The complete guide on how to title your paintings

This is a subject that always has had me befuddled and perplexed as to how am I going to title a painting.   How can I convey to my viewer what the painting is trying to communicate in just a few words?  It can be a daunting task for some of us, and we resort to the old standby, "Untitled".

This, I have found, is a complete turn off to your customer.  Most folks want a name! Something to call this beautiful object you have created and they have wanted to purchase, until they saw the title.   And if you're posting your work on the internet, well, "untitled" aien't gonna get ya very far when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).  Trying doing a search on "untitled" oil paintings and see how close you get to finding yours! 

The creative process you used in making your art really needs to be extended into the title.  Why?  Folks simply experience more from a piece of art when it is correctly tied to an awesome title.  It can be a powerful experience.  Similar to the one I had when I saw up close and personal a painting by Vangelis Andriotakis called "Spanish Shawl".  (read more about that in my about me page)

I've really struggled with naming my art in the past, so a bit of research really helps.  Thus, here is a checklist on how to approach naming your painting.

pink azalia oil paintingPink Surge

Using the techniques below, I came up with a name that conveyed the power behind the piece, and the first thing you think about when you see it.  I did use the "title your painting" guide to get me there.  It is a large painting, 39" x 60", and has a huge impact when seen within a room.  It now hangs in the "Virginian Hotel" here in Lynchburg. (a massive restoration project that has given Lynchburg a real diamond! 

While sitting and admiring these flowers during a photo shoot for its reference material, I can remember the waves of blossoms that where lying before me.  Read on below how it's name was derived.

Name or Title your painting guide

Being in this position once again, I figured I needed a system or a guide that would help me in the future with just about any painting I develop and produce.  I wanted a check off  list that I could go down and systematically come up with a solution that would work every time.

I quickly found that there just isn't one. 


I made one.  Below you will find the ultimate guide on how to title your painting!

Lets first look at the types of naming convections that are presently used and let's get the easy ones out of the way first.

Factual,   Abstract,  Numerical, Mysterious, and  Sentimental are commonly considered title types.


Lets say you've just completed an epic civil war battle scene with General Robert E Lee and General Longstreet discussing battle plans at Gettysburg.  The date and location would be at the forefront of your title your painting ideas. 

Battle for bunker hill, Omaha beach, the killing of Lincoln,  mans first  step on the moon, the falling of the Berlin Wall.  You can always add a sentimental or mysterious component to this type of title too. 

Say you have a work depicting the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  You could go with the sentimental &  factual title, "letting freedom ring, Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation," If it's an epic piece, you really want an epic title. 


This is used to express something that is appreciated in the intellectual, and mental sense.   An intangible expression concerning or relating to the work.  Here are a few examples.  Rumors, new world, metamorphous, bravery, justice, poverty, abstruse, ancient mystery, modern mayhem, whispers, joy, endless, beginnings, etc. etc.  You get the idea.


Most abstracts can also use the numerical format in combination with the abstract type of title, such as red #2, blue mood 687,  Joy 5678.   It's a type also for use in a series of paintings.  Pears I, Pears II, Pears III. 

Below is Front line II.  The first sold quickly, and another customer wanted one just like it.  So, Front Line II was born.  It is in reference to the front defensive line of a football team.  How I got that, who knows.  I wish I had the Title your painting guide back then, football and daffodils?  What was I thinking?  The customers didn't mind however.

Front Line II

Now we get to the Mysterious and Sentimental.  For me, a floral realist, this will be my nominal type of title.   Sure, I use a mixture of the other types, especially if it's an obvious choice, but mostly, these last two are where most of my work will fall.

Mysterious :

Difficult or impossible to understand, explain, or identify. Deliberately enigmatic.

Synonyms: inscrutable, puzzling, baffling, perplexing, unfathomable, ambiguous, paradoxical, obscure, secret, perplexing, odd, weird, bizarre, inexplicable, baffling, incomprehensible.


Feelings of tenderness, nostalgia, sadness. 

Synonyms: saccharine, romantic, slushy, mushy, sappy, nostalgic, tender, affectionate, tenderhearted, softhearted.

Yep, that describes my flowers! 

So lets dig a little deeper!  Most journalist's and writers will ask these questions before writing.  "What, where, when, why and how."  Doesn't work for artwork.

But there are a number of primer questions listed below that will help get you started.  If you've gone through the first five types listed above, you're ready to take the next step by answering these questions. Before we get to these final questions to ask yourself, a few notes on the different types of paintings you may do, and the present naming convections for each.

Things to think about when you title your painting by the type of art you produce.

Portraits for instance, are usually titled by the individuals name and sometimes a date, or occupation. 

Still life work can be all over the place.   With careful thought into your arrangement so that it tells a story, is based on a theme, or has some vanita's, symbolism, your job becomes easier in it's naming.  When setting up your still life composition, consider time, the season, or the mood you wish to convey.  Again, this helps greatly in the final title you decide.

antique dolls paintingTea for Two

Landscapes,  start with the location, and then incorporate again the time, season or mood you wish to tell your viewer. 

Cotton Candy Sunrise

How to title your painting if it is an abstract.

Abstracts, if it is truly abstract with no hints of geometric forms, but truly non-objective in nature, your title may be the only thing to communicate to the viewer what your painting is about, why you created it, or the concept or meaning you attribute to the work. Choose carefully.

Dimensional Shift
Spin Splash
Nebula Eclipse

So, are you new to oil painting?  Check out these 31 tips designed just for beginners right from my studio's.  Tips that will help you paint better, paint faster, and preserve your health!

Click me to find out more!

Check list for how to title your painting.

Oh, and don't forget, when printing the title in your portfolio, or website, it needs to be italicized. 

Now it's time to get out your art journal, and jot down the answers to these questions below.

Now to the title your painting guide list:

1. Take a long look at your work.  What strikes you first? What are you trying to show? Is there a hidden or mysterious meaning? A moral message? What is your painting about? 

2. Write a list of words that actually describes the piece.  Bright? Sunny? Dark? Scary? Red? Green? Circles? Triangles?

3. Remember the thought or image that first took you down this path for the work in front of you.  What was your thoughts, feelings?

4. What exactly have you painted? Rocks, strawberries, blue skies.  List them.

5. Narrow your list from all you've written above to the most relevant to the piece in front of you.  This can be difficult, as you may like the bright red strawberries, but the silverware just stands out a bit more.  Pretend you are the viewer and not the painter for this.

6. Break out the Thesaurus and Synonyms finder and go through it with these last few items on your list.  It may break open a very creative direction. Remember, mysterious and sentimental here too.

7.  Keep it short, leave room for the viewer to view the piece and figure out the rest of it's meaning or intent.  This little bit of mystery will add to the viewers experience and make both the image and the title a memorable event. 

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