Choosing titles for paintings

Choosing Titles

I often get asked about choosing the titles for my paintings. 

If I am doing a series of work I would have already decided on a topic and so during the course of the painting it’s not uncommon that I would already have some sort of feeling or words that come to mind that I could use for a particular painting.  

Sometimes there are titles that come instantly, like this one below.

This piece has a grungy feel to it and reminded me of my former years of partying searching for a place to get a coffee in the wee hours of the morning.  I hadn’t yet finished it when the title “Late night Barista” came to mind.  I can almost smell the coffee and recall the dark alleys that my friends and I would traverse in search of caffeine! 

Another title that came to mind quite easily was “Salt and skin” which reminded me of holidaying in the Algarve exploring caves, swimming and having fun in the sun. The cliffs at Ponta de Piedade that cascaded towards the turquoise water were fond memories of that summer holiday.

When I am creating stand alone pieces sometimes I can’t seem to get the words that perfectly describes the painting and so I have a couple of resources that help me with choosing titles.

Salt and Skin

Here are my tips!

1. Collection of words and phrases

I use the notes app on my phone and created a “Painting titles” folder where I would jot down any interesting phrases or words that I come across when reading books or maybe something quirky that I’ve overheard while out walking or on my bus trip into town. I’ll flick through this list if I’m stuck for a title and would often find one this way.

2. Lyrics from songs

I may use lyrics from songs to help spark ideas for similar words and phrases but I refrain from using song titles as I’m uncertain of the copyright implications.

3. Using a Thesaurus

This is a great way to gather words that are of similar meaning to the words that I am considering.

4. Title generators

I came across a title generator called The Abstract Art title generator.  With the click of a button a new title is generated. You may have to click a few times before you get the right match but I’ve found the titles that are generated do spark ideas for other titles almost instantly. 

There’s also a Fantasy Name generator with over 500 generators within the site itself with generators such as fantasy and folklore, places and locations, pop culture, flower shop etc.  All you need to do is go to the specific generator and click to get names.  The generator will provide you with 10 random names. You can continue clicking until you find the perfect match or choose another category. This site also has options for Spanish and French titles.

What I try not to do and don’t do

  1. I try to avoid oversimplified titles and cliches.  If I have been working on paintings inspired by the changing tides of the ocean I would avoid using titles like “Tides” or “Low tide” but instead may use something that evokes more interest and nostalgia like “Ocean patterns” or “Nightfall on low tide”.

  2. I don’t title paintings “Untitled”.  I personally consider a painting unfinished without a title.  Admittedly in the past I recalled labelling a painting Untitled simply due to laziness in finding one! 

In a nutshell, when it comes to choosing titles I try to find a balance between providing the viewer with enough information for them to conjure their own meaning and having a title too obvious which can prevent the viewer from experiencing a personal connection. On the other hand and for this very reason some artists leave their paintings untitled to avoid guiding the viewers experience altogether.

We must remember “The rules” are the ones that we individually create for ourselves and everyone has their own thoughts and desires when it comes to naming their art work.

Hope you have found some useful information for choosing titles for your artwork. If you’ve enjoyed reading this and would like to get a more personal insight to my art practice, new work and exhibitions you can sign up to my mailing list below where I share with my subscribers first.


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