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Hand holding paintbrush signing an acrylic painting of a flower

How To Sign Your Artwork Like A Pro

One of the most difficult tasks for a beginning artist is deciding how to sign your artwork. Signing your artwork can often lead to some anxiety.

Is my work good enough to sign? Where do I sign? What do I use to sign my work? Do I only sign if I am a professional artist selling my work in galleries?

The simple answer is you should sign your first painting or piece of art and continue from there.

Your signature is your brand, your mark of ownership. It identifies your artistic work as your own original.

It doesn’t matter if it will be sold or hidden away in a closet, it deserves to be identified as your original piece.

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Painting by Edgar Degas of girls in ballet outfits with artists signature in left corner.
Edgar Degas The Dance Lesson c.1879 Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington


Where To Sign Your Painting

Where you sign your artwork is often a personal preference. Some artists sign on the front.

Others prefer to sign on the back so as not to interfere with the aesthetic of the piece. Some artists don’t sign there work at all.

Traditionally, the signature is placed in the lower left corner on the front of the work. This is where a collector or buyer will look first for the signature.

Some artists incorporate their signature into the painting, hiding it in a bush or tree so it doesn’t interfere with the painting.

Where to sign often depends on the subject matter and type of work.

If you are not sure where to place your signature, sign a piece of transparent paper such as tracing paper. Use this to place over various areas of your artwork to give you some ideas about placement and size.

There is no hard and fast rule as long as the signature doesn’t detract from the painting.

People have asked me if they should sign their painting before making prints and sometimes a buyer will request you not sign your work. I always sign! And I always sign before making prints.

Your signature is part of your artwork. Your painting should never be anonymous. A signature will help deter theft, give you proper attribution and get your name out there as an artist.

Two Important Points to Remember!

1.Sign before you varnish your painting. The varnish will protect your signature as well as the painting. See my post on varnishing your painting.

2. Make allowances for matting and framing. You don’t want your signature hidden behind a mat.

What Do You Use To Sign Your Artwork?

The best thing to use to sign your artwork is whatever medium you used in your piece. For example, an acrylic painting can be signed with some thinned acrylic paint and a script liner brush.

For a graphite drawing, use a graphite pencil.

It is not always possible or desirable to use the same medium. There are other things you can use to sign your work.

Sakura Pigma Micron pen is a good choice. It has a fine tip and is archival and acid free. You can also get it in various colors.

A paint pen such as the Montana Acrylic Paint marker is also a good choice. The Pentel Sign Pen is also a good pen to sign your work with.

For oil paintings, a lot of artists just use the end of a small brush or a stylus to scratch their signature into the wet paint.

This works best if there is a dry ground layer underneath the wet paint.

If you are concerned about your signature smudging when you varnish your painting, you can lightly spray it with a spray varnish depending on the medium you are using. In most cases it isn’t a problem but you can always test on a piece of scrap paper or canvas.

Whatever you use, make sure it is archival so your signature doesn’t fade over time.

Painting by Claude Monet of a Japanese bridge over a river of waterlilies with artists signature in lower left corner
Claude Monet The Japanese Footbridge 1899 Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington


How to Write Your Signature

Some people have beautiful handwriting that translates well to a signature on their artwork. Other people not so much.

I have Parkinson’s so my signature is very hit or miss depending on how bad my tremors are at the time. However, there are workarounds that can get you a pretty good signature every time.

First, you have to decide on what you want to use for your signature. You can use your full name, initials, first initial and last name or even your logo.

I use my first name and last initial, MarilynO. Whatever you choose to use make sure it is legible.

If you want to use a specific style in your signature, you can check out some fonts online. There are a lot of sites with free fonts you can download and keep for future use.

1001 Fonts is a good place to start. Find a font you like and practice writing your name with it.

You can also print out your name using the font you like and use transfer paper to transfer it to your artwork. Then go over it with your paint or archival pen.

I use a watercolor pencil to first sign my acrylic paintings. Then I go over it with my paint or pen.

It works well because the pencil is water soluble and can be removed with water and redone until you are satisfied.

If you want to have your signature on a nice straight line, use a ruler and a piece of chalk or watercolor pencil to draw a straight line. Then you can sign your work on the line and rub the line out afterwards.


Signature on the Back of Your Artwork

You can also sign the back of your work. The back is also a good place to add the title, date, medium used and any other information you would like to add about the piece.

You can add the subjects name if it is a portrait, where the scene is if you are doing a landscape, or where the inspiration for the piece came from. This is all nice to have for future reference.

Where to Sign Your Art Prints

Prints are usually signed on the border of the print in pencil or ink. If it is a limited edition print, the number of the print is also included.

For example 1/25 means print number 1 of 25.

Some artists sign the back of the print and some don’t sign it at all. Sometimes the buyer will request that you sign your print in a certain area.

Pinterest pin with teal boarder and a black fountain pen signing paper with blue ink

Signing Sketchbooks

You should also sign and date sketches in your sketchbooks. This information might be valuable to you later on in your art journey.

You can see how far your artwork has progressed and where your inspiration for particular pieces came from by going back through your old sketchbooks.

You never know if someday these sketches will be sold. For more information about sketchbooks, read my post on How To Start a Sketchbook.

However you decide to sign your artwork be consistent.

Over time your signature becomes part of your brand and easily identifiable with you. It is an extension of your artwork and the finishing touch on your painting.

If you have an interesting way of signing your art or have any other ideas or questions, I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Don’t forget to check out our free facebook group, Trembeling Art Creative Corner, for more tips and meet some wonderful artists from beginners to professionals. A great place to show off your artwork and get your questions answered. 😊

Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

25 thoughts on “How To Sign Your Artwork Like A Pro”

  1. Barbara Berlack

    Hi Marilyn,
    I just started to do “pour” painting during covid. I am using inexpensive acrylic paint. My canvases are inexpensive from Michael’s. I’ve used Varathane Polyurethane, waterbased gloss to get a shiny surface. I’ve used 2 coats, but I would like a more shiny surface. What should I use?
    Thank you for your help.
    Barbara Berlack

    1. Hi Barbara,
      I just started pour paints as well. I use Liquitex high gloss varnish which really makes the paintings POP after! I have also decided to sign on the back because of this article. Hope this helps Barbara.
      Thank you Marilyn for the help!

  2. I’d like to use a paint pen (on acrylic) because I’m sure I’ll write better that way, but I don’t know which pen to use. I don’t want it to run when I spray varnish. Help 🙂

    1. Hi Dixie, any archival pen should be fine under a spray varnish. I have run into problems with ink coming off if I brush on the varnish so I always give the piece a spray of varnish first. I like to use Sakura Pigma Micron pens. They are archival and come in a variety of thicknesses and colours. Hope this helps. 😊

  3. For at least 40 years I’ve signed my calligraphy pieces vertically on the vertical margin of the work. It will be less distracting to the reader and easily indicates that the author of the piece is not the vertical name, On my paintings the signature location will go in keeping with the piece, as you mentioned. You have really helped clear up questions I have always had. Thank you.

  4. Jennifer Speck

    Loved reading everyone s ideas
    I sign mine in bottom right corner with whatever looks right for medium
    Having tried several ways to sign I decided on a capital J overlaid with a S within the J plus rest of surname lower case looks quite original

  5. Danielle Santapaola

    Great info. One question, do you create your prints before you sign your original or after? I’ve been signing my original on the front, then creating the prints, so my signature is printed on the print, and then I again sign the print on the back. Not sure if I should have the print made without the original signature on the painting, and then just sign the back of the print.

  6. Hi ,

    Thanks for this article, it help me a lot.
    Would you recomend me to sign it with style which allows to read the name (you can read the spelling) or it could be a sign I use regulerly for paper documents?

  7. I’ve mostly been using my first and last name although sometimes I use my initials or first name and last initial. I think part of it depends on the medium, the artwork itself and the size. I may play around with just doing my initials (maybe with a star or something before or after…or inside a heart or something). Or doing my first name and last initial. I’m still in the beginning phase when it comes to signing work.

    I’ve thought about signatures and how fast or slow they sometimes take to write out (mine tends to be slower as I form most of the letters whereas some people do the first letter or two and then it’s more of a squiggly line).

  8. Leila Albanese

    I am very impressed and motivated by your article on signing our artwork. Thank very much. It helped me a lot.

  9. I really like your advice on signing the artwork. Just a quick question that I’m stuck on, what happens if your name changes? Would you continue using your maiden name or the new one or use both?

    1. Hi Lisa: There really are no set rules as to what name you use. You can use your first name only, your maiden name, a hyphenated version of your new last name initials or even a pseudonym. It depends on what feels right to you and who you want to be known as going forward. Think about how the name fits on the canvas and how it fits with your art business. I went through a little trial and error before I settled on MarilynO. I hope this helps. 🙂

  10. Lois Levandoski

    I have a long last name and I find it difficult for it to look pretty. I really like the idea of trying different fonts in different sizes. Thank you so much for all your information!

  11. Thank you very much. I have been struggling to find a decent signature, mine always looks very ugly. Will certainly try your suggestions.

  12. I have used many ways in signing my painting, from thumb print to embossing I find best signature is one that does not draw attention from subject matter but a thumb print can be best for authentic proof of artist work.

  13. Julie Murphy

    I just started doing paint pouring art. I did know about signing your artwork because my mother used to do all different kinds of art. My first one I signed in the lower right had corner with a gel pen that matches color used in the painting. Are gel pens ok to use? I think it looks nice. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Thank you for your advice.

    1. Hi Julie; Gel pen should be fine but you should check to see if it is archival if not it will fade over time. It should say “archival” or “lightfast” on the package it’s you can check on the manufacturers web site. Hope this helps. 😊

  14. Thank you for your research and insight it has cultivated ideas for signing my work. I Plan to sign my pieces on the back with information about the particular piece or series while also incorporating meaningful symbols within the painting relevant to their inspiration as well as subject matter. My floral work for example will have a ladybug within the painting or on the bottom left whichever suites it best, as I am constantly exploring abstract shapes and textures, mixed media, intuitive expressions etc. I love the idea of including symbols I am learning from spiritual practices as they are ever evolving. Thank you for your contribution in the living energy of art form.
    Love, Peace and Joy to you
    Debera J. Dowell
    P.S. you can call me Deb 💜

    1. Hi. I have acute body tremors and painting has had a positive affect on my condition. I did not realize it until I read Parkinson’s patients are encouraged to take up any hobby which requires detail work. This encouraged me to continue painting. I have noticed more tremors if i do not paint at least every few days. So thank you for including this in your bio and hope this will encourage others. Also thank you for info on signing artwork.

  15. Alma from PEI

    It is definitely a mind twisting decision for me when it comes to putting my mark on anything I do. I have always disliked my signature. I like your suggestions, thanks.

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