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

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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.

Sketch: Figures

A friend shared this two-and-a-half hour video with me (originally a live figure drawing session on Facebook at 4pm on January 5, 2018; from Friday Evening Figure Drawing by Draw This)

This inspired me to do a figure drawing session, something I haven’t done in many years. It felt like being back in art class, sitting and just practicing and getting lost in the process. It’s been a while since I had that feeling, as I’ve been trying to produce finished pieces to get a portfolio together. I don’t claim to be any good at figure drawing, but I had fun!

I did these sketches in pencil on Newsprint paper (18×24). I apologize for the quality of the photos; I really need to get a better setup for taking pictures of my art one of these days.

The session began with twenty one-minute poses. I started by sketching out the shapes of the torso and limbs. Once I had a general idea of where everything went, I traced the contours for definition and to add detail, such as the placement of muscles. I’ve always been very slow at drawing, so the whole concept of timed poses was a challenge for me. In the first session I didn’t get very far since the poses were so short. I was able to get further more easily as time went on and I got more comfortable (I couldn’t even complete the first pose), but the poses themselves also seemed to get harder and harder. Great model!

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Next came ten two-minute poses. It was nice having more time to spend on each pose, but unfortunately that didn’t help me much with proportions. I think I had the most trouble with getting the length of the torso right.

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I had the same torso issue with three five-minute poses. I think I did the best job on the one in the center. With the five minute poses I had a chance to add some very basic shading.

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Next up were two ten-minute poses. The model held a stick, creating even more interesting poses. I wanted to try a few different things, so I concentrated on shading with the time I had left on the first pose and focused on the model’s face in the second. (The poses were separate, but I wanted to continue with the same piece of paper.)

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The final pose was fifteen minutes long and the model sat in a chair (I imagine it would be quite hard to stand very still for fifteen minutes). She did move a little occasionally but not so much that I felt it affected my ability to do the drawing.

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I would have loved to have had more time to flesh out many of the poses, but so is the nature of live figure drawing. Yes, I could have paused the video, but that sort of defeats the purpose of the type of practice I was going for. All in all, I feel that I had a productive and enjoyable session and I’m looking forward to doing it again. I definitely recommend the video series, and it’s great that the video continues to be available after the official live session.

Sketch: Dog Reclining

I did a little something to tide me over until I get my new colored pencils…but it didn’t turn out how I expected.

I went back to basics with this one—a pencil sketch—but with an unintentional twist (varying from my usual method). I used a photo reference. I drew directly from the image on the computer instead of printing it out because it can be very helpful to be able to zoom in on textural elements, but that turned out to be less relevant than I expected. I used my 9×12 recycled paper sketchbook.

First I sketched out the outlines with my 4H pencil. I really struggled to get the initial sketch for some reason, so I ended up roughly drawing the different shapes I saw to try and get the proportions right.

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Then I went back in and smoothed out some of the lines to more closely reflect the image.

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Next, I plotted out areas of light and dark using a #2 pencil because the 4H just isn’t dark enough, especially for a black dog. Typically I would start out with directional strokes and build up the texture of the fur that way, but I guess because I’ve been working with underpaintings and charcoal it was instinctive to cover broader areas of the page with the edge of my pencil. This greatly affected the outcome of the piece.

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I added additional detail and did some cross-hatching, unsure of how I might improve the quality of the texture.

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I ended up heading in the opposite direction and smoothed out the marks I had already put down with a paper blender, which resulted in an almost water-color-like look. This was definitely a go-with-the-flow drawing rather than a carefully planned one.

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To be honest, this is not the sketch I was going for at all. I have had success with textured dog fur in the past, but in the end this turned into something else. I enjoyed drawing it though, and that matters a lot!

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I decided not to finish the sketch because it already had all the elements I wanted.

 

How can you tell when a drawing is finished?

I’ve read that one big mistake artists make is calling a piece finished too soon. I agree that can be a problem. But to simplify things a little (especially for you perfectionists out there), here’s another way to tell if a drawing (or even a sketch) is “done”: it does what you want it to do. Think about whether your art is saying what you want it to say to the viewer. Does it look like what you wanted to draw (or something that surprised you but you are still happy with)? Does it give off the kind of energy that you want? Did you gain something in the process of drawing? (This could be new skills or ideas, or simply enjoyment of the process). Of course you want elements like highlights and shadows to be in place, too. I hope this is a helpful way to look at this issue.

 

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.