I find the array of answers interesting whenever I see the question “what is the proper way to sign a fine art print?” I am reminded of an older podcast by Brooks Jensen on signing prints where he asks some probing questions himself, and acknowledges there are no resolving answers. Even the ‘traditional’ art community has different methods across a variety of mediums.
Of course many photographers have different ways they think is the right way. Some sign the mat, some sign the print off the image, some on the back (??), or like me, sign directly on the image itself. Some of the strong stances about how it must be done amaze me at times. It is your photograph, don’t let anyone dictate to you how it MUST be done. I offer to you here some things to think about when making this decision. From a consumer’s standpoint, it is almost always a desired to have it signed in some way. And therein lies two distinct viewpoints – of the artists’ intent vs. the value to the owner of the work.
Does having the artist’s signature separate it from something from a mass production factory? (Though certainly there are mass produced signatures!) Does it make it appear more authentic? I think everyone has their own reasons. I have seen reference to how Pablo Picasso referred to the signing of artwork as indication it is ready for abandonment.
Although commonly done by some photography masters of old, I don’t see much value in the signing of a mat board – it can be replaced, and your signature is discarded with the trash. If you are working with another party, like an art consultant, they typically will have their own framers lined up. Then it is a complete logistical mess if you think you MUST sign the mat board.
Of course, if someone doesn’t order a matted print, it isn’t even an option. So some people end up signing both to have a visible signature, yet not feel they are ‘interfering’ with the image. Signing the back can be an issue if an image ends up being mounted. So it really comes down to signing on or off the actual image and paper it is reproduced on. Does it matter if it is visible or not?
As Brooks mentions in his podcast, signatures can be talking points of the art collector – perhaps even a bragging point of authenticity. For the photographer, perhaps an indication of an image finally being at its final stage. The work has a final blessing. I have seen many photographs on display in public places that had no visible signature, and I wish they did as I wanted to know who made the photo to learn more about them. It can be like leaving your calling card.
If it is a distraction to have a signature on an image as some claim, then why is it common practice for painters to have obvious signatures on their works? I have never understood why it may be accepted for one and not the other. I think a photographer can take the worries about possible distraction into consideration. It should not be signed in a manner where it becomes a focal point, but merely an accent.
Brooks suggests having a good, consistent reasoning for signing your images. We all put a lot of effort into composing a shot to begin with, and perhaps even more effort in creation of a final print. I have never seen anything wrong with showing a bit of pride and self-confidence in that.
These are some of the pens that I have found work really well on prints and canvas: Sakura Extra Fine Pentouch
I use either gold or silver depending on what I think matches the tonality of the image best. The ink dries fast, and I have not found it to smear from packaging or handling after dry. I can write fairly smooth on canvas, and they work very well on gloss/semi-gloss print surfaces.
The only caution is that they will dry out quick if you do not tightly cap them. The caps don’t stay on very tight at times. In fact, I keep them sealed in a ziplock bag as a precaution after using them. Take care of these and they last awhile. Be particularly careful when it comes to pressing the tip in for more ink. It doesn’t take many presses to have too much ink run out and you will find yourself with a drip hazard. You can order them from Amazon below, or look at your local art supply store. It is certainly a good idea to have a few on hand at any time as you never know when it will finally dry out and stop working.