How to choose a title for your artwork.

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The Bubble Collect no. 31

Naming your artwork can be so difficult especially if, like me, you paint abstract works. It can still be difficult if you paint realistic works too as using the same name and simply adding 1, 2, 3 etc. to each one isn’t a good look. The piece here is called The Bubble Collect no. 31. I got away with it because there were so many in that collection, but I did have a title too.

A lot of artists find the name of the work as they are painting it. Apparently, it just comes to them. I don’t think I have ever worked like that myself.

If you are a landscape painter, you can describe the view you are recording and if you paint that view repeatedly you could add the time of day, weather conditions, e.g. sunny, breezy, bright, cold etc., on that particular day or the time of year to distinguish between each work.

Often an artist will focus on the colour of the work to give them a name for their piece, and sometimes thinking about the design of a work can open up a whole bunch of opportunities, for instance when thinking about rhythm e.g. beat, clash, ting, ting, boom etc.

If you are like many artists who paint what is around them on a daily basis then the subject can be used in the title e.g. breakfast in bed, coffee and croissants for breakfast, The view of the bridge from my window. It could be that the view from your window was whilst you were in Paris so you can use Paris in the title. You get the idea?


You can also use famous artists’ work, e.g. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, as your inspiration, so your still life can be titled Sunflowers inspired by Van Gogh Assuming, of course, it is a painting of sunflowers. My abstract works are named because of a feeling. My artworks are all about emotions and my work in the last couple of years has particularly been about the circle of life and the hugs we all missed during the Covid-19 pandemic. So I need to search the dictionary for emotional words to use either on their own or coupled together to fit the finished piece, as with this work here called Passion.

But what makes a good title? A good title should provide an insight into what you are trying to say as an artist or what your inspiration for the work was/is. If you can find a memorable or catchy title that is a good option but try to be original and avoid cheesy titles as that really won’t do you any favours. A title can also convey the story your work is telling but do allow for the viewer(s) to bring their own meaning to the work, too. I find it fascinating listening to people looking at a work and talking about what they see in it. Quite often it is very different to what the artist was thinking when making the work, but that’s ok. Once the piece is finished and you put it out into the world, I believe it is the viewer who gets to decide, particularly if they want to buy it.

A famous case in point here is Anish Kapoor’s sculpture, Cloud Gate. I was living in Chicago when this was being constructed and seeing the structure being built out of wood and then the silver panels going on, people speculated that it was going to be a coffee shop. As a result of that and the shape of the piece it was named, or rather nicknamed, The Bean. Kapoor was furious. He wanted people to call it by the name he had given it. I have never been a fan of his for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, but his arrogant refusal to accept that his sculpture is referred to as The Bean is, in my opinion, ridiculous. I am flattered if someone sees something in my work which speaks to them and makes them feel good.

Crazy Fun

It is widely accepted that you should always give your work a name and not either leave it untitled or, indeed, name it “Untitled”. The reason behind this is to do with satisfying your audience and buyers. A buyer wants to believe that they are purchasing your best work and that it is one of your great masterpieces. If you can’t be bothered to name the work it sends the message that you don’t care enough about it, and it will not be seen as being worthwhile. And yes, I get it, it is your work and about what you want to say but most artists need to sell their work and so pandering to the public is essential. So, give it a title. If you are really struggling, ask someone you trust, for example another artist friend, to help you find a name. You will know if it feels right so you don’t have to go with their suggestions, but it might help you come up with something suitable.

Using symbolism to name your works could be a good way forward, too. I am thinking about Salvador Dali’s works The Persistence of Memory and The Burning Giraffe. With these works the titles introduce the idea and the symbolism is expressed in the artwork.  

When I lived in the US, I took watercolour classes from a man who was not very nice but was amazing at what he did. One of the things he taught me to do when painting a landscape was to have an obvious focal point but to hide something interesting as a subtle, secondary focal point. He would paint wooded pathways, fields with clumps of trees or his favourite golf courses. In each of these scenes he would have the lightest and darkest area just off centre as his focal point, but he would create this mystery by placing an animal or a person still off centre but painted in cool darker colours so that unless you knew to look for it in his work, you would often miss it. However he became known for creating mystery in his work which is another cool tactic and one which is useful to use when naming your work.

Names for your artworks do not need to be clever. A clever title can play an important part in relation to your work, but it doesn’t need to be clever as such. When I was at art college, I created a piece which I decided sounded boring in English so looked up the Latin translation. I was really criticised by one lecturer for trying to be elitist and above myself, mainly because she didn’t read Latin. Not many of us do so thankfully we have Google to help us, but I was marked down for this approach and have steered away from it even since. However, I did produce a body of collagraph prints which I named after stars, constellations and rivers. Yes, pretty pretentious but again that was back at the beginning of my student days but I am still happy with the work I produced.

So my advice is to keep it simple. It makes life easier for you, it stops the critics from having another thing to throw at you and you won’t spend all day long explaining why you picked those titles. Just think of the name of your work as simply being another tool to communicate your ideas rather than adding another complication to things


Finally, it is also far easier to keep good records if you name your work, keeping it fairly short and sweet, and doing so will make it easy to produce labels for your artworks and it will make finding a piece in your stores when you need it easier. In addition, if the name is not too memorable you can re-use it a couple of years after having sold the work because distance in time can play a good part in naming works. Also, if you get into the habit of naming and numbering your work right from the start it becomes a routine and will serve you well in the long term (see my blog post about record keeping if you are unsure as to how to start this).

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