How Do You Come Up with Titles for Your Artwork?

A lot of my clients have a hard time coming up with titles for their artworks or titles for their exhibits.

What are some tricks you've learned for coming up with titles?

Please leave your response in a comment and see what others had to say below.


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42 thoughts on “How Do You Come Up with Titles for Your Artwork?”

  1. The naming of artworks often perplexes me, too. Once in a while a piece suggests a title so strongly that I know what to call it before it is even begun, but more often than not choosing a title is a struggle.I have found Facebook helpful: I put out the “call” to my fans and ask them to come up with a title, then I choose the best one. It gets people interested and generates a lot of discussion and interaction on my fan page. Plus I get a good title for the work in question!

  2. sometimes the title generator spurs a brainstorm.
    My most typical way is to start flipping through books. My family, students, friends, art collectors, and social media have also given worthy titles to my artwork.
    I share works in progress and sometimes the comments give me ideas.

  3. Well my recent paintings usually have a deep meaning and message behind them, so when the painting makes me feel a particular emotion, a title ideas start to appear.
    I am a member of, a few times I have posted a thread in the discussion area on FAA, asking for help for a title, you never fail to great feedback from the other artist’s and fitting title suggestions

  4. I keep a notebook with me at all times. Whenever I hear or read a phrase that I find beautiful or interesting, I write it down in my book. Recently, I have been listening to interviews on NPR. Those folks can be very poetic in how they put phrases together. Later, when it comes to titling a piece, I figure out what kind of emotion I feel when looking at it. Then I look through my notebook and find the words to match.

  5. Kathrine McDowell

    I don’t look at it for days. When I do look at it the first word or phrase that pops into my head becomes the title.

  6. I had gone Dada and was opening a book and pointing to a page and choosing whatever I land on. I’ve refined it to looking through a book related to the work and basing titles on passages there. Right now, I am using the Old Farmer’s Almanac to title landscapes.

  7. I think everything I do has been covered. Keep a notebook, ask for title suggestions on my blog and facebook. I also use some of the Quote sites like and

  8. How timely!
    For an exhibit, I’ve shown a set of photos of the art to a friend. We work through phrases and words until we have a title.
    For individual paintings, asking Facebook fans works nicely…sometimes I go through eras that titles are easy…and then…
    Thanks for the post, Alyson. Thanks for the ideas so far, everyone! I had not thought of doing books, etc.

  9. Interesting question and responses. Personally, I feel this odd sense of responsibility to title my own works (more deep thoughts needed!). I figure I painted it so I should have some kind of connection with it to begin with, though I do sometimes use my own response to it once it’s finished (looking for how it speaks to me). . . so I dig deep and try to articulate what that is. Sometimes I only get a glimmer (single words or related events etc) and then I google the glimmer and hit the thesaurus, searching for that “rightness” feeling.

  10. I have a unique to my “art form” problem. The title will need to go onto a small tag for my art jewelry. So two words or three small words are all I get to work with. But like many others, I have some words that have generated pieces, and some pieces generate a title as I am working on them. Some take a few days, but (happily) that is rare.
    One thing no one has mentioned yet that I love to utilize is Roget’s Thesaurus. The original format, not the “dictionary style”. So if you look up “impression” you can get so many aspects, including: aspect, belief, characteristic, concavity, copy, description, and the list continues for a total of 19. As you look at each of those sup-categories, there may be over 20 more words. Might be like the generator being used by some, but it’s really fun and ALWAYS an education.
    I do a lot of free-lance writing for small businesses and individuals so I have a well-worn Thesaurus. I love my edition from 1977: ISBN 0-690-00010-3 Just checked and it’s at Amazon right now for $8.50. (I have another that was published in the 1941 that is full of insights into our culture of that time. We’ve come a long way, baby!) I wonder what The Thesaurus will tell of us in future generations? I would love to see the original from 1852!
    PS: I love verbs as titles.

    1. I have a 1978 version; well worn with most of the covers missing. It’s great fun to play with. I just came up with “audacious” to describe my bead weaving jewelry art works the other day.

    2. And I’ve got my father’s from 1961–leather-bound (I know… wouldn’t buy it now) with his initials on it. This could be a whole other thread… tales of our Thesaurusi!

  11. I’ve used alot of these methods too, going to a site like the following one helps me to think about the meaning behind a name and that will either allow me to name a piece or use the meaning of the name to find some help in the thesaurus, a website that includes a area for baby names:

  12. I’ve tried a variety of the above and all help — the spontaneous “what does this piece feel like?”, the consulting friends, and the thesaurus. Good ideas. But here’s a different question — Alyson, this may be another topic altogether! Recently an artist/framing friend of mine asked me why I felt compelled to put titles on the mats of my collages. He pointed out a gallery would put the label on the wall, and same for an exhibit. But I often sell in a gallery/shop that doesn’t label. And don’t titles help sell a piece? Any opinions about the necessity of titles and where to actually put them once you’ve come up with them? Is it tacky to have them right on the matte?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Julia: I wouldn’t put a title on a mat. They are often written or attached on a separate label to the back of an artwork.
      Some artists might put a title on a mat as a form of branding, but, in general, it isn’t usually done.
      Titles can help sell a work. I imagine only a gift-style shop wouldn’t label. A fine-art gallery should have labels.

    1. You are most welcome! She is a prolific writer and has shot right to the top of my favorite blogs. Plus, she is very responsive and clever in her replies to comments – a very personable writer!

  13. My titles tend to come from the actions or mood I’m trying to describe with the work. Often, my titles come before the actual image. I can work both ways, either from title and concept to completed image or from image to title.
    I like to sit down, write a short sentence that describes the painting and the content I’m aiming for, then brainstorm by working off of the words in that sentence. Somewhat like McKenna above, I’ll pick out a strong word from the sentence and start building ideas from it, employing a thesaurus or other aides as need be.
    Sometimes I’ll even create a long list of potential titles while I’m conceptualizing my next exhibition and then work the images from the exhibition concept and then match titles from the list.

  14. I use the thesaurus too! I free write words that a piece reminds me of and then peruse through the thesaurus to see if some of the synonyms sound good together. It can be hard with jewelry to figure out a good name. Sometimes I just want to call things something simple like”Fred” or “Bob” but I don’t think that would go over well.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      My dad often calls people “Charlie” as in “Don’t do that, Charlie.” I have no idea if he did that before he married my mother and got a new father-in-law named Charlie.

  15. If it doesn’t speak to me, I often ask for suggestions from my brother. He is very intuitive and insightful about these things and often he will say something that truly resonates with the feeling of the painting that I hadn’t thought of.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Love it. “Ask a friend” often works! I’ve also seen this done on FB pages.

  16. I used to name my paintings with obscure names, but I am now of the same thought as many artists who give ‘fact of matter’ titles such as Rothko ‘White Orange and Yellow’ or Graham Crowley ‘Red Reflection’..
    When the audience of an artwork are only given fact of the matter titles, you give that audience a much greater lattitude from which to approach the work and without predefined ideas or concepts which are suggested by obscure suggestive naming conventions.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      That’s a good idea in theory, but most (most!) of the general population doesn’t have any idea how to look at art. I’m not saying this looking down my nose. I’m saying it because it’s truth: We don’t offer visual education. So, clues (and words) are often the only gateway to introducing your art to people.

  17. I do figurative work and have struggled with whether to use proper names or not. Mostly, I’ve decided not to do this because I’ve heard people often know someone with that particular name and the feelings that have for the person can affect how they view the piece. However, I’ve had two collectors recently that have suggested I give my characters names. I helped them come up with names and we collaboratively renamed them. Any thoughts on proper names as titles?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Penney: Oooo. That’s a fascinating question. Knowing your work, I can see how it might come up.
      What if you tried it out with more obscure (less popular names)? Or even names that can also refer to non-humans: Rosemary, Petunia, etc. ??

  18. I have two disparate art forms, they painting type and art jewelry type. Most of the time titling comes easily albeit usually after letting my subconscious cogitate on it. In general I go through a number of name changes and allow a name to stick only if it feels as if the work could not be titled any other way.
    My enormous neck piece, “Lace Me Up” got its name when I looked at a photo of me wearing it. The main body is made of flat bead netting (Lace) that drapes like a capelette. Add me wearing it, some humor, and voila!
    One of my smaller watercolor landscapes, on the other hand, is straighforwardly titled “Bright Morning” because that’s what it is and that’s exactly what it looks like.
    I never really worry about naming my pieces. If a name takes its time coming, I’m fine with that. I’ve so much more else to worry about!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      I didn’t look it up, Denyse, but FB is very picky about how contests are done on their site. Be sure you conform to their rules.

  19. Alyson Stanfield

    I think my threaded comments are behaving very strangely. They’re not lining up as they should.

  20. Great topic Alyson! Like so many of the responders, I also have a large notebook that I started many years ago for title ideas. Whenever I hear an interesting phrase, song title, song verse, something from literature, history, poetry, or whatever, I write it down. I created designated categories in my notebook, such as flowers, colors, seasons, subject matter, and so forth to keep it organized. When a title is used, I mark a check on it with a date. That way I know not to use something twice. When I do my comprehensive themed pigment projects like my ancient Egyptian one, the titles just fall into place. Sometimes there’s not enough paintings to use all the interesting historical events and myths. Guess I will just have to keep painting.

  21. Pingback: Titles < Deep Thought Thursday « Becky's Blog

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