How to Name Your Artwork

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Let’s cover a simple but important question:

“How should I name my artwork?” 

I’ll cover:

Simple and Descriptive

For most artworks, a simple and descriptive title is sufficient. In a few words, describe what the artwork is about. Who is depicted? Where is it? What is it?

This is how I title most of my artwork. This naming convention also helps to remind me of what I painted in previous years. After a few hundred artworks, the details can get a bit muddy.

Below are some examples.

Dan Scott, Noosa, Rocky Shore, 2022
Dan Scott, Noosa, Rocky Shore, 2022
Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020
Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020

Hints About the Subject

The title could leave hints about certain aspects of the subject. Perhaps there is a subtle but important detail you want to draw attention to. Take Lilla Cabot Perry’s Lady With a Bowl of Violets for example. Had it not been for the painting’s title, I might not have noticed the bowl of violets. Though it’s odd that Perry pushed the violets all the way to the corner of the painting, despite referring to them in the title.

Lilla Cabot Perry, Lady With a Bowl of Violets, 1910
Lilla Cabot Perry, Lady With a Bowl of Violets, 1910

Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear draws attention to his self-inflicted wound. A detail that might have otherwise been mistaken for some kind of accessory or garment.

Facts About Vincent van Gogh | Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear, 1889

Edgar Degas’ L’Absinthe draws attention to the pale-green drink in front of the lady. An important detail in the context of the melancholy painting.

Edgar Degas, L’Absinthe, 1875-1876
Edgar Degas, L’Absinthe, c.1875-76

Symbolism

The title could suggest some kind of symbolism in the artwork. Much of Salvador Dalí’s work is a great example of this. Such as The Persistence of Memory or The Burning Giraffe. In these cases, symbolism is expressed through the artwork; the titles merely introduce and frame the ideas.

Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World is a more subtle example. The painting depicts Anna Christina Olson, who suffered a degenerative muscle condition and refused to use a wheelchair. As noted on MOMA’s website, “The title Christina’s World, courtesy of Wyeth’s wife, indicates that the painting is more a psychological landscape than a portrait, a portrayal of a state of mind rather than a place.”

Andrew Wyeth, Christina's World, 1948
Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World, 1948

Story

You could take a story approach. Name the artwork like you might a book or movie. Use it to introduce or frame the artwork’s story.

Frederick McCubbin did this with many of his paintings. Below are three examples. The Pioneer: A triptych painting that follows a family through different stages of their lives. Down on His Luck: Tells the story of a struggling swagman. Lost: Tells the story of a young boy lost in the dry Australian landscape.

Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904
Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904
Frederick Mccubbin, Down on His Luck, 1889
Frederick Mccubbin, Down on His Luck, 1889
Frederick McCubbin, Lost, 1907
Frederick McCubbin, Lost, 1907

Feelings, Emotions, and Ideas

You could use the title to reiterate the feelings, emotions, or ideas that you are trying to convey. Edvard Munch’s The Scream comes to mind. In this case, the title really drives home the idea of the painting.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893
Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Artistic Elements

The title could draw attention to the major artistic elements of your work. This is effective when one of the artistic element is the focal point of your work. Below are two examples: Minnippi, Green, Contrast and Fraser Island, High Key.

Dan Scott, Minnippi, Green, Contrast, 2021, 1200W
Dan Scott, Minnippi, Green, Contrast, 2021
Dan Scott, Fraser Island, High Key, 2020
Dan Scott, Fraser Island, High Key, 2020

Conditions

This one is more for landscape paintings. Use the title to describe the conditions. Is it bright and sunny or gloomy and overcast?

Dan Scott, Moody Seascape, The Spit, Gold Coast, 2021
Dan Scott, Moody Seascape, The Spit, Gold Coast, 2021

This is a particularly helpful naming convention when painting the same subject over and over again under varying conditions.

Dan Scott, Tree Series, Overcast, 2021
Dan Scott, Tree Series, Overcast, 2021
Dan Scott, Manly, Tree, Sunny Day, 2021
Dan Scott, Manly, Tree, Sunny Day, 2021

Mystery

You could be intentionally vague or mysterious with your title. For example, you could leave a figure unnamed or the place unspecified. Take Girl With a Pearl Earring. Who is the girl?

Johannes Vermeer, Girl With a Pearl Earring, 1665
Johannes Vermeer, Girl With a Pearl Earring, 1665

Making a Statement

In rare cases, you could use the title to make a powerful statement, as Joaquín Sorolla did with his And They Say That Fish is Expensive! Sorolla draws attention to the true cost of providing fish to the people.

Joaquín Sorolla, And They Say That Fish is Expensive! 1894
Joaquín Sorolla, And They Say That Fish is Expensive! 1894

You Don’t Always Need A Clever Title

Whilst a title can play an important role in relation to your artwork, it doesn’t need to. Most of the time, a simple and descriptive title is more than enough. You can then let the visuals of your artwork do most of the work. You could even leave your artwork unnamed if you prefer.

Think of the title merely as one of the many tools at your disposal to convey your ideas. It’s there if you need it.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.

How do you name your artworks? Let me know in the comments.

Happy painting!

Signature Draw Paint Academy

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

61 comments on “How to Name Your Artwork”

  1. I must say i admire your devotion to painting. I have never ever had a single thought about naming a painting, yet you manage to write all this. But i would like to show you some of mine for your thoughts, or do i have to be a member of your club

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  2. Thankyou. Thought provoking article. It takes me ages to name a painting – it feels like naming a child! Often I ‘try out’ a name for a while to see if it suits.

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  3. Thanks for this helpful insight! A further question would be: where to “label” a painting? On the mat? On a paper with the title professionally typed? I am clueless! Thank you:)

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    • Hi Ruthie.. I’ve struggled with the same question of where and how to sign my paintings. The lower right corner seems boring and expected. After some thought I’ve found the best approach for me is to stay loose in my thinking and just be creative. Focusing on the question what would be a creative placement of a signature sometimes gives me the answer. Also, I approach each painting differently not tying myself to a rule.
      Hope this generates an answer for you… Jerry brink of Buhl Idaho

      Reply
  4. You will never know how helpful this piece in particular is to me. Thank you, you have broken this topic into such useful bites.

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  5. While painting a crane’s head close-up, I heard that Little Richard had died. I named it Long Tall Sally. I think about him when I see that painting.

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  6. Very timely Dan. I want to submit some of my paintings in an exhibition and need to name them. This has given me lots to think about. Thank you.

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    • Hi Barbara

      Not always no. He mixes it up as to whether he puts the year or the month in the actual painting titl3e itself. But for our records, his painting archive folder, we always add the month the painting was completed just so it is easier to locate the painting and to keep track of what was done throughout the year.

      Hope that makes sense.
      Chontele

      Reply
    • Hi Joan

      Dan doesn’t tend to put any details on the canvas itself, besides signing it with his name. The naming of it is just generally for his painting records which we archive on the computer. If he was submitting it in an art exhibition though, he would attach a piece of paper to the back of the canvas with the details which the exhibition then displays next to the artwork.

      Hope that makes sense.
      Chontele

      Reply
  7. This article is very informative, covering all the possibilities with great examples. I am very appreciative of this and all of the other tips you provide. Thanks so much Dan!

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  8. Sometimes a great name fora piece just falls into my lap by accident, it seems. For example, “Timeline of an Australian Summer” is an abstract painting of mine with a strong horizontal format, with vertical colours dragged upwards and downwards from the horizontal, in reds and blues. When I painted it, I had no idea where it was headed and no intention of an end result. But when I looked it over after completion, the title just perfectly described what I saw.

    Other perfect names I have seemed to stumble upon have been “Structure in an Unknown Universe”, another abstract, and “Cords of my Own Values”. It is a bit hard to decipher the relevance of the titles without seeing the artworks, but in these three cases, the title encourages the viewer to look closer for details within the paintings, or to look for clues as to the meanings of the titles.

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  9. Dan,
    It is wonderful to find your inspiring and informative ideas in my email box. Thank you! This is perfect timing for me because I have recently been “naming” my works, and I find that I was (without realizing it) doing some of what you suggested. Thanks for the validation of what I was doing and for providing other ideas to help create more possibilities for my titles.

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  10. Great advice. I once attended a showing where all but two paintings sold. The two that did not sell were named very specifically after the artists children. I always thought if he had given them general descriptive names, like “Child 1” or “Girl with ribbon” they would have sold.

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  11. I use many of those conventions depending on the work. “Black Canyon Sunrise”, “San Francisco Misty Morning” give location and time of day. I made one using a saber tooth tiger skull from New Mexico, a cigar box from the early 20th century and a revolver from the late 19th…named it “History Lesson”. Another is a cowboy hat on that same saber tooth which I named “Hat Rack”. “Sandia Sentinel” is looking up a cliff face in the Sandia Mountain in New Mexico to the lone tree at the top which appears to be looking down at me. I have one never for sale which I painted when Dad and I went on vacation while he was dying of cancer…it is just “Dad’s”. As for dating, a gallery owner recommended not dating pieces due to buyers wanting latest work, not something painted two years ago.

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  12. Thank you so much for your many insights!!! I have learned so much from you, and can’t tell you enough, how much I appreciate you sharing your wonderful knowledge with us!!!

    Reply
  13. I paint abstracts and finding names for those have been a struggle. A lot of times someone will tell me what they FEEL when they look at them. I try to look up another word that will convey that. Sometimes it’s as simple as what song I was listening to when I painted. Do you always put the year you painted it in the title?

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  14. An interesting and thought provoking article. It is always useful to learn how different artists name their work and I found your thoughts about the masters’ painting titles insightful. I use a different sort of naming convention because I sometimes find art titles boring, or repetitive. I generally look at the work and see what title comes to mind. It is sometimes easier to name other artists’ work because it isn’t as daunting as naming one’s own.

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  15. Thank you for sharing this. I am practicing different types of art work and this information is very helpful.
    I’m gathering different types of ideas that will be helpful in my choice of art work.

    Reply
  16. Loved the article, because I always struggle to find a title for my work. You have written it very nicely with relevant examples. Appreciate it.

    Thank you Dan!

    Reply
  17. Painting and drawing has been in my life many years. I have been teaching art in public school for over 35 years. These articles written by Dan are always a source of inspiration and great review even for someone like me who has worked in the field for years. Dan the articles you write are much appreciated and very useful. Thank you.

    Reply
  18. Thank you for writing this, always good ideas, inspiration, and examples. The title, “Christina’s World “is such an important and intrinsic part of Wyeth’s work. If you took away the title, it would change the experience of the piece.
    I am an abstract painter. As I paint, I “listen” to my inner musings and invariably, the title emerges and is a key part of the work.
    Thanks for writing this Dan.

    Reply
  19. Naming my paintings has always been a problem. Friends come up with cute/smart titles but I usually prefer simpler titles. Your article has lots of suggestions and frees me to be satisfied with my choice.
    Thanks for your help.

    Reply
  20. Thank you for the informative article. I name paintings of the same subject simply with numbers, for eample: “Path” and, then “”Path #2,” and “Path 3” etc.

    Reply
  21. Great article! Thank you for writing it! For me, painting seem to name themselves, although sometimes it takes a while for the name to come to me. I paint textured acrylic landscapes, florals, animals and a few abstracts. The animals are easiest for me to name. I had a commission to paint a cow for a horse trainer who teaches jumping. I immediately thought it would be fun to paint a jumping cow. Once I got into it, it named itself “Cowabunga!” – my client loves it! A lot of my names come from the “attitude” of the subject, such as a floral named “Joyful” – it just looks like a very happy flower.

    I sign my first name and a Christian fish on the front of the painting and the title, (c) Lynda Sappington (signature) and my website on the back in fine black Sharpie pen.

    Thank you for writing so clearly and for the pictures that illustrate the post. Very helpful and educational.

    Reply
  22. I am really quite new to the art world, especially when it comes to naming and maybe even one day selling, so this was very interesting and reassuring that I don’t need to dwell for hours or days to come up with a name. Next is pricing …….

    Reply
  23. This article is very useful. Thanks. I am recently making a painting, I already decided title, that is related to subject. But I was not concieously aware that this title based on subject. So thanks for clearing my mind.
    I am following you from long time. Your articles cleared my mind😏 many times. God bless you❤

    Reply
  24. Thank you this was a very relevant articles as I began naming my work. I have a tendency to use the first one descriptive and simple… I prefer not to direct the viewer…Reading the article though has open the way to many ideas as naming my art. Thanks again! I always enjoy your articles.

    Reply
  25. I enjoy titles with a play on words (often Scriptural as “The Vine” and “Creation”). “Buoy Up” features 3 hanging buoys. “An Apple a Day” is a sliced apple. “Rescue Me” is pet portrait. “Turning Point” is an abstract floral. “Gateway to my Heart” is a gate imbedded with a rusty heart. “Going places” is my grandson’s shoes sitting by the door. Fun!

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  26. Thanks, Dan, for more interesting pointers. If the painting is of a place, I often name it. Sometimes I name what I have been trying to achieve, i.e. ” morning sunlight”, or “strays”, referring to a group of, say, cats. Mainly in the desciption of a painting I strive for clarity, to help the viewer understand what the heck I’m getting at.

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  27. Very thought provoking. I am a program coordinator at the Northern Plains Public Library in Ault, CO and teach an introduction to acrylic art class for free at our library. I am really trying to get the students to “own” their work. We will spend time on the naming of their art. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  28. This article came into my box at exactly the right time as i was just considering how to title an interior scene I am in the process of painting. You have given me a clear and concise way of considering this and i thank you sincerely for your assistance.

    Reply
  29. I just want to thank you for all your interesting themes….

    Since I’ve joined your group, my paintings improved so much…. I can not wait to see what you have next to offer us….

    Thank you out of the deepest of my hart…. It feels as if I am not painting alone…

    Reply
  30. Dan,
    Thank you for always sharing your valuable insight and talent!
    These are valuable aspects to consider when naming a piece.

    Reply
  31. It takes a while for a title to come to me. I have to look at the piece for a while at different angles and in different lights. I enjoy this process and actually learn about my own painting as I go.

    Reply
  32. Lovely paintings as references; it’s interesting how the title can sometimes bepart of the ‘story’ of the painting, and sometimes only the title – both approaches are relevant.
    Thank you.

    Reply

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