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.

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 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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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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Using a Grid to Enlarge and Transfer an Image to Canvas

The Grid Enlarging Technique

There is a simple technique used by great artists every day to create sensational works of art. The best part is you don’t have to be skilled in drawing to achieve extraordinary results when using this method. 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 become beautiful 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, grid enlarging 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 regularly to enlarge and transfer compositions they desire to paint to a canvas as part of prepping it for painting. This entails drawing a grid on your reference image and then drawing another grid on your canvas of equal or greater proportion. Then, one square at a time, you draw the picture onto your canvas, concentrating on the contents of each square until the image is complete.

Just about everyone knows what a grid is; however, if you don’t, a grid is a series of equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines that intersect to form a boxed pattern. It serves to divide the original image into smaller blocks to see what goes where more easily. Grid enlarging is a valuable 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. It is important that the image and the canvas be in 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 the article titled “Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings.”

Step 2 — The most important 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 in your picture.

using a grid for enlarging an imageStep 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.

Be sure to draw the grid very lightly to 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.

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

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 and ignore all the others until the one is completed and it is time to copy the next block to canvas. The reason you should focus on only one block at a time is so that you will end up drawing what is actually there – what your eye sees – rather than what you think should 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 the drawing and start over from the point where you went off-grid.

An excellent 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 and begin your oil painting.

A helpful online tool you can use to draw your grids is by ArtTutor. Here is the link.

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