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.
I remember spending days brainstorming about names. We first thought about what we didn’t want to 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 pizzazz 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 it’s 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 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.
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!
Great article! Both as a career graphic designer and a visual artist, I agree with you 100%.
Collectors connect with the artist person and the more they feel connected, the more they fall in love with the work.
Even with my design company, after the first 7 years of being in business I changed my company name to my personal name because clients would say “you need to call Trace” and never use my business name. Mainly because building relationships is a core value with me and my clients have become my friends.
I’ve developed a lot of brands over the years and one thing is consistent, they are personal and directly reflect the personality of the owner. So have fun with your name!
Two responses to this — one is just about setting up a business. The Small Business Association has a terrific list of questions to think about and respond to when creating a business plan — and it’s a very, very good idea to have a written plan. Years ago when I had a writing studio& classes business, I used their questions to think through what I was doing. There were a surprising number of things that I had thought about but not really thought through and it was fruitful to work through them on paper.
Second — I’m with Jason about the unpronounceable name concern. It’s not that “Melanie” is unpronounceable but rather that it sounds like a lot of other names and through the years I’ve been called Melody, Melinda, Melissa, Marilyn, Helen, Eleanor, and — memorably — Mahalia, and –oddly — Dana. My last name “Hulse. Like ‘pulse’ with an H” is also a conversation I’m very, very tired of having. Also, I’ve always hated my name and when I was writing I used a couple of pseudonyms.
So I am thinking about a one-word name that I’d be comfortable wearing for a long time. It has been fun to think about. I think I’ve found it and when I’m ready to move into the world with my evolving body of work, I’ll build on that.
I recently changed the name of my studio/gallery. I had a partner for the first couple of years so we name the gallery–Fourth Avenue Fine Art. I had read what Jason had to say about branding your name as an artist and knew that your name is your brand as a visual artist. So I got me a logo and changed the name to Marsha Clements Art. I had a ribbon cutting with the Chamber and got some additional free promotion. It’s funny how people say something about being new–when I’ve been in the same spot since 2017. But anything to get the word out! Now my studio name and website are the same–and of course my name on the paintings. I will say, at first it kinda bothered me to have my name on a sign. I’m anything but shy–but it just seemed to be screaming. Doesn’t bother me so much now–and it’s only been a week I think.
I am so glad you wrote this article! When artists have their name plus a studio name it makes it much more difficult to remember either one. I can’t think of any successful artist who has a studio name.
For sure go with your name and own your brand proudly!
I noticed that artists who choose a studio name sometimes are “afraid” to put themselves out there. Being an artist is no place to play humble (although it’s ok to have humility in the process). This blog post follows the one about signing our paintings: Of course, we should sign our paintings and with our name. Who wants to buy a painting called ‘Sunflower studios’…
My name is included in my studio name. This made sense for two reasons…I wanted to be known for my name AND I wanted my marketing to be the easiest possible. Maui Gourds by Jaz seemed perfect. I use it as my website name, Facebook page name, Instagram, etc. That cohesion makes my job so much easier.
I use both. For many years, I just used my name, but people have a hard time remembering my last name and always misspell my first name. Now I have a catchy business name that is descriptive and easy to remember, but still includes my name. I won both urls and a google search on with will be successful.
Fantastical Glass by Alison Sigethy
I use my last name and incorporated it into a studio name “Hunter Studio West” I use it for my web site as well as “Instagram”. I had to add West at the end as at the time “Hunter Studio” was being used.
I worked for many years in advertising as a concept artist and know how important it is to have an easy to remember name, not to mention easy to spell. I guess I lucked out on both counts.
I have used the moniker ‘nexus7’ on o è or two websites, alas the name was given to a phone.
My name, Lynda Stevens, is a common one, so I have toyed with the idea of adding the initial of my middle name, R.
I’m with Jason 100% on using my name on all my artwork. I didn’t want to use a studio name, I wanted people to associate me and my name with my artwork. I was connected by marriage to a very prominent Hay dealer in the area, and my main images I paint all eat hay of some kind. So, when I meet people my name is easily remembered when they do a search on the Web., if they want to see more of my artwork. It is also an icebreaker at various events and art shows I attend. Of course, none of this was planned, it just fell into place.
On another note: My grandfather immigrated from Norway, when he was registering for citizenship, he was advised to shorten his name more Canadian. He refused, told them people can learn how to pronounce Christoffersen, and sure enough people did. Your name is your name, I didn’t like my name for quite some time, but just moved on to more important issues.
For those of us who use our own names, I found a really cool site (to which I have no connection other than being a patron!) which creates signature logos using your name or whatever words you choose. You can even get an animated version for your website. It’s called Photologo.com. Just thought I’d plug a business I really like. It is not currently on my website but will be when I switch hosts.
Here’s a related question…If I want to sign my work on the front, but my name is a long one, what do you think of designing sort of a logo using my first and last initials, and then signing it on the back of the canvas? I do western art, and was thinking of designing a brand (like they used on cattle) with my initials.
I figured that in any art shows, there would be a little card on the wall, with my full name and the title of the painting. And if I signed it in full on the back of the canvas, the name would always be attached. The brand would be like a logo and memorable.
Am I missing something? Good idea? Bad idea?
I think that is an excellent idea. I have a couple of artist friends who have done this, they are very cleverly done, and easily recognized.It looks very classy and speaks of their creativity.
Loved your story. If your cosmic luck is anything like mine, the chances are 99%>
Case in point.
My name (Stephen Carpenter). Not especially common. But-
In my small rural high school, there were two of us two classes apart. (distant cousins as well).
On to university and art school.
There were 6 of us in various schools but what a mess the bookstore credit accounts were. Two of us were in the art school again separated by a year or two, two if us had the same spelling AND the same middle initial.
Fast forward to the artist’s name thing. Two of us as artists, 90 miles apart almost the same age. he was a figurative artist well established, I am more landscape and not established. I won’t further bore you with how many Stephen Carpenters there are in other professions and walks of life.
All of this to say, I upended the advice. I built an identity around Carpenter Hill Studios because I am the only Stephen Carpenter who as a kid could look across the valley and see where my ancestors lived. My personal identity is welded onto my studio identity and that seems to be a good fit. Also, with Carpenter Hill Studios, I have a bit of leeway in exercising all the kinds of ideas and media that have been a part of me since ever.
Long, but hopefully meaningful in some way.
Having begun my art career under my married name, I switched to signing paintings with my all too common maiden name in the late 1990s. “Jane Taylor” worked while I was teaching art full time and painting occasionally. When I retired from teaching in 2020 and prepared to paint full time, I realized there were hundreds of artists with my name. I began using my middle name to identify myself. So far so good – I am more unique as Jane Word Taylor, and plan to continue as myself! However I admit to discomfort about making my identity so public. Any thoughts on managing the dual needs for “branding” and protecting your identity in today’s world?
Thanks for this article Jason and like with the rest, is very interesting.
I like to use my artist name which is Zeal, sometimes I have to use Real Zeal, because so many others came after me and liked and used it for themselves. My website is Zeal’s Paintings and unfortunately someone has also used that name too, despite that I was there before.
Still, my name is Jason Zahra, which is also used on some sites, although I still try to go by Zeal, which is also sort of my brand name. So, hopefully that is how I will also be known.
The artistic name encapsulates me in relation to my art and what I feel to certain aspects of it. That is what partly inspired me to become Zeal, because I have a zeal for art and have an endeavour to try to better myself at it, indeed improve myself, perhaps some others in some way.
Apart from this, when I was young I really wanted to become a Kiwi (New Zealander) and had the immigration papers and everything, but fortunately fell short of about two points of what was required. If only I had a couple of million in money, that would had helped me (hee-hee.a point or two for every million)
So both reasons fitted in with my psych and were my spurs. In fact, my first logo was based on a mountain peak as for the mountain peaks in NZ and the aspiration of getting to the goal. It is still ongoing………
My art business has two very different prongs. I use my name on my art, which has a very distinctive look, and my business name which includes my name as part of it, for the therapeutic art programs I do in dementia care.
I’m findable for both by searching my name, but there’s no confusion as to what is what.
I also have chosen to use my name as my business name. In the state of Florida, you don’t have to incorporate if you use your own name in the name of your business; you can be a sole proprietorship. Knowing that really clinched the name choice for me. I chose “Kelly Pounds Art“ and secured the domain name. I haven’t quite gotten the website up yet, but soon!!! I was in Scottsdale in February and was out on an evening art walk on a Thursday night, and ended up sitting right in front of Xanadu Gallery to wait for the Uber to take me back to the hotel. By the time I got to your gallery, you had just closed! But, I looked through the windows and remembered it because it was so cool…and I loved the name! When I got home from my trip, I looked you up online and started getting your emails. Thank you for all the wonderful advice you give us so freely. It’s invaluable!
I had a gallery for several years, Joyous Lake Gallery, and I still have people who follow me from that time. So I kept the name. It is also the name of my website through FASO, and people can find me through that, but if you type in my full name, or any variation of that, it goes directly to the same website. Thanks to a major argument with a friend (who was trying to be helpful), I tried to find out if I was hurting myself with keeping joyouslakestudios.com as my website name, and have come to the conclusion it has not. If you go to gwenmeyerethelbah.com it also goes go my website, and Googling that in any variations does so at well, so no harm done.
I’d planned to market myself with my name, but upon googling my name + artist, there are several other artists with the same name, but spelled slightly differently. (My first name can be spelled many different ways.) For this reason I set up my business as Foxfire Galleries and sometimes tack on “Art by Allison Fox.” (I also had the thought many moons ago that I might have an art gallery at some point so the name would be appropriate for that.) In a case such as this would you still recommend to rebrand using my name, or stick with the business name as already established?
I don’t know anything about branding, Allison, and am reading Jason’s good article with the hope of gaining some knowledge about this for myself. However, in reading all the names and emails above, I fell madly in love with your name Foxfire Galleries and think you’ve got a real winner !! Its short, easy to remember, for me it conjurs up an image of an orange/red fox, (love wildlife and the foxes) ! which is the colour of fire, and just wanted to let you know ! I think its great !! Best wishes to you in your art !!
Thank you, Catherine! It’s also a type of bioluminescence that glows a bluish green and happens to be one of my favorite colors (also known as fairy fire). I’m still pondering the direction to take as my art business is starting to pick up, and if I am going to rebrand it needs to be soon. In the meantime I’ve also purchased and directed a couple domains using my name to my Foxfire Galleries webpage.
I too struggled for years with how to identify myself although my name was always central to my identity. Along time ago I thought I might blog under a different “business name “ but my wife put an end to that, saying why would you do that, why would you confuse people? There are a lot of Shapiro’s and Steve Shapiro is very common and then there is the problem of famous artists like Joel Shapiro. I finally decided to embrace it. I am Steven Marc Shapiro the name my mother gave me and I sign my work as such but also as S. M. Shapiro , and S.M.S for small works on paper. I am shapiroart.com on the web. Steven Shapiro and Steve Shapiro Art on Facebook and Instagram. So far the slight variations don’t seem to be a problem, the glue to it all is the last name and that makes me feel good knowing in some small way I am honoring my family name.
Excellent Steve – it’s okay to share a name with other famous artists and to build your own brand. As you build your brand your clients will know who you are and confusion over names should be minimal.
There is evidence suggesting men are more likely to sell their work and sell big. What are your thoughts for women about branding and signing their name on their work? Cheers amanda