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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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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 to not interfere with the piece’s aesthetic. Some artists don’t sign their work at all.

Traditionally, the signature is placed in the lower left corner of 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 unsure 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.

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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?

Use whatever medium you used in your piece to sign your artwork. For example, an acrylic painting can be signed with thinned 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 good for signing your work.

red package containing 10 micron pens
Micron Pens on Amazon
two paint pens with clear casing
Montana Paint Pen on Amazon
black brush marker
Pentel Sign Pen on Amazon

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

This works best with 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 your medium. In most cases, it isn’t a problem, but you can always test on a piece of scrap paper or canvas.

Whatever you use, ensure 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, some workarounds can get you a pretty good signature every time.

First, you must decide 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.

You can check out some fonts online if you want to use a specific style in your signature. 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.

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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 subject’s 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

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

  1. Melissa,

    I am a really new painter, started with watercolor and moved to acrylic…I like the more vivid colors. I, like others struggled to sign my paintings and am still experimenting. But since I am new… I have never taken a class. I have never sprayed anything on my paintings because I did not know I should. With acrylic painting, should I be spaying varnish on the finished work? What does this do for the painting? I don’t want the painting to look shiny.

    1. Hi Cindy. It is not absolutely necessary to varnish an acrylic painting but it does help to protect the artwork and keep it clean. There are many varieties of acrylic varnish you can purchase. If you don’t want shine on your painting, you can get a matte or satin finish. For more information on varnish, see my post on how to varnish your artwork.

  2. Thank you. I sign my artwork using my signature, initials and date at both at the front and the back of the canvas. I have only given out 7 canvases and I have decided to make an update by using my full name at the back and keeping my initials in the front. I did my research before using my initials but now I wished I would habe used my full name at the back in the previous artworks. The comforting part is that those who I gave the art works or that purchased them are family friends. Yet to sell to a stranger (at least this is comforting)

  3. I sign my first name using old English runes in place of the letters on the front of the painting. On back I put the title, medium, my full name and month and year it was painted

  4. Linda J Ruesink

    Painting my signature on a painting is challenging for a lefty like me. I do have some paint now, and that works better.

  5. Dale Quidley

    I put my initials on the front of the painting (dq) and then on the back I print out my name “dale quidley”…I figure dq is much easier for most people to remember than my actual name.

  6. I have noticed some artist may place a small sketch next to their signature. i.e. (George Rodrigue would draw a small outline of a dog next to his signature. Terrance Osborne does it as well. He may sketch a small Trumpet next to his signature)

    Do you know what this is called?

    Thanks,
    Cliff

    1. cliff, where i am from, and have seen many jazz fest posters sold, it is called a remark.
      Usually a print, signed by the artist, and a family stamp, or tiny sketch on the bottom of the print. This kind of poster is the most expensive sold at jazz fest!

  7. Hi! I found this article while searching for pens to sign my paintings. Several days ago I bought a couple of Montana Paint pens (white and black). I signed a painting and let it dry overnight before varnishing. As soon as I brushed over it with Liquitex Satin Varnish it started smearing. I was able to salvage the painting, but now I’m afraid to use them again. Is it possible to have people reading this to reply with the pen you use, that doesn’t smear when you varnish your painting? Thank you so much. (I just joined your Facebook group!)

    1. Hi Melanie, I have also been having trouble lately with pens that smudge. I don’t know if they changed the formulas in the pens or it’s just me. To solve the problem, I have been giving my work a light coat of spray varnish after signing. It dries quickly and I don’t seem to have the smudging problem afterwords. I hope this helps. 😊

    2. Darlene Gent

      I use a fixative spray on anything that isn’t acrylic paint. It stops the smearing with just one coat, but I usually give it two coats to be sure. I use the one by Krylon. It is also fantastic for sketches, charcoal, ink, markers, pencil and
      chalk.

      Darlene Gent

  8. Hey, I‘ve started signing my work a few years back with my nickname and went on to just use the first initial of it (just a capital D) which has no correlation to my real name. But I feel like there‘s no cool way to use my actual initials (LL)
    Is it strange to sign my works with a D when my Name is LL? I don‘t wanna be inconsistent and I think it might be too late now to change it. Any input?

    (I am also only using my nickname when doing stuff online and a lot of my friends call me by that name)

    1. Hi Dato. Signing your name with a D is perfectly fine. Name isn’t important. It’s more important to develop a brand signature, something that identifies the work with you. I would suggest you doing something with the D to make it unique to you. A symbol embedded in the letter or a cursive font are some things I have seen people do. Hope this helped.😊

  9. Do you have any suggestions for a lefty like me? Do I need to learn how to write my name backwards. I’ve learned the hard way that I need to draw flying birds from right to left, instead of the direction in which I write. I’ve resorted to signing and dating my paintings in the back so far.

    1. Hi Linda. I am not left handed so I may not really comprehend your signing problems but you shouldn’t worry too much about how it looks. Many artists just use simple initials that you can write first in watercolour pencil or charcoal and then trace over with paint. Some artists just use a symbol for their signature and I know of at least one who has had a stamp made and uses archival ink to mark his painting. The main thing is that it is unique to you and therefore recognizable as your work. I hope this helps. Happy painting. 😊

    2. Lady Linda Owen

      Hello fellow Linda! As a lefty as well, I just use a logo stamp. I made a stamp well many, with many different sizes and use that. Works best for acrylic and paper, but I would also say getting a stencil of the logo or signature. There’s also gloves you use for iPads to keep from dragging on the screen and you could modify it to being a buffer for your artwork.

  10. I paint with acrylic on canvas, I sign just my first name and a heart. And I use black paint. Do I have to sign my last name? I never have!

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