Do you find it hard to title artworks? Excruciating even? You can actually have fun titling your work! Yes, it's true - it's not an oxymoron!
I've always enjoyed creating titles and when American abstract artist Jane Davies asked for ideas from other artists about how they title their work, I offered suggestions. She presented a series of different artworks on her Facebook page and followers contributed potential titles along with their own ideas about what tools they use to name their own work.
People who contributed titles she selected for her paintings were sent a piece of original art. I was fortunate to be one of them and the above image is the abstract piece Jane sent me which I CAN’T WAIT to frame and hang in my art studio. Below is the acrylic painting on canvas (600 x 450 mm) which Jane sought a title for.
I chose the title Paving the way because I responded to the figurative elements (stones) I saw which conjured up an image of a path. Note the “road-like” red motifs in the top left corner too and the feeling of a journey/movement in this work. Jane also runs workshops and often shares insights about her artistic process on-line with followers so I also saw the title as a metaphor for her act of generosity in helping to “pave the way” for other artists.
I have a background in journalism, writing and editing and during my time as a gallery director I used those skills to assist artists with naming their works, writing their artist’s statements etc. Many had long established careers just like Jane and were not “newbies” - naming their work was simply something they struggled with.
For artists working in a realistic style, often they have a direct reference (for instance a known landscape/place) which they can allude to. For other artists who work more abstractly or intuitively, there may not be an object/place/figure or memory that inspired their work and that’s when the journey for a title becomes a little more challenging but it doesn’t have to be sweat-inducing difficult!
Often I have an intention/subject/concept before I start a work or series and that will give a lead in to a title(s). If the work is more intuitive, sometimes the composition will provoke ideas or the emotions I felt as I had the inspiration for the piece or worked on it will give a lead. I sit with it for awhile and then the right one becomes apparent.
Here’s some tips I use:
• LISTS, LISTS and more LISTS. Jot down ideas without over-thinking it … look at the work and write down emotions, thoughts. Leave the list beside your work and give it some time. The right one will become clear and easier once you practise this.
• Keep your eyes/ears open to interesting phrases/words – books, poems, dictionaries or everyday life. For instance I had a work that was inspired by my love of jasmine which grows abundantly in our garden. An acquaintance wrote to say she couldn’t come to an event because she was “ensconced in X” (I will keep her location a secret). Hmmm “ensconced”. I liked that. Synonyms include “concealed”, “located”, “protected”, “nestled”, “sheltered” …. it was perfect for my work! So my painting was titled Ensconced in jasmine. A bit more interesting than Jasmine in the garden or I love jasmine. You get the idea? As an aside can't you pictured Miranda Hart turning to the camera saying "ensconced"? Another reason why I like that title so much!
Ask yourself what are you really trying to communicate in the work? You don’t have to bare all but a clue into how a piece can be interpreted does invite the viewer to have a kind of connection to a work or an entry and this can be very important for abstract artists.
I worked with an artist who created ceramic pieces which were a love heart; a circle; and an "x” motif sold in sets that were previously untitled. I suggested the phrase Love, embrace, journey. The response was so interesting once those works had an identity. Some people saw them as the perfect wedding or anniversary gift; one person bought a set after they had been through some challenging times and were embarking on a new career; some parents bought a set for their child leaving home and going to university; another bought one for a friend who was grieving the loss of her husband. One woman saw it as an affirmation of her spiritual journey. You know what? They ALL mentioned the title as one of the key attractions to the work. Titles matter!
When you think of songs, books, movies, plays, people, restaurants … those names often attract us and make us want to find out more. Art isn’t any different.
If you want to put “Untitled” by your artwork that’s fine – after all it’s an artist’s prerogative BUT if you’re doing that because you’re STUCK then hopefully these tips have given you some tools to start creating titles that reflect your personality, style and vision.
For more info about Jane, visit: www.janedaviesstudios.com
I love writing about art and the artistic process, exploring nature, inspirational places and sharing photos of things that force me to click away rapidly so the moment is never forgotten.