Saturday, January 5, 2013

Finding the Perfect Title for Your Next Painting

"The River Knows" oil on canvas 20x20 Collection of the Artist
I’m often asked about titling artwork or more specifically how did I come up with a certain title for a painting. Some artists see titles as just another challenging (and fun) creative outlet and others dread it.  And of course some artists (for a variety of reasons) choose to forgo titles all together.   

Personally, though I prefer paintings with titles (and I think many gallery owners would agree)-- particularly non-representational abstract works. While we don’t have to blatantly explain all the nuances of our art, I do think a strong art title may offer valuable insight into our creative thought process and inspiration. A title reinforces our inspiration and creative vision.

Obviously I write a blog and enjoy writing (in fact I hold a B.A. in English with French minor) so I enjoy brainstorming painting titles--though it’s not always easy. Once in a while you have to “live with” a piece for a while before the right title comes to bear. In the meantime, here are a few ideas that might help you the next time you need that perfect creative title for your masterpiece.

Literature: From Poetry to Novels to Quotations
This could be anything from Shakespeare, Robert Frost, to modern literature (named an abstract Clockwork Orange for example). With over 100 million books in the world there are almost endless possibilities. Just type a key word like “Apples” into the search engine of a book database like Amazon or your local library to find titles. 

Note that other languages and cultures are also a good place to look for titles. For example a red delicious apple watercolor entitled “La Pomme Rouge” (at least in the US) just sounds more arty and exotic than “Red Apple.” Another Tip: Imagine your painting as a shining new book jacket. What’s the title of the book??
Song Titles and Song Lyrics
Again don’t be afraid to “borrow” from other creative worlds. If you read my blog you’ll see this is one of my “go to” inspirations for paintings from all music genres.( In fact today’s painting title is courtesy of The Doors.) If your painting was a song what would it sound like it? Is it screaming rock and roll, a haunting baroque melody, or a smoky Parisian jazz ensemble? What did you listen to while creating the work? Opera? Country? Jazz? Just Google “Top Jazz Tunes” or “Best Disco” or “One Hit Wonders” and you’ll usually get someone’s hit list to peruse.  

Evocative or Emotional Titles:
What were you feeling as you created the piece? How does the piece make you feel now? What’s the mood of the piece? Ask friends, family, other artists for their reaction to your painting. 
For example, I have a sunflower painting that I titled “Look on the Bright Side”.  It’s a bright, upbeat, sunny painting so I wanted the title to reflect the spirit of the work. Also I love painting sunflowers and have painted dozens if not more sunflowers so a painting title “Sunflower No. Five”just wouldn’t be unique enough. If they made film about the making of your painting what would it be called?

Descriptive But Unique 
Imagine if you had to describe your painting in an ad or an auction catalog without a picture of it. What style is it painted in? Is it warm or cool? Is it detailed or loose? Write a free from list of as many words that you can think of that describe your painting. Nouns. Verbs. Adjectives. Combine these in interesting ways. Borrow from poetic writing best practices and “catchy” copy writing by using alliterative (repeating sound), rhymes, or play on words: “Blissful Bluebells” or “Think Pink.” One of my favorite (but silly) titles of a large garden squash was: Gordgeous. Get it? That one still amuses me.
Color: From puce to periwinkle.
While I would consider this a “descriptive” title we can still be imaginative and take advantage of all the wonderful color synonyms.  A painted titled “Yellow Truck” for example isn’t terrible (and may be quite accurate) but you’re an artist. Here's your chance to share your knowledge and joy of color with the world: Ochre, lemon, canary, champagne, citrine, golden, flaxen, curry, topaz, mustard, saffron—you get the idea. A title like “Champagne Tires” just tells a better story. 

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