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What’s With This Artist’s Signature

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

Best Friends in watercolor

Best Friends in watercolor

Common Question

When I used to take my art to public schools, the children’s number one question was about my signature. Why didn’t I sign my last name? What were those initials at the end? What do they stand for?

Well, there is a whole story behind it and here it is.

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.

— Wayne Dyer

Hummingbird Angel in watercolor

Hummingbird Angel in watercolor

You Should Always Sign Your Work

The number one rule I learned from my first art teachers in high school is to sign my art. They also suggested I put a date as well so that I could always look back and see my progress. After a while, I found that the date isn’t all that necessary and sometimes gets in the way of entering art shows and selling a painting. I have since dropped the date but always sign my name.

As I became an art teacher, I have parroted my art teachers telling my students “Always sign your work!”

Seagull in watercolor

Seagull in watercolor

My Maiden Name

When I was still a teenager, I signed my full name on anything I painted without thinking that as a woman my name would someday change. This is a problem that all female artists have and many solve it by not giving up their maiden name or by using a hyphen. I never liked the elongated name and really didn’t want to start that. As a Christian, I added the flourish of a fish symbol, called the ichthys or ichthus, under my name. I wanted God to get the credit for having given me this gift early on.

Tea Roses in watercolor

Tea Roses in watercolor

There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.

— Sophia Loren

My Married Name

When I married I was almost 20. Immediately I began signing my work with my married name. I didn’t see a problem with that but, wow, did I hear about it. My father didn’t approve of my pursuing art as a career and so I didn’t foresee him having a problem with my signing my artwork with my married name. He told me later that he didn’t appreciate George getting the “credit” for my art career.

I pondered this for a long time. Men were/are a mystery to me and I’m only now beginning to figure a little bit out. At first, I assumed my dad just didn’t like George and therefore didn’t like his name attached to mine. But later I began to see things differently. Whether my father approved or disapproved of art as a career, he took some pride in the fact that I was creating art, something that would give him and his name immortality. George was seen as a Johnny-come-lately jumping on the bandwagon of my successes.

Divorce That Name

So after four years when I was divorced I had to consider whether to return to my maiden name or keep my married name. I asked the judge at the divorce proceedings to change my name back to Scott. I was divorcing George and his name.

Now, what about my signature. I felt that later down the line if collectors found work with my married name and then back to my maiden name it could be confusing. I’m assuming someone will someday collect my work, but it was something to think about. Then there is the possibility that I marry again. What about that married name? I could see this could be a real problem a hundred years from now when people want to find my “lost paintings.” That’s when I thought, “why do I have to have a last name on my work at all?” There were lots of artists who only signed one name. What about Madonna, or Fabian, or Michelangelo? They didn’t need a last name. So why do I? After that, I signed only Denise on all my work. That name may someday be as famous as Cher, or Vermeer, or Caravaggio.

Pink Roses in watercolor

Pink Roses in watercolor

The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.

— Walt Disney

The Signature Initials

When I was still a single mother struggling to paint and raise two little girls, I started reading up on art societies and how they could help a career in art. How I wanted to join one but I knew they charged a monthly fee to join and we just didn’t have it back then. I went to art shows and museums while the girls were in school and saw how many artists signed their work with the initials of the society they belonged to. SWA stands for Society of West-Coast Artists. NWS stands for the National Watercolor Society. NPS stands for the National Pastel Society, at so forth. I read up on these societies and found that just joining did not give you the privilege of using the initials after your name. You had to earn that by entering and being received in a number of art shows as well as winning prizes in shows. 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. Oh, how I wanted that.

Dahlia in watercolor

Dahlia in watercolor

Beethoven

One day I was reading a biography of Ludwig Von Beethoven. I love reading biographies so this wasn’t unusual for me. In this biography, Beethoven explained why he always put SDG before his name on his compositions. Sometimes he would write it out Solo Deo Gloria, which is Latin for To God Alone be the Glory. He explained that his talent was from God he wanted to give God the glory for his work before his own name.

I thought WOW, that’s exactly what I feel about my work. It gave me pleasure to think that those were three initials just like belonging to an art society and having a Signature Award, without having to pay the fees. That’s when I began signing my work with the initials SDG. I felt like belonged to a special art society, one that Beethoven was a member of as well as many others who wanted God to get the glory for their work and their talents.

Darling Angel in watercolor

Darling Angel in watercolor

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. But I still put SDG first and then SWA. God still gets the glory first. I belong to his Society first and foremost.

And that is why you see those initials on all my work.

Persimmons in watercolor

Persimmons in watercolor

Final Thoughts

What do you think of my reasons for my artist’s signature? How would you have solved the problem of changing last names? I’d love to read your thoughts and solutions in the comments below.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 14, 2021:

Devika Primić,

Oh, thank you. I love to paint and share my work. It makes it all worth it when someone appreciates my work. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 13, 2021:

A beautiful hub and your talent is amazing!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 12, 2021:

Hi Dean,

I suppose you meant to leave a message.

Blessings,

Denise

Dean Traylor from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on April 09, 2021:

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

Mary Norton,

I'm glad you think so. I do that with layering. One coat of watercolor is allowed to dry and then I go back and layer another coat on top, sometimes with a different color or tone. Each layer builds up the vibrancy and intensity of the colors. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

Linda Lum,

I certainly understand your daughter's anxiety over that award. Sometimes I wish I could push the reset button as well, but we can only move forward from here. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

Bill Holland,

True, men don't have to deal with changing their name, but the reasons for my initials remain. I have a faith I want to claim even if no one understands it but me. As I said, they have to ask what the initials mean to even hear the story. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

Rosina S Khan,

Yes, not everyone agrees with my reasons but they have to ask what the initials stand for to hear the story. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

Ann Carr,

Thanks for sharing your experience with your signature and where you put it in the art. I've "hidden" my signature in the composition a time or two but mostly I put it at the bottom right. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

BRENDA ARLEDGE,

It took a while but it was worth it. I'm happy with my Signature membership. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

That's nice of you to say. But I would say it may be harder than you think. My style has changed and my confidence. My use of color and even medium has changed. I'm still glad I didn't complicate matters by using too many different last names. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

Pamela Oglesby,

I'm so pleased that you like my art and my article. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 07, 2021:

Heidi Thorne,

Yes, there have been many artists who went with one name or a symbol. The great Albrecht Durer used his initials only but made the A large and the D nestled between the A's legs. It is an iconic signature I think. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

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

Your water colours are so alive, the colours so vibrant.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on April 06, 2021:

Denise, your artwork is simply stunning. The texture on your flower petals is so realistic--I can smell those roses.

I love that you give the glory to God with those initials and the sign of the fish.

Your story reminds me of something that happened to my younger daughter. She is a journalist and was working for a daily newspaper. She received a prestigious award that she should be proud of but doesn't talk about or even display because it has her married (ex) name on it. She wishes she could hit the reset button and have her dad's name surname on it instead.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2021:

Interesting information which I think should be important to all female artists. Although this doesn't really apply to me, it is still fun to learn new things, so thank you.

Blessings always

Rosina S Khan on April 06, 2021:

Denise, your artwork is beautiful. I think your artist's signature is perfect.

Attributing it to God's glory first is very impressive.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 06, 2021:

This is so interesting, Denise! Your artwork blows me away every time I see it. These paintings are stunning. I can smell the flowers, feel the delicacy of those roses, and reach out to touch the fruit and characters. They all have such substance.

I think that a signature shows pride in your own work, that it makes each of your pieces unique and that others can watch your talent and your progress.

I have dabbled in watercolour and pastel, and done the occasional pen and ink drawing. I usually scribble AFC or AFCarr in the corner, or sometimes I will blend it into the painting itself. For instance, I have a painting of my daughter standing on a beach in front of gently lapping waves and my signature is tucked under one of the waves. I don't want to be ostentatious but I do want to 'claim' my work.

I have been married (twice!) but reverted to my maiden name some 30-odd years ago, as I am proud of my family name. Once my sister and I are gone, there is nobody else to carry on the name, so I want to make it last as long as possible. Because of that pride, I have always used my family name for my art, even when married.

It's cool that you can use a society's initials, be it for art or whatever profession one might have. Having said that, I have some I could use from my teaching profession, but I have never done so as I found that a bit over the top - unless is was relevant to what I was doing, such as a professional paper or student assessment.

Great article, Denise. Thanks for sharing the background which influenced your choices.

Ann

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on April 05, 2021:

Your work is quite amazing.

It is beautiful.

I guess I had not thought about an artist name being a problem before, but you definitely show us how it can be.

I really like the idea of the first name, but the initials look more sophisticated.

16 yrs...wow. What an achievement.

You really stuck with it & got the initials too.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 05, 2021:

I created a few pieces of art when I was single, but most have happened after I married. So most of my pieces carry my married name or initials. Your art is so beautiful. Anyone wishing to track down earlier pieces could probably put two and two together to determine that the art all came from you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 05, 2021:

Your work is wonderful and I agree with Hridi. I do think Beethoven had a good point though. Whether you use your initials or however you sign the art, it is yours and it is good.

Thank you for this information, Denise. This is an excellent article.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 05, 2021:

I say however you sign it, your work is amazing! As long as your signature is personally meaningful to you, and you use it consistently, it can be whatever you want.

This story reminded me of when Prince changed his single-word stage name to that symbol. I'm still wondering how I should pronounce it. :)

Anyway, thank you for sharing your talents with us!

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