(reading time 4 minutes)

If you're like me, coming up with a title for a piece of art can be a challenge. Some titles simply state the obvious: Tulips, Beach,The Barn. Zooming in on location or an element can help: Tulip Festival, Beach Umbrella, Barn Door. And titles such as Untitled 1, Untitled 2, etc. just leave the viewer, well, wondering. 

So when I asked my friend and fibre artist, Rita, how she comes up with titles for her art, her 2 suggestions really caught my attention. The first 2 considerations below are based on her response, and the last 3 should help ensure the title chosen is the right fit. 

1 - What memories did the piece bring up?

Using a title that helps brings up a memory your audience can relate to really does work well. I've seen many people reminiscing as they were drawn into a piece of art and as the title reflects the intent of the artist.

This mixed media picture at right could have simply been Sewing Box but when I titled it Grandma's Sewing Box several discussions were sparked among visitors at the shows where it was displayed, all based on time spent with their own grandmothers. Everyone who looked at the picture mentioned a sewing box or basket that their own grandmother had, and often mentioned a time learning to sew buttons or to stitch.

2 - Consider what were you feeling when you were creating a piece.

We don't always pay attention to our feelings about a piece we are creating. And feeling emotions about a piece of art should not be left to the end or only for consideration by the viewer. Think of the country singer - he or she not only sings a song with much emotion, but also writes the lyrics and composes the music from a place deep inside. As visual artists we sometimes forget about creating from inside, yet it adds much depth to our work - and a title from this same place will fit perfectly. This is especially true for abstract pieces which can display energy or calmness, be soft or glowing, and so on. 

While creating the mixed media picture at left from a photo I quickly snapped while on a bus in India, I found this lady was constantly in my thoughts - what she was thinking and feeling, her family, what life was like for her living in a make-shift home, her courage, her future. I was struck by the contrast of her sari against the backdrop of found materials used for walls. I still wonder and feel concern for her, and the many homeless in her country, every time I look at this picture.  

I tried to honour her when making this picture by using recycled fabrics, paper and cardboard, only enhancing with acrylic paint and coloured pencil.  Once it was finished I struggled a bit with the title, then came up with what I felt fit my feelings and how I hoped she was living at least in that one moment of time: "A Place to Call Home".

3 - Use neutral terms

There is so much awareness these days about racially charged language and terms that should and should not be used about mental illness. It never hurts to put out more reminders. I seem to have been coming across several such examples recently:
  • An article in the Times-Colonist about the renaming of Emily Carr's 1929 painting Indian Church to Church at Yuquot Village by the Art Gallery of Ontario. This is a trend being seen at many art galleries around the world, causing much discussion on whether historical context is being lost. Here's the link to the article. Of course Emily Carr would have had no idea in 1929 that this would ever become a consideration. 
  • The 2007 novel Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, the title of which actually refers to a real historical document. The book was re-named Someone Knows My Name in the U.S. and some other English-speaking markets before it could be sold.
  • I just finished reading Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes, who is a spokesperson for Bell Canada's Let's Talk initiative. There is much good information on the Let's Talk website about acceptable and unacceptable terms. 
4 - Get feedback 

Share your idea for a title with a friend who you know will give you honest feedback. Plus your friend will be seeing the piece with fresh eyes and can let you know of any memories and emotions the piece triggers. And sometimes an idea for a title that you had not thought of will come up.

5 - Sit with the name for a few days

Often after coming up with a title for a piece of art, I would find myself referring to it by another name. So now I sit with a name for a few days before deciding. I am noticing now that if I do change the name, it's sometimes because I did not go with the idea of memories or feelings in the title, and other times I needed a bit more time for reflection before the right title would arrive. 

If you have other thoughts about coming up with titles, I'd love to hear from you. 

The mixed media pieces above are in the collection of and copyrighted to fibre artist Anne Warburton.


"Music is full of longing and movement.  Painting should be the same." I read this quote in Hundred and Thousands: The Journals of...