How to Name Your Artwork: Find a Title That Sells

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

Have you ever wondered how some artists find such great titles for their artwork? Well, there are easy ways to name your artwork, if you know the secrets.

Use these top tips to name your artwork:

  • Find Idioms
  • Common Expressions
  • Phrases and Sayings
  • Short quotes
  • Metaphors and Similes
  • Proverbs and Adages
  • Short quotes
  • Alliteration and Rhythm
  • Puns and Humor

And don’t be pretentious.

Above all, keep a notebook and jot down ideas as they come along. Don’t think you will remember titles because you won’t. When you hear or think of a good title, write it down.

In this post, I will go over my approach to finding a good title. I’ll tell you how to name your artwork and find a title that attracts potential buyers. That’s what it’s all about, right? 

Good idea? Let’s go.

Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links, I sometimes earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend trusted sites.

Do I Have to Name My Artwork?

YES, YES, YES! A good title will sell a piece of art and it should never be a casual afterthought.

Sometimes the right name for your artwork will be obvious, but there have been times when I have rushed to publish with a less-than-perfect title and regretted it afterward. Now I hold back until I have thought things through. 

Hanging a piece of art as ‘untitled’ gives a very clear message to the viewer. It says the artist doesn’t know or doesn’t care what the picture is about. The notion that it’s up to the viewer to put their own interpretation on a work of art is lazy and conceited.

Can you imagine a song without a title? A poem, a story, a movie? Of course not. A painting must have a title, even a cliche is better than nothing. 

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

In his world the title of the artwork was secondary.

A typical student encounter in many ways, but we were in Kenya, and I was painting wildlife art and selling them to tourists. I was talking from direct experience and he was theorizing.

If you make wildlife art use these subjects for extra sales: 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers

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

The first thing people look for, when they stop to look at a painting, is the title of the artwork, and then they read the description.

Your admirers, and potential customers, want to be informed about the picture, and the painting’s title must resonate and evoke an emotional response. It fulfills the same function as the title of a book, film, or headline.

If the title grabs them, it hooks them in.

Get it wrong and you’ve lost them, get it right and the name of the artwork alone can be enough to sell the work. The title of a painting matters

Naming your artwork is that important.

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I met that student before the internet was a thing, and life has changed big time.

Nowadays, from a marketing perspective, a compelling and well-chosen title can enhance the artwork’s SEO, making it easier for potential buyers to discover your artwork online.

Keisey Rodriguez gets millions of views. If you want to explore selling your art further, checkout her channel

How to Find a Good Name For Your Artwork

The title of your artwork will affect your sales so, what do you do when your brain goes blank?

A simple hack I’ve been using for years to find my titles

Idioms, Expressions, Phrases, and Quotes Make Great Titles

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 a list of titles without much effort.

I enter ‘idioms’ in the search engine as my starting point. I’m looking for short titles.

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

You may indeed come across expressions and quotes that are longer in length, but you don’t need to use the whole term. You can edit down the key phrase and infer the rest.

Search Google for ‘expressions from Shakespeare’ and see the wealth of ideas. You may well find the perfect name. It’s OK, everyone else does it.

  • “Love is blind” – From “The Merchant of Venice.”
  • “Heart of Gold” – From “Henry V.”
  • “Salad days” – From “Antony and Cleopatra.”

Update: Now Chatgpt will do the searching for you. I just entered the following command:

“Give me 10 short idioms, in common usage, that can be used as a title for a work of art”

These were the results:

  1. “Walking on Air”
  2. “A Shining Moment”
  3. “Out of the Blue”
  4. “Against All Odds”
  5. “Painting the Town”
  6. “Lost in Translation”
  7. “Breaking the Ice”
  8. “Riding the Wave”
  9. “In the Spotlight”
  10. “Chasing Rainbows”

Not bad. You can see how this works, can’t you?

Use Metaphors and Similes in Your Titles

One of my most effective ploys is to find a ‘family’ metaphor. It’s a common theme of mine, and if I can hit the family/maternal button I will go for it.

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

  • Jumbo Family
  • Baby on Board
  • A Family Portrait
  • Kindred Spirits
  • Father Figure

And, believe me, there are more.

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

I named my picture of a proud lion ‘Head of the Family’ for a reason. People buy it for their Dad, usually in an ironic way.

Artists titles. A drawing of a lion by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Head of the Family’ by Kevin Hayler

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

Use Alliteration and Rhythm in Your Titles

I like alliteration, it’s very pleasing to the ear. I have a personal favorite that I used many years ago to describe a cat I’d drawn, lying in the shade of a pot plant.

I called it ‘Potted Palm and Puss’. Very satisfying and it made people smile.

How to name your art 'Potted Palm and Puss' a drawing of a cat by Kevin Hayler
‘Potted Palm and Puss’ by Kevin Hayler

What about this goody below? It has everything, alliteration, and rhythm, plus it’s short and describes the scene.

How to name your art. Bamboo Breakfast a drawing of two pandas by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Bamboo Breakfast’ by Kevin Hayler

I named this next picture ‘Mischief Monger’. A good choice of title for a fox. In fact, I like it better than the drawing itself!

How to name your art Mischief Monger. A pencil drawing by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Mischief Monger’ by Kevin Hayler

Good alliteration has a rhythmic flow that 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’

How to name your art. A drawing of a family of meerkats by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Eyes to the Right’ by Kevin Hayler

And another of two penguins named ‘Push and Shove’.

How to name your art. A drawing of two penguins by Wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Push and Shove’ by Kevin Hayler

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

Using Proverbs and Adages

I just found these proverbs that have potential. Use Chatgpt and see what comes up.

  • “Actions speak louder…”
  • “Still waters run deep.”
  • “Beauty in simplicity.”
  • “A stitch in time.”
  • “Seek and you’ll find.”
  • “Fortune favors the bold.”
  • “Where there’s smoke…”
  • “All that glitters…”
  • “The pen is mightier…”
  • “A rolling stone…”

Using Puns and Humor

Sometimes working a pun into the title can work really well.

No prizes for guessing what animals appear in ‘Pride and Joy’. A lioness and her cub of course, what else?

Lioness and her cub titles @Pride and Joy. A drawing by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Pride and Joy’ by Kevin Hayler

How about my giraffe drawing entitled ‘The High Life’.

How to name your art.. A drawing of a giraffe by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘The High Life’ by Kevin Hayler

By the way, you can see how I drew this giraffe here.

It’s the effect I’m after, my aim is to see the smile on someone’s face.

I’m not averse to getting some fresh input from friends and family members either. That said, very few people have the knack for a clever title, but it’s worth asking around nonetheless. 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 water reflections but I was having a hard time finding a decent name. A friend gave it some thought and suggested ‘Love a Duck’. It was brilliant. Pity, it didn’t sell!

Well, you can’t win them all.

Naming your art.. A drawing of a domestic duck by artist Kevin Hayler
‘Love a Duck’ by Kevin Hayler

A Good Art Title Has Emotion

There’s a very blurred line separating good taste from 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 (mostly men), you’ll soon find out. If you can hear the embarrassment in their voices when they say the name out loud, you’ll know you’ve gone too far. It matters because your sales will suffer.

I have a picture of a cute baby chimp. It pulls the heartstrings but the title saves the image from going over the top. It’s called ‘Fingers and Thumbs’

It’s a simple yet evocative descriptive title. No one is embarrassed to ask for it by name.

How to title your art. A chimp drawing by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Fingers and Thumbs’ by Kevin Hayler

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

Add a Descriptive Caption With Your Title

If a good title helps, a good caption can clinch the deal. They must include a few key elements.

  • The title
  • The framing size in inches and centimeters
  • A caption of 2 or 3 sentences in length

As always, the caption must be short and to the point. If your captions are intriguing enough, your customer will read them all.

Not only are your visitors more likely to engage positively with you, but it’s a great way to attract curious passers-by to your display. It’s a win-win.

My most amusing titles and descriptions get the best response, and there is nothing more effective than laughter to bring the barriers down.

Take your time and put some thought into those few sentences. It’s not always easy. Sometimes I describe the subject matter and point out details the viewer may have overlooked.

At other times I will write an anecdote relating to the picture, or a thought process.

Any angle that presents the image in an interesting way will work, especially if your reader wants to know more.

Whatever you do, don’t waffle on. Edit your sentences down to the bare bones, check for spelling mistakes, and stay positive. Negativity will kill your sales. Remember you are dealing with emotions.

If writing daunts you, listen to Sun Yi and learn how to tell your story with ease. Find his class on Domestika

How to Name Your Artwork: Final Thoughts

As a professional artist, I’m fine-tuned to selling my own art in the form of open and limited edition prints and they must have a good title if they are to gain the maximum attention. Any gallery owner will tell you that.

It doesn’t matter what type of art you are selling, it could be a sculpture, a drawing, or an abstract painting, Every art form needs a professional presentation, and that includes having a great title.

It bewilders me to see pieces of art for sale with a lazy descriptive title. All that time, expense, and effort, and the best an artist can come up with is a boring ‘Stiil life with Lemon’ or ‘Study in Blue’. Give me a break.

As I’ve said so many times before, never assume that your art does the talking. You must communicate on many levels. That includes your signature, your title, and a few descriptive words to go with them.

If all you manage to do is find a talking point to get a conversation going that’s enough to start the sales process. This is an art business after all and I see every viewer as a potential customer.

Happily, one of the comments I hear most often from people viewing my artwork is ‘I love your titles’. so I must be doing something right.

Ignore the power of words at your peril.

Don’t get your business name wrong either. Check out this post: Art Business Names: Choosing a Website Name for Artists

If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit

Good names sell a picture, but there’s so much more to learn. If you’re serious about selling your art, you need this guide! Take a look.

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How to Name Your Art and Sell More Artwork + Examples
The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, I’m Kevin Hayler
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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