I wasn’t an artist. So maybe time to revisit the idea!

  2. I chose to name my business Chimera Ceramics and Sculptures rather than just use my name because my name is long and hyphenated. Besides, I have two kids, and many women who have had babies are chimeras because they share DNA with the baby as it develops in utero. In addition, I have always enjoyed reading myths and chimerae have always figured in myths around the world.

  3. When I was in the process of choosing a name for my gallery, I understood from past experience that associating my personal name with the gallery is a better option. I am not particularly fond of the sound of my name, however feel that it was the right decision.The relationship of the gallery owner to the public (or the artist to the public) is very important. Replacing that with a word or title of some sort, is more ambiguous in some respect. My gallery for example is in Provincetown, and when I introduce myself to people, they are oten-times familiar with the gallery name, and it allows for immediate recognition and conversation. I also think a personal name instills a bit more confidence. This is simply my own personal opinion however. There are some instances as well when certain words are used, that individual interpretation of that word varies. It may not be what the creator intended. A personal name does not do that. If you are an artist, and would like to brand your product with a word other than your name, always attach your name next to it. You want your name to stick with the public

  4. Great article as always! We have always used our name, Kevin Robb, and the legal name as Kevin Robb, LLC. This has allowed us to use the name we want recognized while still having a legal business name. And yes, if you google Kevin Robb it comes up first. The jewelry line is Kevin Robb Jewelry so we keep the branded name up front always.

  5. I appreciate your wading into this question. It’s haunted me forever and just came up again yesterday in naming the high school student award I funded. I have done most of my work as RLBoston. It’s my logo, my dba, etc. etc.

    I’m older, 57, but in current lingua I’m non-binary, a more masculine appearing woman. Of course I know full well the fight women have had getting recognition in all areas.This is why I don’t use my name and yet this keeps coming up because it does cause some confusion.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  6. Thank you, Jason.
    Yes, your name is what people will see on the signature of your artwork. And in most cases, that is what they will remember. Your thoughts are always so kind and very logical and reasonable, at least based on a life time of commitment to and love for the arts.
    Again, we are very grateful for your sharing. As I have always said, art is truly about love. The bond between the artist and his or her collectors is usually a very precious one. We talked to a collector recently whom we have not seen in over 16 years because they now live out of state, and she told us that she has a Stilton room in her new home where most of his paintings hang. She called to ask us advice about reframing because of glare issues with one of his large paintings in another room.
    Again, thanks for your practical yet inspired posts.
    Jill and Peter Stilton

  7. I prefer to use my own name, but folks have difficulty with the spelling: Catherine can be spelled many ways: Katherine, Kathryn, Catherine, and to make things harder, I actually prefer and go by Cate which most folks assume is spelled Kate. Then there is my last name: Kauffman… well, you can get Coffman, Kaufmann, Kaufman, Cofman, etc. I’m always amazed (not necessarily amused), when I get an email back from someone to whom I’ve written with my name signed at the bottom and in which my email spells out my first name, and the first thing someone does is address it as “Dear Kate,”. Really annoying. I just wonder how much my “odd” name is preventing folks from finding me.

    1. I can relate! I am Kay, not with an e on the end. So I had to drop using my middle initial which is e for Elizabeth! That said..no one believes I am not Katherine, Kathleen, etc. Or Kate or Katey…it goes on. Don’t get me going on my last name. It is my maiden name. My late husband was a Mitchell, but his mother went by Kay Mitchell, even though her name was Kathleen Mitchell. So I kept Hale…which becomes Hall, Hole, Halle, etc.etc. As simple as my name is it is hard for some people to accept. Still I am Kay Hale.com.

  8. I can’t think of any “well known artist” that uses a made up studio name, can you?
    Branding is about name recognition, so the point of branding would be to be “well known”.
    I can think of many artists who go by their own name.

  9. Jason this is great advice. People always misspell my first or last name, but I keep using my name anyway. Even when googled, my correct spelling comes up. This only took years before google caught on to me, but the effort has been worth it.

  10. This is a big issue for me as my first name has always been mispronounced and misspelt so I gleaned much insight from your post. When people get it right they compliment me and a discussion about origin etc. ensues . I have thought of using my initials AJ Brown but am still on the fence about it. How can people Google if they don’t spell my name right, often putting Alisa rather than Ailsa.

  11. Thank you for sharing this article. I used a couple of different names when i first started painting seriously. Ultimately, it became Syl’s Echoes of Nature. I have this with my full name on my blog post and business cards. Using your name is very important. I have two incidents that come to mind where two different individuals track me by just googling the name Syl.

  12. Luckily I have a name that is easy (Hunter). What’s not easy is finding a URL that people could remember as every name in the world has already been taken. Finally after hundreds of different tries I came up with (HunterStudioWest.com).

    I would suggest not using numbers at the end of your name or underlines etc. It looks unprofessional.

    I worked in advertising for many years and branding was a big part of it. From logos to web-sites etc. It all needs to work together in order to work.

  13. Thanks for this article as I’ve been wondering if I should change my signature on my paintings. For years I have signed D Tracey and now wonder if I should sign my entire name . After reading this, I plan to change as it will match my website , Facebook, and Instagram pages.

  14. Because my wife and I are artists we wanted to promote ourselves as such. We use our name as major heading on our business cards with the business name subordinate. We sign each of our art work with our individual signatures unless we do one together as often happens when we illustrate books together. I usually come up with the design (usually pen and ink style or digital on the iPad using Procreate) and she paints it from a plot in acrylic. So we produce some art work together. So does that sound like a way to go?

  15. Jason, I agree with you 100%. My background is branding/design (what? An artist that took the design route?! 😉

    Seriously, it should be a no-brainer. Think of a famous artist … yep, their name – Monet, Sargent, Warhol, Picasso, van Gogh, Pollock.

    Personally, the only problem I run into is that there is another more famous person out there with my name. At least I don’t live in England. Not really a bad thing.

  16. I love this sentence: Art is one of the last things a human being can buy that hasn’t been engineered by a marketing committee and mass-produced in a factory.!!!!!

    So true Jason!

    Riss

  17. Great article! I am just on the brink of creating a website and marketing my work in earnest. My name is one of those many-possible-spellings-tough-to-remember nightmares, so I’ll have to make some decisions about it in the near future.

    I’ve thought of a studio name that is catchy, easy to recall…and probably already registered.

    Lots of food for thought.

  18. I’m a multi-media artist and writer, and my husband is a woodcarver, so I had to come up with something that covers it all and still allow us to sign our own names to our work and be recognized. Our last name is Parrill, so it became a sort of play on words, Parrillel Universe Studio. Our signatures link to the studio and the studio name refers to our work. I

  19. When it comes to branding I would say 100% use the business name but in this context as an artist – the artist’s name is the brand as you are selling yourself!

    Just For example I would brand it like this: The Xanadu Gallery by D Tracey

  20. I have a super common name, Karen Johnson, so while I sign my work with my name, I use my studio name for my website, blog, etc. Karen’s Nature Art covers the multiple of media that I use and is relatively easy to remember.

  21. As a lifetime artist, I’ve always chosen to use my name for branding purposes. I have considered other options, but found that art buyers can find me by searching my name easily.
    My focus is wildlife paintings and have enjoyed an amazing career path.
    Two events that caused me to question my decision to only use my name: 1: A few men collectors suggested that I use my initials and last name so that people wouldn’t know my gender when I entered shows, etc. There is some validity to this idea as we still find that big established western/wildlife museum shows feature work created by men even though women artists are gaining more recognition now.
    2: When a woman with the same name purchased a painting and commented that her “friends
    wouldn’t believe she created it”. Searching my name online we found 35 Helen Howertons!
    Result: Kept my full name, adding middle initial. Use it on printed materials, signing, social media, advertising. Use http://www.howertonart.com for the web.
    It has done well for my career and name branding. Have to admit just being too stubborn to change!
    Congratulations, Jason! Your book “starving” is filled with good advice. Providing this venue for artist’s to share ideas is a learning gift for all of us.
    Thank you!

  22. I appreciated the point of this article, what’s in a name really? I had to make a name decision when I divorced. I already had been painting for some time and did not want to change my professional name and cause confusion, and my maiden name is German and difficult to spell. So I suppose I did something a little odd by keeping my married name in my divorce. But I don’t regret it, it’s the same last name as my children and it is the brand name of my art. When I opened my studio in Lowell Massachusetts I use not only my name but my middle initial because I know of and know other artists that are Amy Roberts. I have lunch with one occasionally that lives only 45 minutes away.

  23. It is a challenge, for sure. Since I have a long hyphenated last name ( maiden-married), I’ve chosen to use “Kallstrom” to sign paintings. It pays homage to my parents, my roots, and despite having a wonderfully supportive husband, it is important to use “Kallstrom” for me. Besides, the whole name is way too long to write on a painting.
    Then, time came for a website. I used http://www.kallstromstudio.com. I added the “studio” as it was available when “Kallstrom” alone was not. I think of the studio is where you can find me, the artist, creating. I do use my full name on business cards and even on the website. It’s the best way I could deal with a long hyphenated name.

  24. I choose to use my name, Bobbi Q. Brown. I use the Q, the first initial of my maiden name, to differentiate myself from the other Bobbi Browns out there, most notably the makeup artist. It takes a lot of persistence to constantly remind jounalists and especially galleries to include the Q in their marketing materials and on labels, but it’s crucial. Spelling is a big issue too, too often someone spells Bobbi wrong. My website is BobbiQBrown.com, my email address is bobbiqbrown@hotmail.com and, if spelled correctly, my name will come up first in a search.

  25. Been pondering this myself from a different angle. I’ve had a graphic design studio for 30 years using my previously married last name, Knight Design Studio. My current husband was gracious when I told him that I would be keeping Knight, my ex’s name, and not changing it. I am now doing less graphic design and more illustration and fine art . I also lost KnightDesignStudio.net (long story). I have DebiKnightDesigns.com and DebiKnightDraws.com for the website. Fortunately it’s an easy name and Debi is spelled differently. I also registered DebbieKnightDesigns.com just in case. I plan to do both art and design work in the future. Was wondering if I should switch over to Debi Knight Designs/Draws and completely drop Knight Design Studio or some how tie them together. I have 30 years mileage for Knight Design Studio and don’t want to lose that plus all the accounts etc. are set up as Knight Design Studio. I think I’ll switch primarily to Debi Knight Designs/Draws as the main branding element but keep Knight Design Studio as a secondary part just to keep the name and accounts with less hassle. Maybe Debi Knight of Knight Design Studio. Reading other’s opinions has helped to gel my thoughts. Thank you everyone.

  26. I have been thinking of changing business name, Muffet Designs to my name. I have only been selling my art for 5 years. My full name is Melinda Domnick. So I was thinking of changing the “professional name” to Mel. Or Art by Mel. (My dad’s name was Mel so it would be a tribute to him as well) Any thoughts about how to make the switch? And how do your followers find you if you do? Or can you do both, keep the name of your business and just promote your name?

  27. I use my own name on my works. I figure if it’s mine then I own it and I will stand by it. My name isn’t a common one and is often mispronounced and misspelled. So I came up with a way to use my initials on the face of my works by overlapping each one. On the back is a stamp that indicates that the piece is original along with my signature.
    Then the questions come as to why. This is where opportunity comes for conversation with a prospective patron.

  28. Thanks for writing the article. My goal is to read more newsletters this year and actually create my own. 🙂
    I’ve been using my name since I got back into creating fine art. It’s definitely important as an artist to use our name. Slowly but surely I’m building my brand. Emphasis on the slowly… LOL . Google is your friend when it comes to search engines. Be consist and interact with other people and artist on social media.

  29. I have many friends, both social and professional, young students and a town population that recognizes me now, since I have white hair with a pink streak in it…different (for an older lady). I enjoy participating in shows and have my own open house with guest artists every summer. I don’t spend much time on promotion…though I love being a “Big fish in a little pond”. I think it’s very important to have my name “out there”. I often add my studio name: Moxie Studio and gallery, especially when publicizing shows and news articles.

  30. I’m in the marketing business and decided to go with my name (hard to pronounce sometimes but short enough) for awareness and what I do, watercolors. Coming from a commercial art background where you had to be versatile, my biggest issue is I paint in a lot of different styles. This comes from teaching and curiosity/discovery and could do a better job of focusing on one. Being known for one thing… Enjoy your blog.

  31. My maiden and married last names are both nightmares. my big concern is if I use my own name, how can ppl find me if they can’t spell it? Cernetisch….most that hear it think it starts with an S. I use initials of first and middle, plus my last name to sign and for any business. I am setting up a new website so this is an important issue for me right now. I work solely in pastel and set up a blog with pastelchris.com, (of which I’ve let go stale for quite some time)and contemplating making that my webpage url.

  32. Thank you, Jason! I have worked in the art field for many years teaching, competing, and marketing my work was pretty much last on my list. There are only so many hours in a day. I founded the Pastel Society of North Carolina with my students and I am the first Elected President. I have taught artists from all over our world and it has exhilarated me to continue painting. I have sold my share of work and it was a wonderful experience. Yet, when it came to branding, I had no notion of what it even meant but so many others knew me even my clients who contacted me sometimes by word of mouth.

    Later through FASO and through one of you lectures I attended, I have begun to understand about what branding meant. In the end, I chose to stay with my name because it was who I am to all the rest. My quest now is to distill my brand through my most favorite and personal subject matter. My efforts are to discover my Master Works. Sounds a bit airy, but I am older and have given to others with no thought for many decades. I guess one could say I am a subcategory historical figure. I asked myself what would I want to leave behind in my creative work, i.e. paintings. True painting versus painting to live? I have begun to express in most cases what I was meant to paint and have known all my early life. Life is tough on us and we must stay strong through it all and carry on as the Queen says! Isn’t it wonderful that we can paint to make ourselves happy and to share that happiness with all the wonderful people in our world.

  33. I also use my signature as a brand. It is on my cards. I started with just using my initials PLM, but after reading another branding blog I started to sign with my last name. PLMeriam Art is the brand. It also allows me to be gender neutral. On small studies and on some of my title pages on my website PLMeriam.com, I use my initials as a monogram at the top of some pages. I encourage new artists to take their time and think it through because as other responders have mentioned it is harder to change later. How do you LIKE to sign your paintings? Make that your brand…

    There is an “administrative village” in Jakarta called Pal Meriam (often written palmeriam) which always jumps ahead of my name in a search. Any recommendations on how to get ahead of that?

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