Naming Your Artwork – Tips for Fine Artists

Here are some helpful tips for fine artists to use for naming their oil paintings and other artwork for exhibit or sale.

Tip #1: Keep it simple and keep it short. Don’t make your titles lengthy or complicated. Keeping it simple is always best. Make them easy to remember and understand. You’ll get better results that way.

fruit candle still life painting
Still Life with Fruit and Candle by Teresa Bernard

Tip #2: Make your titles descriptive but not too personal. Instead of being ambiguous, consider naming your art something that describes what is going on in the artwork. For example, you just completed a still life painting of some fruit and a candle on a bedside table; you could name it “Still Life with Fruit and Candle.”

In addition, you should not get too personal with your descriptive titles. If your painting is of your sister, it would not be best to name it “My Younger Sister Liz.” No one except a family member would be interested in buying such a painting.

Girl In Red The Dress Painting by Teresa Bernard
Girl in the Red Dress by Teresa Bernard

However, if you were to name it “Girl in the Red Dress,” then you have suddenly expanded your audience to more potential buyers.

Tip # 3: Include the name of the place when naming a painting of a particular location, especially if it is of a famous place. People want to know what or where the location is especially if it is a place they are familiar with, such as a familiar mountain range, hometown or old homestead where they grew up, etc. They will also want to know the name of a place they have visited before or hope to see someday. Be sure to title the painting by location name if it is a famous landmark, national monument, or park. Lastly, if it is not familiar to many, viewers can still be curious enough to want to know the name.

Tip #4: Never name your painting “Untitled.” This can be a real deal stopper and a complete turn-off to a potential customer. Viewers and potential buyers will have difficulty believing your work has value if your piece is called “Untitled.” Titles do matter to an art buyer!

Furthermore, if you are selling online, “Untitled” won’t get you anywhere in the search engines. Try typing the keyword “untitled” in Google, DuckDuckGo, or some other search engine and see what the results are. You’ll have a hard time finding your masterpiece in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page). It will be buried so deep your painting will never get found.

garden tomb painting
Garden Tomb at Sunset by Teresa Bernard

Tip #5: For specific genres, like portraits, landscapes,  historic events, etc., you might try the following:

    • Portraits — Include the individual’s name, add the date and occupation.
    • Landscapes  —  Start with the location, maybe include the time of day, the season of the year, and perhaps the mood as well. Example: “The Garden Tomb at Sunset
    • Historic event  —  Name it by what the event is, such as “First Man on the Moon.”
Neil Armstrong astronaut painting
First Man on the Moon by Teresa Bernard

Tip #6: Start with the artwork’s focal point. This will usually be the most apparent element of the piece. Titling your painting after the focal point will help others understand your artwork better, especially if your piece is abstract.

Tip #7: Get others involved in the naming process. You can ask others for help naming your artwork or get their impressions on a title you are considering. What might sound like a clever title to you could be a total flop. Getting feedback from others will help you choose just the right name for your masterpiece.

Tip #8: For multiple pieces in a series of paintings, you might want to name them sequentially. For instance, if you wanted to do a series of snow paintings, they could be titled “Fence Post in the Snow #1”, “Fence Post in the Snow #2”, and “Fence Post in the Snow #3,” etc. You get the idea. Or you can give them all similar names as I did in my Peggy’s Cove series. I simply named these “Peggy’s Cove,” “Return to Peggy’s Cove,” and “Peggy’s Cove Revisited.”

commissions Oil Paintings Index
Peggy’s Cove
by Teresa Bernard
Oil Paintings Index of fine art
Return To Peggy’s Cove by Teresa Bernard
commission Oil Paintings visual Index
Peggy’s Cove Revisited by Teresa Bernard

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Using Linear Perspective to Create Depth in Your Paintings

linear perspectiveLinear perspective is a rendering technique used by fine artists to create the illusion of depth on a flat surface. It is the most basic form of perspective in which parallel lines appear to converge in the distance at a vanishing point on the horizon line. (See illustration to the right.)

The technique is based on how the human eye perceives the world around us. Meaning objects closer to the viewer appear larger, while more distant objects appear to be getting smaller as they move away. Linear perspective comes into play when parallel lines that recede into the distance appear to get closer together as they converge at a vanishing point on the composition’s horizon line.

linear perspectiveThree basic elements must be present in a work of art to make linear perspective possible. These are a horizon line, a vanishing point, and convergence lines. If any one of these elements is missing, the illusion of depth is weak.

Horizon Line

The horizon line defines the farthest distance of the background and is the place where a central vanishing point is established. It is the level plane where the earth’s surface (or sea) and the sky appear to meet. The line at the top of mountains or buildings is not the horizon line; these objects “rest” on the horizon line.

The horizon line will ALWAYS be at eye level regardless of whether you are at ground level or standing on a mountain top. It changes as you change position. Sometimes hills, trees, and buildings, or other objects can hide it from view, but the horizon line will always be present.

Convergence Lines

Also called orthogonal lines, convergence lines are when sets of parallel lines appear to get closer together as they recede into the distance and meet at a single vanishing point. All parallel lines will eventually converge at a vanishing point. Sometimes they can even represent the edges of objects, and some objects can have more than one set of parallels lines. An example of this would be a box or cube. Depending on where it is viewed from, we can see one, two, or three sets of orthogonal lines.

Vanishing Point

The point on the horizon line where all parallel lines appear to recede and converge is called the vanishing point. It is helpful to note more than one vanishing point can be present. This is called two-point and three-point perspective. There will be two vanishing points when there are two sets of parallel lines that appear to converge. If there are three sets of parallel lines, then there will be three vanishing points. See The Rules of Perspective for more information.


  1. Create a rendering by drawing a straight highway or railroad tracks using a horizon line, vanishing point, and convergence lines.
  2. Use linear perspective to create depth in an illustration using a row of trees, a fence line, and telephone poles running alongside a road.

Additional Reading

Using Atmospheric Perspective To Create Depth in Your Paintings

The Rules of Perspective

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Using Atmospheric Perspective To Create Depth in Your Paintings

Art Terms Used

Atmospheric perspective (also known as aerial perspective) refers to the effect the atmosphere has on the appearance of an object as it is viewed from a distance. In art, and especially painting, artists attempt to mimic this effect to create depth or distance (three dimensions) on an otherwise two-dimensional (flat) surface.

Color saturation is a color’s purity of hue; it’s intensity.

The background is that part of a painting that appears to be farthest away from the viewer.

The horizon line is where the land (or sea) and sky appear to meet. This is an optical illusion, however. It’s an imaginary line to which things recede.

The middle ground is the part of a painting that lies between the background and the foreground.

The foreground is the part of the painting that appears to be closest to the viewer.

Creating Atmospheric Perspective

Atmospheric or aerial perspective is achieved when the illusion of depth is created by depicting distant objects as paler, less detailed, and usually bluer or grayer than objects close up. Some ways this illusion can be created are by using the following techniques.

size and placement in perspectiveSize and placement — Objects appear smaller as they move further away from the viewer towards the horizon line. Larger objects tend to appear closer and smaller ones tend to recede into the background. Also, related elements placed lower to the bottom of the canvas will appear to be closer to the viewer than those placed higher on the canvas.

overlapping objects in perspectiveOverlapping objects — The easiest and fastest way to create depth on a 2-D surface is to overlap objects. Partially covering one object with another gives an appearance of depth. This can be accomplished by allowing the contour of one element to slightly cover the shape of another, so it looks like one item is physically sitting in front of another.

color saturation in perspectiveColor — As objects recede or move off into the distance, the intensity of their color becomes less saturated and shifts towards the background color, which is usually a blue-gray middle value. Even bright whites and rich blacks tend toward medium gray and will eventually disappear into the background.

    • Foreground = objects are normal intense color.
    • Middle ground = the color would b a little lighter in tone and bluer
    • Far distance, horizon line, or background = colors would be much lighter and even bluer

Contrast — As the distance between an object and the foreground increases, the contrast between the object and its background will decrease.

Tone or Value — Objects further away will appear lighter than those up close. Using a lighter tone on what’s in the distance of a landscape painting immediately gives a sense of depth.

Spacing — Objects that are clustered closer together seem farther away. Also, horizontal lines will move closer or even converge (disappear) near the horizon line.

Focus — Objects tend to lose detail as they recede into the horizon. This does mean they are out of focus or blurry.


  1. Use atmospheric perspective to create depth in an illustration or painting of only two or more mountain ranges.
  2. Create depth in an illustration or painting of a field of sunflowers or another type of flower using “size and placement.”

Additional Reading

Using Linear Perspective to Create Perspective in Your Paintings

The Rules of Perspective

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The Importance of Varnishing Oil Paintings

Why is varnishing your oil paintings so important? Let’s find out.

varnishing oil paintings
Boat Fenders, a Study of Texture by Teresa Bernard

Now that you have acquired that beautiful oil painting, you will want to take measures to ensure that it stays that way. One important thing to do is make sure it has received several coats of artist-grade non-yellowing varnish. Varnishing their oil paintings is something every artist should do before their artworks leave the studio.

Varnish is a final, transparent protective layer applied to a painting after it is finished and completely dry. It is an important first step in preserving the work of art, so it lasts for generations to come.

Why varnish an oil painting?

1. Varnish saturates the colors, making them pop. It brings out the vibrancy of the colors and gives them that just painted look and shine. In addition, varnish helps to keep those beautiful colors from fading as the years go by.

2. Varnish creates an even sheen over the entire surface of the painting. Oil paint colors dry very differently because of the different pigments that make up each color. When completely dry, some colors appear matte, some satin, and some glossy. A layer or two of varnish will even out the final appearance of the painting, giving it a consistent overall look.

3. Varnish protects the painted surface from atmospheric elements and makes the surface easier to clean. All paintings will require cleaning as time goes by; however, the varnish will reduce the frequency of those cleanings and reduce the risk of any possible damage to the painting. If the painting isn’t varnished, over time, dust, grime, dirt, grease, moisture, and pollution in the environment will change the look of the painting. These can dull the colors, causing them to crack and chip off as the years go by.

When should paintings be varnished?

An oil painting should be allowed to dry for a minimum of 6 months before applying varnish. Depending on how thick the paint is applied, it might even need as much as 12 months of drying time. It’s crucial that the oil painting is thoroughly dry before the varnish is applied; otherwise, the varnish may crack. The reason for this is that varnish dries before the oil paint does. As oil paint dries, it moves slightly, and since the varnish is already dry, it begins to crack.

If your painting has never been varnished, you will need to wait at least a year and then take it to a reputable frame shop. They may be able to varnish the painting for you; however, it will probably be for a fee. Or, if you know of an artist in your area who is an oil painter, they can varnish the painting for you as well.

One final solution is varnishing oil paintings yourself. However, I wouldn’t recommend this if your painting is a valuable piece of art. If you do varnish the painting yourself, be sure to use varnish designed for fine art oil paintings. And make sure to follow all instructions on the label. It is not recommended that you use varnish obtained from a hardware store as this kind is too harsh for the painting and could wind up damaging it.

Additional information on how to preserve the beauty of your oil paintings can be found here.

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UPDATED: 30 July 2022

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Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings

What is a Viewfinder?

viewfinder graphic
Use a viewfinder to crop out unwanted parts of an image to make a better composition.

A viewfinder is a handy tool often used by photographers and artists. In photography, this optical device is the apparatus on the camera that the photographer looks through to compose, and in many cases, to sharpen the focus of the photograph he/she wants to take.

In oil painting, a viewfinder is a tool used by a painter that performs a similar function. Artists use these devices as an aid to organizing the scenery of their paintings. It can be moved up, down, left, or right to isolate the most appealing aspects of the scenery present in the photograph. It does this by cropping out the unimportant parts resulting in a much stronger composition.

Making an Artist’s Viewfinder

artist viewfinderMaking a viewfinder requires little effort. There are two types: window and L-shape. Both types are simple to make and which one you choose depends on the canvas you plan to paint on. For standard size canvases, you may want to choose the window viewfinder. Take a simple piece of paper, scrap mat board, or cardboard and cut a rectangular window in the center to look through. The window opening should be proportionate to the prepared canvas in height and width. For example, a 16″ x 20″ or 24″ x 30″ canvas would require the viewfinder window to be 2″ x 2.5″ or 4″ x 5″.

Other proportions that might be useful are:

    • canvas size = 16″ x 24″ or 24″ x 36″, window cutout = 2″ x 3″ or 4″ x 6″
    • canvas size = 9″ x 12″, 12″ x 16″ or 18″ x 24″, window cutout = 3″ x 4″ or 6″ x 8″

After carefully measuring and cutting out the viewfinder opening, move it around slowly on the surface of your snapshot until the image that interests you appears in the opening. Once you have decided on the composition, tape the viewfinder in position on your photograph to hold it in place.

artist L shaped viewfinderThe L-shaped viewfinder is made from two L-shaped pieces of cardboard, mat board, or paper that, when placed together, create a frame around your area of focus. You then look through this frame to determine the scene you wish to paint.

The L-shaped viewfinder is beneficial in helping to determine what size canvas is required for a particular scene if you do not plan on using a standard size canvas. The two L’s work together much like an aperture of a camera. You move them out and away from each other to enlarge the opening or move closer together to shrink the inside opening. To make one of this type, you will need a ruler and pencil to draw two identical sized L shapes on a piece of paper, scrap mat board, or cardboard. A good width is about two inches, so they can easily crop out the unwanted areas of the scenery. The length of the arms of each L can be any size; 6″ to 8″ works best if you are going to use it on photographs.

Using an Artist’s Viewfinder

using an artist viewfinderUsing the viewfinder is a simple technique that has been around and used by artists for hundreds of years. What a viewfinder does is frame and crop out unimportant areas of an image. These would be the background details that could muddle up a landscape and take away from the overall unity of the artwork, making it a weak composition.

The elements that are left make up an attractive focal point that can be used to begin creating your painting. This is achieved by filtering out the distractions from outside the field of view, allowing you to focus only on the important elements you want to keep. How this is done is to take your image and slowly move the viewfinder around on it until you pinpoint a precise spot that makes an eye-catching center of interest. Once you have your composition picked out, attach the viewfinder to the picture using artist’s low-adhesive tape to hold it in place. This will permit you to make several drawings of the scene needed or even sketch it directly onto the canvas to get it ready for painting. Artist’s tape is easy to remove once your painting is finished.

A viewfinder is also beneficial for training your eye to distinguish a good composition. This instrument will give the artist an idea of how an arrangement might work as a viable composition. In time your “mind’s eye” will be able to ignore undesired extraneous elements present in the photo and will be able to visualize what a composition will be like without any help from one.

Lastly, both artist viewfinders can be used in either portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) position. This allows the artist to use it as a drawing aid to determine which orientation works best for your painting. By holding the viewfinder in portrait mode, the top and bottom of the view will be emphasized; by holding it landscape, the composition’s width will be emphasized. This helps you focus on particular parts of the scene, enabling you to decide what will make the best composition, both in terms of emphasis and orientation.

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A Painting In The Making

This blog article is about my painting process. How I take an empty canvas to a finished painting.

gallery wrap pre-primed canvas
Gallery wrap stretched canvas.

I compose and paint all of my works on stretched canvas that has been commercially primed. I prefer the type of canvas that wraps around the stretcher bar support. This allows me to carry the painting around the edge of the canvas giving it a more finished look. It also means the painting will not require a frame for display unless one is desired.

Gesso Primed Stretched Canvas

canvas with gesso layer
Gesso primed canvas.

Even though the canvas I use has already been pre-primed by the manufacturer, it’s not sufficient. To provide appropriate support for the pigment, further layers of primer must be applied. The canvas must be prepped and ready to receive the oil paint before I can begin painting.
I apply two layers of gesso on the stretched canvas and allow each layer to dry thoroughly between coats. The canvas is next carefully sanded to remove any rough edges. I make an effort to prime as many canvases as possible. That way, whenever inspiration strikes and I want to start a new painting, I have a ready supply of prepped canvas on hand.

Click for more information on what to know about gesso. For step-by-step instructions on how to prime a canvas using gesso, check out this article on WikiHow: “How to Prime a Canvas.”

Sketching The Image

sketch image on the canvas using a grid
Sketching the image on the canvas.

After the canvas has been adequately prepared, it is time to start sketching the image onto the canvas’s surface. Every painting begins as a simple grid drawn on the canvas. This grid serves to aid in the placement of the focal point and other elements where they will best compliment the overall composition. Using a pencil or stick of charcoal, I begin sketching the image that will eventually become the painting. I try to make the sketch as detailed as I can, making sure to include the shadow areas too.

BTW, I don’t usually make my grid lines this dark. It’s best to keep them light. I only made them dark so they would show up better for this example. I will erase them before the layer of under paint goes on.

The Underpainting

The underpainting.

An underpainting is the first layer of paint applied to the canvas, and it serves as a foundation for the subsequent layers of paint that will be applied as the painting progresses. It’s a crucial layer that’s largely made up of pigment and medium (a blend of mineral spirits and linseed oil). I use this underpainting layer to get rid of the stark white canvas surface and begin blocking in color, which also helps define the image’s basic outline. I keep this layer thin, making sure not to cover up my sketch lines. That will happen later as I develop the painting as I add more layers of pigment. Once the underpainting layer has dried, I begin laying in oil paint layer upon layer and adding more and more detail as I go until the painting is complete.

Painting In Layers

Layering on the oil paint.

I paint in layers and allow each layer some drying time before applying the next. This takes longer to finish a painting, but this technique will enable me to achieve the effect I’m working toward on each of my paintings. Depending on the amount of detail that needs to be included in the composition, some paintings will have more layers than others. Allowing each layer to dry reduces the overall drying time required before applying the varnish layers.

Applying Varnish

After the painting is finished and has had time to thoroughly dry, I will apply at least two coats of artist-grade clear varnish to protect it and bring out the colors.

The Finished Painting

white dog pet portrait
The finished painting.

The Large White Dog
Domestic Pet Painting by Teresa Bernard
16″ w x 20″ h
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

Read more about this painting here.

Sneak Peeks

I like to share my recently finished paintings on social media as sneak peeks for all my followers before adding them to this website. Follow me on Pinterest, Gab, or MeWe. Or sign up for my newsletter below to receive announcements of new paintings added to this website.

Additional Reading

Ths Importance of Varnishing Oil Paintings

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Teresa’s Insider News

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Updated: 11 June 2021

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