The Flip Side

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The Back Side of My Painting

Your signature is now on the front of your work, but what information do you put on the back? There are no hard and fast rules about what to write or include on the back of your artwork. Each artist will have her own ideas of what information is important. I do think it’s important to include the title of the work and your full name at the very least. Below I have outlined the information that I choose to write on the back of each of my pieces.

  1. The Title – The name of the painting.
  2. My Full Name – I print it clearly so it’s legible. Some artists use their signature or both.
  3. Inventory Code – This requires further explanation: See “#5 – Date” below.
  4. Size – I work with unusual sized canvases and can’t remember which is which. Including the size on the back keeps me from measuring repeatedly. Also, galleries love it when you deliver a painting and they don’t need to measure it. For example, I label a 40” x 42” canvas as 40/42.
  5. The Date – Dating your work is the most controversial topic here. Generally galleries prefer that you don’t date your work. This has to do with the consumer mindset of “If it’s old, there must be something wrong with it” – like last year’s skirt length. If you’ve ever worked in retail, you know whereof I speak. If your work is undated, it is always “new,” and a gallery never has a controversy with a customer over the painting’s salability because of age. As you become more established in the art world and develop a recognizable name, the date on your work can be desirable or at least not a negative.

I like to keep some record of the date of my work so I include an “inventory code” on  the back. It’s pretty straightforward and most patrons could figure it out with a moment’s thought, but it is not a flat out date to distract them.

Example: 14001

14 is for 2014

001 is the painting number.

Honestly the second number is only a general order of things. I may have a stack of paintings at one time in my studio to inventory, and the first one I grab may get the next number, not necessarily in the order that I painted them.

I don’t typically include the following two items, but you should know about them:

6.  Additional Notes – Sometimes a work was completed in a special time or place, or with particular friends, etc. Including this information on the back can be a fun and interesting addition. Plus, if you are famous someday, these notes may actually increase the work’s value. (Have you watched Antique Roadshow?)

7.  Provenance  – (“a record of ownership of a work of art…”) Some artists will attach a Provenance paper to the back of their work for each owner to fill in over time.

So, that’s the Flip Side of my art. Feel free to comment on the flip side of yours!

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5 Responses to The Flip Side

  1. This seems like a funny question, but what do you write on the back of the canvas with? I’ve been nervous to do this for fear of the ink showing through or degrading the canvas. But it makes so much sense, and organization is a struggle for me.

    Thanks for the articles!

    • Hi Jessie, I actually use a Sharpie marker. I have 3 coats of gesso on my canvas and have never had a problem with anything bleeding through. I know many other artists who use Sharpies as well. Keep on Painting!!

  2. Melinda,
    This is so helpful. This is the most simple solution to my “struggling” of my organizational skills. Thank you!

  3. Rue McDonough says:

    Hi Melinda , I always get great information from all your writing . Thank you ! Rue

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