How do Artists Title their Work? So it Sells

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Should artists always title their work? YES, YES, YES. There’s far more to a title than you may think. A good title will sell the work and it should never be a casual afterthought. So how do artists title their work?

The easiest way to find a good title is to google ‘idioms’ and ‘common English expressions’ and look for titles that seem to connect with your work. Search ‘phrases and sayings’ or ‘metaphors’, ‘similes’, and ‘proverbs’. Try ‘short quotes’, ‘witticisms’, and ‘adages’.
Above all, keep a notebook and jot down ideas as they come along.

Sometimes the title will be obvious straight away but there have been times when I have rushed to publish with a mediocre title and then regretted it. Now I hold back until I have thought it through more.

Let’s go over my approach to finding a good title when I’m stuck for a good idea. Read on.

Why is a Title so Important for Your Art?

Years ago I was chatting to an art student about painting and he was aghast that I emphasized the importance of a good title. His purist approach demanded that the work should speak for itself.

A typical encounter in many ways, if it wasn’t for the context. We were in Kenya and I was painting wildlife art and selling them to tourists. I was talking from direct experience and he was being academic.

It was like listening to a virgin talking about sex. I wonder if he went on to be a working artist? Who knows?

What I do know is the first thing people look for when they stop at a painting is the title, and then they read the caption.

Your admirers and potential customers want to be informed about the picture and the title must resonate to keep them engaged. It fulfills the same function as a book title or a headline. If it grabs them, it hooks them in.

Get it right and the title alone can sell your work. It is that important.

Your choice of title will effect your sales so what do you do when your brain goes blank?

Finding a Good Title for your Artwork

Idioms, expressions, and turns of phrase.

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, an idiom is a short ‘figure of speech’ differing from the literal meaning, with 25,000 examples in the English language to choose from.

This gives you plenty of scope for a lightbulb moment. That’s why this is the first search term I use when it comes to finding a snappy title.

And I mean short and snappy. No one wants a sentence. Brevity is king and that is why idioms work so well. They are defined as being short in length so they encourage you to think in the right way.

You may indeed come across expressions and quotes that have longer length but you don’t need to use the whole term. You can edit down to the key phrases and infer the rest. Google – ‘expressions from Shakespeare’ and see the wealth of ideas.

Alliteration and Rhythm

I like alliteration, it’s very pleasing to the ear. I have a personal favorite I used many years ago to describe a cat I’d drawn lying in the shade of pot plant. I called it ‘Potted Palm and Puss’. Very satisfying and it made people smile.

What about this goody?

I have another title still in print called ‘Mischief Monger’. Perfect for a fox. In fact, I like the title more than I like the drawing itself!

Good alliteration has a rhythmic flow which is slightly hypnotic but you can have rhythm in other ways. I have a drawing of a line of Meerkats called ‘Eyes to the Right’ another of two penguins called ‘Push and Shove’.

My snappiest titles are rarely more than 3 or 4 syllables long.

Puns and humor

Sometimes working a pun into the title can work. No prizes for guessing what animals appear in ‘Pride and Joy’. A lioness and her cub of course, what else? How about my giraffe entitled ‘The High Life’.
The effect is what I’m after, my aim is to see the smile on someone’s face.

I’m not averse to getting input from friends either. That said, very few people have the knack for a clever title but it’s worth asking around none the less. I’ve used a few suggestions over the years.


One title, in particular, comes to mind. I’d drawn a domestic duck with lots of reflections but couldn’t come up with a decent title. A friend gave it some thought and suggested ‘Love a Duck’. Brilliant. Pity, it didn’t sell!

A Good Title Has Emotion

There’s a very blurred line separating tasteful from over-sentimental goo. I’m not sure I always get it right but on the whole, I think I find the sweet spot.

On the one hand, you are trying to appeal emotionally to your audience, on the other hand, you have to live with yourself!

If a title is awkward for people, you’ll soon find out. You can hear the embarrassment when your customers say the title out loud. If it goes too far your sales will suffer.

I have a picture of a baby chimp. It pulls the heartstrings but the title saves the image from going over the top. It’s called ‘Fingers and Thumbs’ and describes the picture well. No one is embarrassed to ask for it by name.

Now imagine a huge guy buying the same picture for his family and then having to ask me for a ‘My Little Pickle’ print. I rest my case.

Family Matters

One of my most effective ploys is to find a ‘family’ metaphor. If I can hit the family/maternal button I will go for it.

Note how many titles I have that refer to family in some way:

And there are more.

This is where you can stir the emotions most effectively. People buy art for emotional reasons. If they can find a link to their loved ones they are much more likely to buy your picture.

I called my picture of a proud lion ‘Head of the Family’ for a reason. People often buy it for their Dad, albeit in an ironic way, “He thinks he’s head of the family”

It’s a fact that people project human characteristics onto animals. It may have no basis in science but no one buys a picture for that reason. We enjoy seeing ourselves reflected in the natural world and your title will resonate more if you exploit that tendency.

Conclusion

I’ve said it so many times and I’ll say it again, never assume that the art does the talking. Your main aim in selling your art is to sell yourself. You must communicate on many levels and that includes the title of your work.

Happily, one of the comments I hear most often from people is ‘I love your titles’. That alone is worth my efforts.

If all you manage to do is find a talking point to get a conversation going that’s enough to start the sales process.

Ignore the power of titles at your peril.


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How do artists title their work image for Pinterest. A Lions head drawing.

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