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Art Societies and Signature Membership

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

An Art Show at the Ziveli Winery.  My painting on the upper left sold that first night.

An Art Show at the Ziveli Winery. My painting on the upper left sold that first night.

A Common Question

When I first began my artistic journey, I was basically alone. After my divorce, I was 24 and finally able to pursue what I wanted instead of being chained to a kitchen stove. I didn’t have any mentors or money. I couldn’t afford to enter my work in art shows because of the fees and any galleries that took work on consignment required that the participant donate time “sitting” the gallery or store as part of the payment for having the work there. I couldn’t do that either because my little girls were still too young for school my first priority was to them.

However, I went to many galleries and museums to see what was out there and what might be selling. I studied their brush strokes and techniques and I checked out as many books from the library as I could. Eventually, I read every book in the Art aisle.

The mystery was the initials I saw behind many of the signatures on the paintings. I thought at first they may have something to do with a college education, although none of them said Ph.D. (doctorate) or MA (Master of Arts). They were usually three initials and not always the same. Some had two sets of three initials. This puzzled me to the point that I had to ask. Finally, I went to a gallery attendant and asked what these initials meant.

I really believe that everyone has a talent, ability, or skill that he can mine to support himself and to succeed in life.

— Dean Koontz

Art show reception night.

Art show reception night.

Art Societies

Art Societies are groups of like-minded artists who get together and discuss technique, medium, problem-solving, and the temperature of the general public toward art in general. They usually have monthly meetings (or bi-monthly meetings), which may include a demo by a local artist showing a style or a medium or how they solve problems of color and texture. This alone is very valuable but they also provide art showings. These shows are set up by the society, some every month or every other month, many at least once a year or twice a year. These shows are sometimes only for members so it pays to be a member because shows are how the public sees your work. Also, they usually have a jury and prizes for Best of Show, First, Second, and Third Place winners. This is such a boost in the ego for a struggling artist that it is well worth the fee.

Woodcarving demo by Lola Nelson

Woodcarving demo by Lola Nelson

You might not make it to the top, but if you are doing what you love, there is much more happiness there than being rich or famous.

— Tony Hawk

The Signature Initials

Just belonging to an Art Society and paying the dues does not give you the privilege of using their initials behind your name. You have to earn that.

On top of prizes, each time a member enters a show and is accepted they earn points toward their Signature Award. After you earned a certain number of points you could apply for a Signature Award in which the Society grants the right to use those initials after your name.

Each society is different but I can say from experience how long it took me. I needed 150 points to apply for my Signature Award. Each show had an entry fee of about $20 per painting and that didn’t always mean I was accepted in that show. If the jury felt my piece was not up to their standards it could be rejected and I didn’t get a refund, and I didn’t get any points toward my signature. The high standards force you to try harder, work longer, and strive for excellence. My society, SWA, had one Annual Membership show per year held in the San Francisco Bay area and I had to be in 2 of those annual shows to qualify. The local shows only gave me 5 points each but a Bay area show gave me 10 points. I had 150 points long before I qualified because I had trouble getting into the Bay area shows. Finally, after 10 years I got my 2 show in the Bay area and was able to apply for my Signature Award. By that time I had accumulated 225 points. Remember each show cost me and each year there was a fee of $45 for membership. I had worked hard, paid a lot in sweat and tears before I earned that award.

Next time you see a painting with initials after the signature, you will know how long and hard they worked for that and what exacting quality their work went through before they had the privilege of using those initials.

Some Art Societies

These are only a few of the many art societies that are out there encouraging artists to do their best, be prolific in their work, and show art with confidence.

AWS is the American Watercolor Society.

CPSA is the Colored Pencil Society of America.

NSS is the National Sculpture Society.

PSA is Pastel Society of America.

SSA is the Society of Animal Artists.

NOAPS is the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society.

SWA is the Society of West-Coast Artists.

Watching a demo by Suzanne Baker, before Covid, naturally.

Watching a demo by Suzanne Baker, before Covid, naturally.

A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

— Colin Powell

Signature Award

I have belonged to the Society of West-Coast Artists for 16 years now and happily, I earned my Signature Award from them 5 years ago. I have served as the treasurer and secretary for our local group for 10 years and hope to continue for a long while. I realize I could join many more societies and have multiple initials after my name if I so desired but that is not financially possible. Besides keeping up with this one group and all my other activities is plenty for me. I know many fellow artists who belong to 3 or 4 groups but they aren’t active in all of them nor do they serve on the board in any of them. It just spreads your time too thin.

Watching a demo by Ma Ly

Watching a demo by Ma Ly

Final Thoughts

What do you think of artist’s signatures and art societies? Do you belong to any or would you like to? Have you even checked to see if you have any local art societies in your area? By the way, you don’t have to be an artist to belong to an art society. We have had many members who are patrons of the arts and just like to be around artsy people. Many of those are spouses of the artists but that’s okay. Every artist needs a patron. I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.


Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 16, 2021:


I'm so happy to hear you support artists. What would we do with people who feel that way? I appreciate you so much. Thanks for commenting.



Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 07, 2021:

I am not a member of any art society, but I do support their work. I was just in a museum last week for lunch and to buy some gifts. I like to support the creations of artists.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 05, 2021:

Chrish Canosa,

I'm so glad you like my art. I have several articles with my art included and I'm publishing another one today. I hope you check it out. Thanks for commenting.



Chrish Canosa from Manila Philippines on April 04, 2021:

Hey there Ms Denice, I'd love to see more of your paintings. I like the short quotes added on this article they're powerful. How painting touches a heart, only the artist know. Blessings Ms Denice and much love!!!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 03, 2021:

Chitrangada Sharan,

I love to visit museums and galleries too. I like to see what is considered great art, and what is selling among my contemporaries. Sometimes it surprises me what the public will buy. Thanks for commenting.



Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 03, 2021:

Bill Holland,

Ah, you are observant to notice the initials after signatures and wonder. I've known many people who never even noticed. Thanks for commenting.



Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 03, 2021:

Devika Primić,

Like writer's societies, they build up confidence, support each other, and help in problem-solving. It's worth it. Once I tried to join a writer's society in the area and they wouldn't have me because I only wrote children's books.

At least the art society was happy to have me. Thanks for commenting.



Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 03, 2021:

Rosina S Khan,

But I bet you like to look at art, and now when you see the signature on the art, you will know what the initials mean. It is good to appreciate art. Art, like good creative writing, makes the world a better place. Thanks for commenting.



Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 03, 2021:

Dora Weithers,

I have been rewarded by the comradery and support of other artists, as well as the confidence it has given me to enter shows and support others. Thanks for commenting.



Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 03, 2021:

Pamela Oglesby,

You know, I thought for the longest time that I was the only one left out of the loop of information, but apparently, lots of people don't know what it's all about. I'm glad this was helpful and informative. Thanks for commenting.



Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 03, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

Yes, it is almost as much or more time and money as you would put toward a college education, and you come away with initials to use with your name. Thanks for commenting.



Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 03, 2021:

From Abby Slutsky,

Thanks for sharing that info. I had no idea what those initials meant. It sounds like you found a good balance of what works for you with the society you are active in.


I'm so happy you found this info helpful. I was confused at first as well but curious to ask someone. If you look around, I will bet there are local art societies in your area as well. Thanks for commenting.



Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 02, 2021:

Excellent article, and wonderful information. So, these initials or signatures are earned through hard work, and that’s wonderful.

I love visiting the art galleries, out of sheer interest. I admire creativity in any form.

Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 02, 2021:

How interesting! I didn't know this at all. Thank you for the information and for solving a puzzle which I have wondered about for years.

Blessings always, my friend


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 02, 2021:

Denise interesting aspect here and a well-written hub. I had no idea of it. You have picked out a unique title. I have not thought about belonging to a society as this one.

Rosina S Khan on April 02, 2021:

None of my friends and relatives do artwork. So naturally I didn't know about art societies. This article was very informative in that respect. Thanks for sharing, Denise.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 01, 2021:

Thanks Denise, for letting us into the world of artists and artists wannabes. It seems that belonging to a society boosts the ego and also supports efforts much like Hubpages does for writers, but those fees! It's a great thing to belong. Praying that your efforts are highly rewarded.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 01, 2021:

I don't belong to any societies, but I wish I did. I did not know about the initials either. This is a very informative article, Denise. I appreciate the information you shared.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 01, 2021:

Your article is informative, Denise. I guess I have never paid attention to those initials. Now I will realize the time, effort, and money that goes into using them.

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