The Evolution of a Signature

Recently I began to wonder if an artist could change the way in which they sign their artwork. Naturally, I Googled it. I didn’t exactly find what I was expecting or hoping to find (“yes” or “no”), but I did come across some interesting perspectives. I guess what I really wanted to know was: could using a different signature affect your body of work in a negative way? The conclusion I came to was that it should not. Henri Matisse had seven known signatures, and other artists even more. When it comes to assessing a piece as part of an artist’s body of work, the style of the work will likely speak for itself. And a particular way of signing could potentially show the work as part of a certain period in one’s career.

When I started out, I used to sign my full name. I would always put my signature in weird places, working it into the curves of whatever I had drawn. Sometimes, for no particular reason, I signed my initials in various ways. In the past, there was no thought behind changing up my signature. I simply did whatever I felt like at the time. I suppose I was having fun. I didn’t even realize just how many different ways I have signed my name on my artwork until I started looking.

When I got married last year and changed my name, I started out by signing my initials. I wasn’t happy with how that looked, so I came up with a monogram instead. I still think it’s cool but it might be more appropriate as a logo. One site made me think about the importance of having a legible signature. That way, someone can readily identify the work as yours and also (in this day and age) easily look you up online.

I don’t think my signature has really “evolved” in any kind of linear way (though hopefully my work itself has). Unnoticed by me, it was just always changing. If I had to give an artist starting out advice about how to sign their work, I would tell them: do what feels right to you. If it’s fun to hide your signature within your artwork, signing differently every time, do that. If you prefer a more orderly approach, that’s okay too. And do consider dating your work, either next to your signature or on the back of the piece. Someday you (or someone else!) will want to know when you made it.

Here are some more things to know about artist signatures.

Signatures
Just some of the variations of my artist signature, starting from the early 2000s

DSC00206DSC00195DSC00212
A few examples of old sketches signed in different ways/ places.

Lately I have been using a standard bottom-right approach for my signature, but looking back at these makes me remember the whimsy and creativity that used to be a part of something as simple as signing my name. I’m sure there are plenty of artists who don’t give signing a second thought. But ultimately your signature does end up being a part of each piece. What that signature says is up to you.

Critiquing Your Own Artwork

I have a couple of projects in the works but nothing yet ready to share, so I decided to post about a relevant topic.

My art teacher was not particularly impressed by the drawing pictured here. I remember that one problem he found was that the skeleton is distorted, which was something I hadn’t noticed but don’t disagree with. It turned out that I was supposed to do a larger drawing (I think 24×32), which might have made the final piece seem less crowded. But when I look at this drawing today, I feel very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I did this drawing within 6 months of learning to use charcoal. The sheet, the ceramic jar at the bottom center of the drawing, and the hat and broomstick all look very realistic to me. However, there are also mistakes in the drawing that my eyes immediately go to, such as the leaning jar on the bottom right and the curved spokes of the umbrella. I don’t know if I noticed these things at the time, and I was under time pressure. But I’ve learned that sometimes it takes quite a while to be able to step back from a project and critique it fairly. This may be because of the high that one sometimes feels when finishing a piece of artwork (an overly kind critique), or the endless barrage of could-have-done-betters that afflict a perfectionist (overly harsh). I’ve been guilty of both. Lately I’ve been in a negative mood when it comes to critiquing my own work, so I’m trying to remind myself to be fair, and to appreciate the work regardless of the criticisms I may have.

Being able to critique your own artwork is a useful skill. It is still important to get feedback from others, but if you have the ability to critique yourself, you won’t be entirely reliant on other people to tell you what you could be doing better (or what you are already doing well). While it would be ideal for every piece of art to turn out “perfectly,” in the end each oversight or mistake is an opportunity to create something better the next time. Because of this, it is important to be able to step back from your work and give it as objective a critique as possible. Just as you would if you were critiquing someone else’s work, it can be useful to first and lastly notice the positive attributes of the work while sandwiching constructive criticism in between. I think of constructive criticism as an acknowledgement of a flaw in the piece that allows for the artist to adjust the flaw (if still working on the piece) or to carry new, useful knowledge into the next piece. Instead of just noting that a part of the piece looks “wrong” or “bad,” try to figure out what it is specifically about that area that isn’t working. That way, you can fix your mistake or apply what you learned to your next work. And don’t forget to take pleasure in the process of creating artwork in the first place!

 

Smith Final ProjectFinal project for Drawing I at Smith College, charcoal, 2007 (18×24)

Discovering Color

On days when I don’t quite feel like drawing, it’s nice to be able to sit back and contemplate the times when I do.

For a long time I had been yearning to work with color, to get out of a black-and-white rut I felt stuck in. There is certainly a place for black and white in the world of art, but I was feeling held back in projects that I knew could be vibrant and stunning in color. I’m still new to mixing color into realistic hues, and experimenting mainly with colored pencils so far, but it really feels like a whole new world has opened up for me. Also, colored pencil is a lot less messy than charcoal. (Side note: I thought that I could get away with not spraying my drawings anymore, but it turns out that I still have to worry about wax bloom.)

We see colors all day every day, and where I once was focused on light and dark and shadows and contours, now I am seeing differently. I look for colors and hues, even in white objects and seemingly black shadows. But all the work I did with black and white, besides solidifying my drawing skills, ultimately set up a foundation for achieving accurate values in color—the lights, the darks, and the in-between. Do you know how many different shades of gray there are? There are 9 in my new set of colored pencils alone!

Now that I have started to explore color, it seems almost impossible to go back. I will probably return to black and white from time to time, when I have an idea that it is suited for, or when I long for the comfortable feel of smudging charcoal around with my fingers. But for now, I have fallen in love with colored pencils and what they can do, and are doing, for my art.

 

Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts, colored pencil on mixed media paper, 2017 (11×14), my first drawing in colored pencil

Why I Draw

Yesterday I was inspired by blog posts on www.artofschmidt.com to think about why I draw. I’m not intending this post to be an artist’s statement, but simply a general reflection and self-exploration.

 

Why I Draw

For me, there is pleasure in looking at something and being able to recreate it on the page. Drawing is one of the only things that I can do for hours and feel like only minutes have passed. I have always tended toward realism, or capturing a scene the way it would appear in a photograph. But lately I am learning that even if a work doesn’t turn out exactly the way it “should have,” that is ultimately the distinct mark of the particular artist, based on what she saw, how she wanted (or was able) to put it down on paper, and the subject, shadow, texture, and color choices she made.

 

Why I Draw With What I Draw With

If I’m being perfectly honest, I draw with pencil and charcoal because it is erasable. I have come to deeply enjoy not just working on a drawing, but reworking it, sometimes over and over again. But one of the big elements that factors into the equation is fear. Fear of making a mistake, of not being able to erase it. Fear of imperfection. But lately I have been determined to face these fears (in art and in life). That is one reason that I ventured into using colored pencils. I waited so long because I thought I didn’t know how to use and mix colors, and wouldn’t be able to create realistic art. But so far I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do using color. I didn’t know it at first, but colored pencil takes a very long time and therefore requires a lot of patience. My first reaction when I realized that was frustration. But then I thought, “This is good for me. I could use some patience.” I plan to try other materials as well that I think I don’t like or am afraid of, such as ink and paint.

 

Why I Draw What I Draw

This is the area that requires the most thought for me. I suppose it is valid to say that I choose subjects based on interesting shapes and shadows, things I began to look for in everything when I was taking art classes, and that I can envision on the page even before I begin. But beyond that, there has been a shallowness to what I draw in the sense that I draw things that look nice or interesting, but have no real significance to me. I sometimes draw from personal photographs, and that does add a layer of meaning. But as far as artistic vision goes, I don’t really have one yet. I am starting to believe that most of what I have been drawing has been practice (hopefully) for something bigger to come…

I need to think about why someone would connect with my drawings, besides them being “good” or pretty or realistic. I want my art to convey feeling and energy. I want to draw for a reason.

 

I will continue to reflect on this topic and I hope that what I learn will begin to be visible in my work.

 

Wedding Hand Watermarked

Wedding Hand, charcoal on mixed media paper, 2017 (11×14)

Why This Blog?

I am starting this blog as a record of my journey to improve my art skills and experiment with different methods and mediums. My goal is to post pictures of my current art projects stage by stage with commentary on the techniques I used and what I learned and experienced. I also hope to provide tips and tricks that will help beginning artists as they learn to put what they see onto the page and find their artistic voice.

“Drawing through” can refer to thinking about the shape and form of an object as you draw–not just what you see but also what you don’t see. For example, when you are drawing a 3D object such as a house, you want to keep the back of the house in mind in order to create a realistic image, even though it won’t ultimately show in your drawing.

You can also “draw through” in other ways; I plan on drawing through the setbacks and difficulties that I will inevitably face in this journey.

Monk Trees WatermarkedMy favorite charcoal drawing, “Monk Trees,” 2015 (18×24). From a personal photograph.