Monday, December 24, 2012

Titles for Paintings, Part 3

To finish the series on titling paintings, I'd like to offer some practical tips.

1. Title it something. "Untitled" is a title. It's fine if you have one painting called "Untitled," but it's a headache for art historians or grandchildren who have to agree whether to call them Untitled 1, Untitled 2, etc. Above are some of the images that come up when you search for Picasso's untitled paintings.

2. Title everything you do, if for no other reason than so you can find it again on your computer. Come up with a regime for titling minor works, so that, for example, "Dead Neon.PA.jpg" means the plein air sketch of the neon sign, while "Dead Neon.LO.jpg" is the preliminary layout.

3. Write the title on the work. Write it as soon as you know it at the edge of a drawing, on the back of the illustration board, or on the stretcher bar of the painting. Also write the title in a database that you can find easily. That way if it comes up for auction someday, you piece won't be forced to live under a dishwater-dull descriptive title such as "Man Kneeling before Blonde Woman."

4. Let the file name reflect the variants. My system is to use caps for a big file shot by a professional photographer, such as "DESERT_CROSSING.JPG". If it's a large file I shot myself with my good camera, I call it "Desert_Crossing.LG.jpg." If I shot it with my so-so camera, I call it "Desert_Crossing.lg.jpg." If I have vignetted it to white in Photoshop, I call it "Desert_Crossing.LG.WT.jpg," etc.

5. Avoid articles, such as "The" and "An." This is simply because you can find it easier in an alphabetized computer folder. "Ferry Crossing" works just as well as "The Ferry Crossing," and it's filed under "F." 

6. Be consistent with names. And here I confess I have failed to follow my own advice and have lived to regret it. I tend to make up new names if I am too lazy to find the painting and see what I called it last time. I have called one painting "Rainbow Bridge" in one exhibit and "Gideon's Bridge" in a book. Unfortunately, both names will follow that image forever.

7. Sometimes you may want multiple names. For example, if I paint a cover for a paperback book and the book title does not suit the painting, I rename the painting. So the cover painting for "Michaelmas" I know as "Hologram." Still, both names will always chase that painting.

8. Make sure you recognize the piece from the title. I try to use a title that is my mental shorthand for the piece, and I try to keep it as short as possible. That's why I don't use poetic titles. I called one painting "Last Gift of the Sun," and I can never remember which of the sunset paintings that was.

9. If in doubt, just be specific. If it's a plein air study of a street scene, I like to use the street names, such as "LaSalle and Notre Dame." If it's a sketchbook study and there are written notes beneath the image, make those notes into the title. Richard Estes titled his paintings with a random word that appeared inside the image. Plein air painters may want to tie the image to the date or the GPS coordinates.

10. If you run out of ideas, consider letting your friends or your spouse come up with titles. Betsy Wyeth came up with many of Andrew Wyeth's great titles. Blog reader Diana said, "A friend of mine took one look at a new landscape of mine and exclaimed "OMG Alice in Wonderland Goes Farming." I used the title, and it sold within 24 hours of being hung. I will always wonder if the title wasn't hugely responsible for the sale..."
Merry Christmas, everybody!
Previously on GJ:
Titles for Paintins, Part 1
Titles for Paintings, Part 2


Bhaskar said...

Thanks for the awesome tips! I always keep the title of my works beforehand but was never aware of its importance.
Also for the quick sketches, I keep the dates for the archives (specially digital), for eg. If I have done anything today, its 20121224.
And Merry Xmas James!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas! - mp

kev ferrara said...

There's a story about the naming of "Citizen Kane." A number of Orson Welles' compatriots were spitballing ideas around to replace the original title, which I believe was something like "The American."

Anyhow, one of Welles' secretaries piped up with "A Sea of Upturned Faces." And, after the laughter subsided, this became the gold standard for bad, pretentious titles for the rest of Welles' life.

However, "Numb Fingers Working While the Eye of the Morn is Yet Bedimmed by Tears." beats it by a thousand miles!

Have a happy holiday!

Gordon Napier said...

Yes, very annoying when artists have numerous 'untitled' paintings. Similarly when they have several Ophelias or Ladies of Shalott. Surely they could think of something more imaginative, since they are supposed to be imaginative types! That said, I don't mind dull titles. There is nothing worse than a picture that is more dull than it's title. Plain descriptive titles are fine by me, for the most part.

David Teter said...

Really good advice James.
It is hard in the beginning to decide how to title art,
trying to anticipate all the unknown variables or what if's.

I like your suggestion in #4 and will adopt that advice.
I have found that loooong titles always get shortened or abbreviated (by others) anyway when being referenced so I always keep them as short as I can.

I've seen artists who like clever humorous titles, problem is one day they run out of these ideas and their titles feel forced.
I prefer a straightforward system, like your #8 and #9.

Much like clever titles, over time, poetic titles and such will start running a little thin.

And when you have to title EVERYTHING you do, sketches, studies preliminary work... starting with a long one will lead to titles that are a paragraph long as you add-on the necessary references for each.


Melle Ferre said...

Brilliant! Thank you!

Mark Heng said...

Great topic, James. Thanks for interesting tips and thoughts on an aspect of art making I haven't considered in MANY years! Hopefully that'll change in 2013...

Anonymous said...

The formal method of archiving names with 'The's, 'An's and etc. is to put it at the end of the title, separated by a comma.

The Work of Art
Work of Art, The

Russell Dickerson said...

The "title" posts have been great, and I think they will be very useful to other artists. This list is everything that I try to do, though I learned it through hard trial and error. I do find that I have to have just the right title for one of my pieces. Sometimes it's just the title of the story I'm illustrating. Other times, story or not, I give it the title that fits it.

Thanks for a great, inspirational year of posts, and best of luck in the coming year.

GinaAgrav said...

I love a good title...take a look at the very talented etching artist Bob Coronato. His western (old West) themes works have some pretty long titles, and many times bring a smile to your face, especially if you are familiar with the things horses and cattle can do. I don't think it works against this artist at all!

Anonymous said...

I work at a photo studio, and one of the first things we do after downloading a media card is rename the files with the client's name. I would suggest that artists who take reference photos rename their files accordingly. That way, if a file gets separated from its folder, you still know what it is. There are free photo editing programs like IrfanView that have batch rename functions.

Patricia J Finley said...

Titles - and remembering which is which - is more difficult when one does abstract work. My current series was challenging to name so I (1) used a thesaurus and (b) did a little sketch of the piece next to it's name on a list. Voila!
If anyone has any other thoughts that anyone has re abstract titles, I'd love to hear them!

Roberto said...

I’ve recently found it necessary to reorganize my images/project files on my computer. What a mess! It’s definitely better to do it as you go, with a well thought out plan like the one you suggest, rather than trying to manage a mountain of messy, incomplete data.

Most of my early works are murals by commission so its mostly just documentation, but as I produce more easel paintings and pieces in different media and genre, in addition to titles and documentation I am also dealing with issues of inventory: storage, retrieval, packing/transporting/shipping, and display.
(I may be getting a little off-topic, but maybe fodder for future posts?)
(especially storage. How do you store/file your work?)
(Thanx –RQ)

@Pat- abstracts can be the hardest. It helps me to work in a series and title the series (the series could be poetic or just: yr/mo), then the paintings become 1,2,3…A,B,C…Doe, Ray, Mee… of the series.

@Gina- your right, this guy’s stuff is good! And the Titles fun, too!

Susan Fox said...

Sometimes the titles occur to me while I'm working, very occasionally before I start and usually after the painting's done.

I keep my titles short now after someone at the old Arts for the Parks competition shortened my title for me to one word without asking me. It was the first national juried show I'd ever been accepted into and was kind of taken aback to see "Breaktime" in the show catalog instead of "Breaktime at the Old Faithful Inn". I still think that was inappropriate and disrespectful.

Since I now pretty much only paint subjects from Mongolia and am learning the language, I have started to, for select pieces, title them in Mongolian with the English version in parentheses. A friend who translates Mongolian poetry and literature helps me as needed to make sure the Mongolian is correct.

I keep on hand a sheet of pre-printed adhesive sddress labels that I set up on my computer with blank lines for the title, the copyright symbol and my name with space for the date. Plus verbiage that states that I retain all reproduction rights in all media. One of these goes on the back of every painting as I finish it.

Then all the basic information (title, year of completion, size, price, etc.) is entered in a simple Numbers spreadsheet on my Mac. The spreadsheet is great since it lets me access the info for each painting in a number ways very easily.

Ellen said...

Thanks for taking your valuable time to write wonderful tips. Particularly liked the way you labeled the painting on whether you took the photo or not, etc. Was just thinking about ideas earlier and what a surprise to find that you had already thought about the solution.