Naming Your Artwork — Tips for the Fine Artist

Here are some helpful tips for the fine artist on how to name their oil paintings and other works of art 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.


oil painting canvas artStill Life with Fruit and Candle
Still life by Teresa Bernard
14″ x 11″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


Tip #2: Make your titles descriptive but not too personal. Instead of being ambiguous, consider naming your art something that describes exactly 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, however, if you were to name it “Girl in a Pink 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 if it is a place they have visited before or hope to visit someday. Be sure to title the painting by location name if it is a famous landmark, national monument or park. Lastly if it is place not that familiar to many, but viewers can still 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 a hard time believing your work has value if your piece is simply 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 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.

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/or occupation.
  • Landscapes  —  Start with the location, maybe include the time of day, 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“.

Tip #6: Start with the artwork’s focal point. This will usually be most the obvious elements of the piece. Titling your artwork after the focal point will help others to understand your artwork better, especially if your piece is an 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 actually 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 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 like 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“.

If you have a tip for naming your works of art, share them by commenting below.


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 right.) The technique is based on how the human eye perceives the world around us. Meaning objects which are 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 orthogonal (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.


bonnie and clyde car paintingForgotten Roads of Bygone Days
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
24″ x 18″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

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linear perspectiveThere are three basic elements that must be present in a work of art in order 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 at 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. When there are two sets of parallel lines that appear to converge, there will be two vanishing points. If there are three sets of parallel lines, then there will be three vanishing points. See The Rules of Perspective for more information.

Assignment

  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/or telephone poles running alongside a road.

Additional Reading

Creating Depth in Your Paintings via Atmospheric Perspective


Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings

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 view finder is a tool used by a painter that performs a similar function. Artists use these devices as an aid to organize 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.


longhorn cow oil painting“Texas Longhorn in The Meadow”
Wildlife Art by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


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 opening of the viewfinder, move it around slowly on the surface of your snap shot 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 them 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 to frame and crop out unimportant areas of an image. This 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 interest focal point that can be used to begin creating your painting from. 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 that is 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, because this instrument will give the artist an idea of how an arrangement might potentially 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 types of artist viewfinders can be used in either portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) position. This allows the artist to use the 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 width of the composition 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.

Using a Grid to Enlarge and Transfer an Image to Canvas

There is a simple technique used by great artists everyday to create sensational works of art. The best part of it is, you don’t have to be skilled in drawing to achieve extraordinary results when using this method. In fact many of the world’s greatest oil painting artists don’t draw well at all, yet they use the grid enlarging technique to start their paintings which then go on to become wonderful works of art. Regardless of where you get your inspiration, be it from a photograph, drawing, or some other representation of an image you want to paint, the grid enlargement technique can help the artist transfer a smaller size image onto a larger canvas with exact detail or as much detail as the artist desires.

What exactly is grid enlarging?

grid enlarging techniqueGrid enlarging is the process of using a grid to precisely copy and enlarge a smaller image and transfer it onto a larger canvas. Artists use this technique on a regular basis to enlarge and transfer compositions they desire to paint to a canvas as part of prepping it for painting. What this entails is to draw a grid on your reference image and then drawing another grid on your canvas of equal or greater proportion. You then draw the picture onto your canvas concentrating on the contents of each square, one square at a time, until the image has been completed in its entirety. Just about everyone knows what a grid is, however just in case you don’t, a grid is a series of equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines that intersect to form a boxed pattern. What it basically accomplishes is to divide the original image into smaller blocks so that you can more easily see what goes where. Grid enlarging is a useful exercise in helping to improve your drawing and observational skills.

5 Easy Steps to Grid Enlarging

Step 1 — Select your reference photograph and use a viewfinder to isolate the section you want to paint. Next you will need to determine the proportions of your composition. To achieve the best results, it is important for the image and the canvas to be the same proportion. For example, a composition that measures 4″ x 5″ is the same proportion as a 16″ x 20″ or 24″ x 30″ canvas. If your canvas is 12″ x 16″ or 18″ x 24″, then you will need to crop your reference photo to a 3″ x 4″ or 6″ x 8″.

Smart tip: For detailed information about what a viewfinder is and how to use one, see article titled “Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings“.

Step 2 — The most important to thing to keep in mind when drawing your grids is they must be a 1-to-1 ratio. It’s math 101. The size of your reference photo must always be equal in proportion to the size of the art canvas. If you fail to adhere to this principle your drawing will be distorted. Also the lines must be equally spaced vertically and horizontally, intersecting to create perfect squares.

Smart tip: After you have drawn your grids on both your reference photo and canvas, count the number of squares in each row and column on your canvas. It should be the same amount as the ones on your picture.

grid enlargingStep 3 — Use a pencil and ruler to carefully measure and mark along the outside edge of the photo. Put tick marks at every inch, half-inch or quarter inch depending on the size of your reference image and how much detail you need to transfer. Then carefully connect your marks by lightly drawing your grid directly onto the image.

Smart tip: Use a mechanical pencil to draw your grid. A mechanical pencil produces a very thin and precise line.

Be sure to draw the grid very lightly, so that you can easily erase it when you are finished. If you don’t want to draw on your photograph, you can tape a piece of clear acetate over your picture and then draw your grid on it using a very fine-point Sharpie marker.

grid drawing methodStep 4 — Begin your transfer by drawing everything you see in one block of the reference photograph into the corresponding block on your canvas. Focus only on one square at a time and ignore all the others until the one is completed and it is time to copy the next block to canvas. The reason you want to focus on only one block at a time is you end up drawing exactly what is actually there – what your eye sees, and not what you think is there or even what you think should to be there. Try as best you can to copy exactly all the details you see in that one little block on the photo to its corresponding block on your canvas. Be sure to include the shadows and highlights too. Continue this process one block at a time until all the blocks have been drawn onto your canvas. When you have finished that last block, you will have a very close rendering of your reference photo ready to paint.

grid drawingA good place to start drawing is with the top left square of your canvas. Then work your way across and down the canvas, row-by-row and column-by-column, until you have completed your detailed drawing. Pay careful attention to make sure you are in the correct square or your drawing will be off and you will have to erase some of your drawing and start over from the point where you went off grid. A good way to keep your blocks straight is by marking them numerically and alphabetically along the edges of the photo and canvas. In other words, the first block on your canvas that is located in the top left corner would be block A1, the next one to the right on the same row would be A2 and so forth. This will help keep you from getting lost especially within much larger paintings that have a lot of squares. Write the numbers and letters small and faint enough so that they can be easily erased.

Smart tip: Use a thin piece of sharpened charcoal instead of a pencil when transferring your drawing. The advantage of charcoal over pencil is that charcoal can be easily wiped off with your finger, kneaded eraser, paper towel or rag, whereas pencil lead requires more effort to erase. Spray with a fixative to keep your charcoal drawing from rubbing off when you finish your drawing.

Step 5 — When you have finished transferring the complete image to canvas, gently erase the grid lines to begin your oil painting.