Maria Brophy


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    ‘Strategies for a Successful Art Business!’
Art Marketing / business of art

How to Make Sure Your Art is Remembered Like Picassos

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Picasso Mains Aux FleursI am always doing things I can’t do.  That’s how I get to do them.”  Picasso

Do people recognize your artwork when they see it? Can the viewer identify that YOU are the artist before they even see your signature?

Picasso pulled that off.  Shepard Fairey is working it on a smaller scale, and growing every day.  And my husband Drew Brophy has managed to build strong recognition of his artwork in the lifestyle arena.

Many artists aspire to have their artwork, style and name easily recognized just like Picasso’s.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and for many artists, unfortunately, it will never happen.

How can YOU ensure that your art and your name become well known?

The answer is more simple than you think and it has three parts:

  1. Insist on keeping ownership to all copyrights to your artwork.
  2. Insist that your signature is printed on everything that your artwork is printed on.
  3. Hit large numbers of people with your art.

I first heard of Shepard Fairey many years ago because of his Obey The Giant stickers that were mass-distributed worldwide.  The number of people who saw his Obey stickers was massive, and I believe it was the catalyst that led to his success.

Drew started out as a “surf artist”, painting mostly surf related images for companies and collectors in the surf market.

In that market, many freelance artists who design for Billabong and Quicksilver and other surf companies make two very bad decisions:  They sign away their copyrights and they don’t ask that their name be printed on the items.

Now, of course surf companies don’t want your name on their t-shirts.  They are pushing their brand, not yours.  Also, some of them play this game where they get you to do the work, and then they won’t cut you a check until you sign away your rights.  To avoid being sucked into this situation, make sure that before you do the work, there is an understanding, in writing, that you retain all rights (everything is negotiable).

Drew’s first big push out into the public as an artist was when he teamed up with a small company named Lost.  They made surfboards in San Clemente and in 1996 Drew got a freelance job painting their boards.  His paintings became popular very quickly.  The requests increased and he was painting ten surfboards a day.  They were shipped all over the country, and over time, Lost became one of the top surfboard manufacturers in the U.S.

Drew’s name went on every surfboard.  People saw his name.  They came to know his distinct style.  He was flown all over the world by companies who wanted him to paint their production boards.  He went to Brazil, France, Spain, Peru, and he became known globally in the surf market as an artist.

Then Lost started to make clothing.  They commissioned Drew to paint designs for board shorts and t-shirts.  And again, his name went on everything.  He kept the original paintings and the copyrights to his artwork.

If Drew would have followed the status quo and left his name off of everything, no one would have known that it was him behind the artwork. They would have thought it was an identity of Lost, a scenario that is very common with artists in the action sports niche, and others as well.

Though Lost was Drew’s main client, he created work for many other companies during the six years that he painted for them.  Art directors from many different companies came to him to design their t-shirts or products.

And to this date, there have been millions of t-shirts and cool products (skateboards, surfboards, indo boards, beach towels, skins, etc.) with Drew’s art.  Because his name is on them, many more people become familiar with his style and name every day.

Sometimes as an artist you’ll run into resistance with having your name shown on the work you do.

The resistance might be on your end – you’re afraid to ask.  You don’t want to be a pain in the ass artist to your client.

Or, the client doesn’t want your name on it.  If that’s the case, you’ll have to ask why.   Does your signature take away from the aesthetics of the product?  Is it confusing to the end consumer?  Or is it that “we’ve always done it this way.”  Discuss it, ask questions, and then convince them that the end consumer WANTS to know who the artist is.

(If a product has artwork on it that looks like Drew’s, and Drew’s signature isn’t on it, that’s a clue that It’s a knock-off.  This has been a good argument for those companies who resist printing the signature.)

Artist Phil Roberts is well known as an artist in the Surf Industry.   Recently one of his beautiful oil paintings was used for Kelly Slater’s 3D movie called ULTIMATE WAVE TAHITI.  I was excited for Phil when I saw the full page poster in an advertisement in Surfer Magazine.  That is, until I realized that Phil’s name was nowhere to be found on the page.

So, if you don’t know Phil Roberts and you aren’t familiar with his style, you have no idea who painted this masterpiece.

This does no good for the artist, and it isn’t good for the company, either.  People WANT to know who painted something.  It gives the project or company a more personal feel.

One way to avoid this type of “snafu” would have been to ask the fine folks that commissioned you to allow you to see the final posters BEFORE they are printed and used in any form.  We always insist on seeing everything before it’s released to the public.

This is where I have been accused of being a control freak.  I admit it; I’m a freak for control.  But there are really good reasons to have control over what happens to your artwork; you need to be sure that when it comes to your art and your name and anything that can affect your “brand”, that it’s done according to YOUR standards.

I insist that all of our clients send us a jpg of whatever they’ve printed Drew’s art on so that we can give final approval.  Sometimes they forget.  So I remind them.  The first thing I check for is the clarity of Drew’s signature. Sometimes they accidentally leave it off.  So I remind them.  And then they fix it.

It’s not a big deal to ask for what you want.  Most people that you work with are going to want to please you just as much as you want to please them. It should be a two-way street.

So, don’t feel funny about asking for the things you want, especially something as important as your signature on your own artwork.

The more your name is seen on your art, the more you will be remembered as an artist, the more the phone will ring, the more people will visit your website.

After all, most of us want to be known for the fine work we do, don’t we?

Signed, Maria Brophy xxoo

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21 Comments How to Make Sure Your Art is Remembered Like Picassos

  1. Archan Mehta


    You are a lean, mean, hungry writing machine. What a great post.

    Sharing your personal stories is the way to go and you know it.

    When you share your personal stories, that resonates with your readers and we are able to identify with your writing and relate with you. Thanks for considering and acting on that suggestion too.

    You are not a control freak. You are only doing what is right. Why shouldn’t artists get the credit they deserve? Artists work hard and credit should be given where credit is due, so there. Good for you.

    We want to see and hear more about artists and not less. Less is not acceptable, unless the artist wishes to remain anonymous. We want to support art and artists and want people like you and Drew to be rich and famous. Artists deserve it and it is better for the greater glory of art as well. Artists also deserve to be timeless and universal like the art they create for us. That’s why Pablo Picasso is cherished even today, years and years after his passing. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Dennis T Panzik

    Great points.

    While I still mainly custom paint/ airbrush one off paint jobs on motorcycles, etc. I always sign the work. I also treat each piece of the tins as a separate canvas. I encourage to my customers the importance of my signature. In fact, I’ve had a well established artist that airbrushes motorcycles, a single side cover was giving to me by someone. Had he not signed ever piece, than I wouldn’t had known who had done it. To someone, I’m sure it could still be of value. We all know that art loses great value without a signature. Weather motorcycle tins, surfboard, or anything else, I always sign it.

    I’ve also come to sign my normal traditional signature and including at the end a .com Since that’s my website address. Soon I’ll have my new .net site and .com become the same site since I’ve been advertising my .com forever now…. Anyways it’s just one more marketing strategy in my book. After all the name of the game is recognition. You got to be your own boss. A good business does everything to market themselves.

    I’ve had one shop that I work with who doesn’t want me to add my .com to the signature. However, I do still sign my name. I can’t say if I’ll be able to do that as I begin to license my art more but I think it would be worth trying.


    1. Maria Brophy

      @Archan: Thanks for always having a fresh viewpoint on my posts! (And for not thinking I’m a control freak….)

      @Dennis: I’m not sure I understand why you put the .com on the end of your signature – I think people know to look up your name if they want to find you on the internet. But, hey, if it’s working for you and you get results, than keep on doing it! You’re right, tho’, you may run into resistance doing this with licensed articles, because it may not be seen as “artsy” as it is “commercial.”

  3. Lynda

    This post totally resonated with me. There is still sooooo much for me to learn as far as being an artist goes and you always seem to post the exact thing that I am trying to get an answer for. Not only do I get the answers, but I get extra stuff that I would never think of on my own. It makes me feel relieved and your posts always give me more confidence. Thank you 🙂

  4. Sue

    Hehe – I love how you said “you reminded” them Maria! I had a couple companies you liked to “forget” to put my names on things as well! But they both were companies with control issues – and wouldn’t wait for me to approve products before they were produced! So, product would get here on the boat – and I’d get my samples, with no name on them! Or catalogs would get printed – and licensed items wouldn’t have the name of the artist in the catalog! You live and learn I guess… now, with an agent – it’s also hard to get the agent to “remember” to require it of their licensees! It’s a battle we have to keep after!

    Great article! It “reminded” me to keep “reminding” people! hehe Or pretty soon I’m just going to put the signature INTO the design so they CAN’T forget it! hehe Take Care!

  5. Dennis T Panzik

    I love what Sue said, “Or pretty soon I’m just going to put the signature INTO the design so they CAN’T forget it!”

    I sign my work on motorcycles etc. and clear coat it and then there’s no going back to remove it if a client doesn’t like my name on it.
    I think the only way I wouldn’t sign a bike is if they pay 3 times the amount. Obviously licensing is another story. But the what would be ones limit/ amount paid to let it go without a signature.
    As for putting my .com at the end it does help.
    I’m always looking for artist names on work when I see work I like. Going to bike week etc. is the same, while my friends are checking out what kind of motorcyle etc, I’m mainly just looking at the art.
    I’ll jot down signature and google it. Often times I can’t find their websites. It’s not always that they don’t have one either. Cuz sometimes I’ll find the name and their site elsewhere, and it’s like hey, look at that, they do have site.
    I think I’m must be the only one who does it too. Advantage for me.

    1. Maria Brophy

      @Jason – congrats on your St. Regis Hotels gig. It turned out great – I clicked the link. You do great work!

      @Lynda – I’m so glad you find this stuff helpful. I’ll do my best to keep it coming!

      @Sue and @ Dennis: Sue’s right – “imbedding” the signature might help with that problem. I tell Drew to do that, but he usually doesn’t because they might need to move it – and then that’s how it gets left off…

  6. carolyn morton

    What a great article and wonderful informative blog! How I wish I had found it a couple of weeks ago! Just about all of the pitfalls you have been talking about happened to me in the past few weeks! I’m a sculptor, I was commissioned to make a bronze of Sheikh Mohammed, (Ruler of Dubai, VP of UAE) by a gallery, which was originally apparently not to be sold but gifted to him….then it was to be sold at Art Dubai, huge exhibition. The sculpture made the front page off all of the UAE newspapers; no mention of the sculptor! My name is imprinted on the bronze but a it’s a lifesize bust, not so easy to find! The gallery asked me to do a press release, that did not see the light of day….. etc etc. Big missed opportunity for me! I then got a call from an existing patron, which i thought was for an ongoing commission but was in fact about a new very prestigious one and fell straight into the on the hop pricing scenario trap, as so accurately described by you! I have a lot to learn! I will read and re read your excellent advice and try not to repeat my previous errors! Thank you!

    1. Maria Brophy

      Carolyn: Don’t despair over this! Instead, learn from it. Now you have a great story to tell future Gallerists’ and clients as to why you are nagging them to include your name in their advertising, press releases and media write-ups.

      The next time you are asked to write up a press release, give them a week then follow up. “Did you send it out yet?” If not, ask “When you do, please copy me in on it. Also, please let me know.” Wait another week, if it didn’t go out, ask when will it. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

      I’m going through this right now with two of our clients that are supposed to be sending out press releases. I just keep reminding, in a very friendly manner. I won’t stop asking until they do it!

  7. carolyn morton

    Thank you! I will certainly learn from it. It was complicated by the gallery this time as they would not allow any mention of what was covered up until Sh Mo had unveiled it himself. Was rather out of my hands! next time…….! I will capitalise on it as much as possible as you suggest.Thanks again!

  8. Buddy Locklear

    great articles, especially the charity donations piece. I can be riding around in my 86′ ford ranger, my house almost in foreclosure, and the owner of the nicest restaurant will hit me up for a donation or some other shit. From the window of his 560 SEL. pisses me off

    1. Maria Brophy

      Hey Buddy, thanks for reading my blog! It was great to see you in Florida last month. Yes, I’ve experienced the person driving the Mercedes asking me for a lot of free stuff (while I drive a 97′ Toyota). But, there are a lot of great people out there that “get it” and those are the ones that I attach myself to!

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  10. Kelly Patton

    Hi Maria,
    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience! If you have an upcoming class or speaking engagement, I would love to attend. I’m a So Cal artist learning about licensing.

    Kelly P.

  11. Pingback: Want to be a Successful Artist? Sign Your Name! | Maria Brophy

  12. Sergio

    You have such a gift for words Patty! When I imagine you coomsping such beautiful pieces such as this one today, I can almost see the words flowing from your pen like water from a stream, smoothly, naturally. Most likely you are typing these words, but I see you as writing them in ink. Your words are sobeloquent and beautiful, so well thought out!


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