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The Back Side

by Keith Bond on 11/1/2010 9:58:52 AM

This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.



Last week I wrote about your signature.  There were many comments about the topic.  Thanks to all of you who add your insights.  This week’s post is in response to some of the points that were brought up in the comments.


Many of you suggested putting information on the back of your work.  I agree and have done so myself my entire career.  But “what” and “how” has changed some.  I’ll share what I do and why, along with some thoughts about some of the things brought up in the comments from last week.  You may or may not wish to include any of these on your work.  That is fine.  But this will give you something to think about.


What – I include the following on the back of all my artwork.


  • Title
  • My Name
  • Copyright notice and year
  • Size
  • Medium
  • Ground
  • Support
  • Varnish – I put what varnish (brand) I use and when it was applied.  This (along with medium, ground, and support) is extremely helpful to any curator, restoration artist, conservator, etc. who may have anything to do with my work in the future.
  • My website
  • Notes – this is sometimes only a few words.  Sometimes it is a paragraph.  It might be an anecdote or story or the location of where it was painted.  It would include any awards or significant shows that the work has been in.


How – The following are for stretched canvas.  For canvas mounted on board, I simply write with marker on the back of the board.


  • I put a piece of foam core on the back of the stretcher bars with the corners cut off at angles.  The cut corners allow a small opening for circulation, while the board provides insulation and protection from accidental puncture or pressure. 
  • I use adhesive labels with the above information. 
  • I fill the labels in with ink.


Words of Caution

I used to write the title and my name directly on the back of the canvas itself.  But I don’t anymore, for a few reasons. 


Firstly, I have never written with permanent marker on the back.  In a college art class, a technical expert from an art supply company came to give a lecture/demo.  He explained that over time, the marker will bleed through to the front of the canvas and become visible.  I don’t know if it is true or not.  But I don’t want that to happen to my art, so I never risked it. 


So, I used to use pencil instead.  A few years ago, I met a conservator/restorer who said that even writing with pencil can damage the canvas.  Apparently the pressure applied to the canvas will leave a slight impression which will affect how it expands and contracts over the years.  The areas with the impression will expand and contract differently than the surrounding areas.  Thus, after several years you will see the impression become more pronounced.  This is more evident with a tightly woven canvas.  So I no longer write directly on the canvas itself.  Again, I don’t know if it is true, but I don’t want to risk it.


Best Wishes,



PS  While it is true that someone could simply remove the foam board backing from my stretched canvas, I think that risk is not that great.  I put all my info on the foam board.  I include a label that explains the purpose of the foam core and that it shouldn’t be removed except for occasional cleaning.



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Related Posts:

The Signature

The Frame Game

Don't Skimp on the Frame

Topics: art marketing | FineArtViews 

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Loading comments...

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
Great idea! so even if your signature is unreadable, the painting will be completely documented.

Thank you, I think I am going to start writing (lightly) on the back of my watercolors.

Carol Lee Beckx
Documenting the provenance of the work as you have suggested is an important element in maintaining a professional approach to one's work. Collectors want to know the what where and why. The foam core suggestion is excellent.
To date, I have just printed a small label that I glue to the stretcher bar with name,title, medium and my contact details. However, there is always concern that the canvas will be damaged through careless handling. I'll look at using your suggestion in the future.

Jan Perkins
Very helpful, thanks!

Sharon Weaver
Although I have seen many artist sign the back of the canvas with a marker I have been signing mine on the stretcher boards. If the painting is ever re-stretched the signature will be lost but I have always suspected that signing the canvas could cause problems in the future. Thanks for confirming that. My smaller pieces are canvas on boards so I always sign the backs of those. I assume that is OK.

Richard Christian Nelson
Excellent info Keith. I have always written much of this on the edge of the back (the limit of the linen, after the staples), but you present good ideas on a more complete approach. I know a collector who wishes that artists would put GPS coordinates and direction faced for landscape paintings. Not a bad idea!

Tom Weinkle
Thanks for the clarifications. It means more coming from an established artist.

Katherine S. Harris
For my oil paintings,I sign them with my signature and the date, in oil, on the front lower corner. If I frame them, I then glue brown (wrapping) paper across the back of the frame. Then I glue a small "Certificate of Authenticity" onto that. This certificate lists the date the painting was completed, the medium in which it was painted, the title, the value or asking price, my telephone number, and my signature. That way the back of the painting is dust-protected and my info is there. Unframed paintings have the Certificate glued (with water-based glue) onto the back of the canvas.

Carol McIntyre
Thanks Keith. It looks like I need to beef up my documenting.

A question about the foam board: Does this not make the painting thicker or is that immaterial because your frame sticks out further in the back?

Tuva Stephens
Wow, I never thought about including so much information on the back of the work. Now I will just have to consider how to so this for my watercolor paintings. I suppose I could attach an envelope with the information listed. I really like this idea. Thanks.

Good idea about the foam core backer. I'm new to oils and I was wondering how people protect their canvases from unfortunate accidents. Thanks!

Carol Schmauder
I started writing on the back of my paintings a few paintings ago so that the title was there. I paint watercolors on paper so I use pencil to put the title of the painting and my full name (I sign my paintings on the front with my first initial and last name). You have brought up lots of additional information to give consideration to. Thank you for an informative article.

Helen Horn Musser
Thanks for the added information about labeling our work. It will help me, somewhat, to use some of the ideas. Recently I applied a transparent sleeve with super glue to the brown paper on the back of several framed prints. This is great for holding computer print out of information for painting and print. I haven't gotten any feed back from the buyers but, hope to. This information can be hung with the painting. Good for collectors to have.

William McCoy
For stretched canvas: what about writing all the documenting information on the edge of the canvas that's wrapped around the stretcher bars? It could be written in pen, pencil, acrylic, oil, india ink, or anything else one might choose. It will be there as long as the painting lasts, unless someone mutilates it by cutting off the edges, and then, how would it be restretched?

Esther J. Williams
Keith, that is a professional way to present your art and provide provenance. I do a similar thing except I buy acid free sheet protectors and insert the COA (certificate of authenticity) and biography inside the plastic archival sheet and staple it to the inside stretcher bar or a stretched painting on one side. I may want to try your foam board protection for stretched works. If it is a linen on board, I tape the plastic sleeve with the contents to the back of the board. Just in case it is removed and filed I write my info on the back of the board.
But if the canvas or linen is removed from the stretchers for any reason or is stolen, you lose that info. That may have happened to ten works of my art which were stolen three to four years ago from several restaurants they were hanging in. The only proof I have that I painted those in case they are found or sold again is my signature on the front and the artwork itself. If the signature is removed on the front, my artwork is still there and I have digital images of each work of art archived on my computer. We often forget that our brush strokes, techniques, color palette and art style can be attributed to us as identification.
As a result of the grand theft of my art, I am becoming a member of Fine Art Registry to protect and keep records of all my future art. You can look them up at It seems a whole lot easier to place a small clear seal on the back of the artwork which is numbered and registered. All the information is permanently kept online. I will still use a COA packet to give to the customers.

Helen Horn Musser
That's a good idea, William

Tuva Stephens
Great information about COA. Thanks.

Esther J. Williams
Thanks Tuva, I have been perusing Fine Art Registry Online and see it can be expensive to register every single work of art. I signed up for a basic membership. I think I would skip smaller pieces like the daily art.
I do see that some antique art is registered their, some valuable early works which proves that people trust this source in case of a need for authentication.
Our art will be antiques someday, so will we!

Helen Horn Musser
Great ideas, Esther, thanks for sharing.

Joanne Benson
Thanks Keith and everyone for all the great suggestions. I generally put a sticker on the back of my watercolors and pastels with Painting Title and my contact info. For oils on boards I just write on the back of the board. This is more food for thought!

George De Chiara
Great list Keith. I've been putting most, but not all of those things on the back of my paintings. I'm going to add in the ones I haven't listing.

Esther - Great idea for attaching all of that information. I just started adding the COA with my sales, finally. It's been on my list of things to do for a while now.

Carol Lee Beckx
Tuva, the information could be on a separate piece of paper attached to the back of the mount board with museum tape so it could be lifted and moved if the painting is re-framed at a later stage.

Tuva Stephens
Thanks Carol and I like the idea that Esther mentioned about the clear sleeve also.

Carol Lee Beckx
I think Esther is about 10 steps ahead of us in this game - we would do well to follow her excellent example.

Sari Grove
This January, 4 of my works got caught in a gallery that hadn't paid their rent-the landlord locked them out and was planning on selling everything inside, including my paintings! Long story short, I had Fine Art Registry security tags on the back of all of them and had recorded when and where and everything about the works on the Fine Art registry website for each tag...Teri Franks, who invented the tags, witnessed all of this to the landlord who was also an evil lawyer, and a month and a half later I got my works back...Teri actually used her lawyer in Phoenix Arizona to argue for me to this guy in Toronto Canada! It was unbelievable...Anyway, what I want to say, is, it is a good company and the people stand behind their product...and they really care about artists, in fact they have made it their life...I know Teri is planning to open a museum in Phoenix called the Far Museum (the acronym), and if you all, we all, continue to support her and this company, that dream could become a closer reality...

Keith Bond

I know of an artist who does put GPS coordinates. For him, it makes sense and his collectors like it. For me, it doesn't. Because I don't stay true to reality. I might change the contour of the mountain and transplant trees. I divert the river to turn the other direction if it suits the composition better. Thus my work is inspired by nature, but changed to allow for freedom of expression.

I think the collector would understand if it were explained to him/her.

Keith Bond
to all of you who use watercolor:

Much of what I wrote isn't applicable. But some of the info can be modified to you. Pencil should be just fine written on the back of the paper. I would still shy away from marker. Technical info would certainly be different. Put whatever info is applicable to your medium.

Keith Bond

Cert. of Authenticity is a great idea. I have thought of it in the past, but never got around to actually doing it. Thanks for reminding me.

Keith Bond

That is a good idea. I know artists who do it. I think the label on the back of the foam backing looks more professional, but written directly on the edge of the canvas ensures that it remains with the art as long as it isn't tampered with. Perhaps both?

Stede Barber
Great ideas reason I love my linen panels mounted on archival foam core backing is that I can safely write on the back of them, and the painting itself is protected from being damaged from the back.

True, they're not inexpensive, but the quality is so worth it. I get mine from Wind River Arts ( and love the choice of surfaces, love dealing with them, love adding information directly to the back of the painting with minimal worries about the canvas being removed from the least it's more difficult than removing a painting from stretcher bars!

Stede Barber
oops...missed an important typo:

Stede Barber
Keith, thanks for the list of info you include with the painting. A few there I hadn't thought of.

I appreciate the thinking you do that values your painting into the future!

Jo Allebach
I really need to add some more information that is for sure. I have been writing my name, title, date, my website. I use acrylic mainly. Is the varnish information necessary?

Sari Grove
mentioning varnish can be important if: for example, I use eco-house dammar varnish that doesn't use turps at all...In fact, I don't use turps anywhere in my oil paintings...If someone used a varnish with a turp it would change the nature of my work...similarily, I have been using walnut oil paints, not traditional linseed oil paints...Walnut oil dries much slower than linseed oil...A restorer would need to know that if possible...These things are also good marketing points...(eco-friendly marketing points)...I don't use animal hair brushes, I paint with a knife...If someone took a mink brush to my work that changes that whole gestalt...So, the more you write, the more you show how your work is unique...personally, I'd love to see those who trace from photos, give credit to the camera by citing what kind of camera they used, what exposure, lighting etc...If so many people are going to bald-faced trace from photos, then they should treat their paintings like hybrid photo-paintings and cite both media and machine specs...(pet peeve)...Or at least a simple "camera assisted painting" would aid with greater transparency among artists...

Barb Stachow
Another great idea is to put all your documents into a letter size envelope and mount the envelope onto the back side of the painting, that way it is easily assessable to the buyer at any time they may wish to view it without taking down a heavy painting.

I have a friend who writes the info directly on the back of the canvas (very lightly) in ballpoint pen (not permanent marker or sharpie). She's been doing it for 25 years and swears there's no bleed through. She also makes sure that she does it in the darkest area of the painting, just to be extra careful. I know another painter who paints the basic info - name, size, signature in oil on the back. There are many different approaches, I guess.

William McCoy
Response to Karen and her friend:

Unless your friend gessoes the spot where he/she paints the artist's information IN OIL, the oil paint will have more detrimental effects to the ungessoed canvas surface than any of the other items that have been mentioned. The chemistry of the oil paint will damage the fibers in the uncoated canvas.

I'm also not so sure about the ultimate effect of ballpoint pen, either, since if one looks at old margin notes in textbooks or Bible pages written in ballpoint, there is often bleed-through and expansion of the line, since many ballpoint inks have an oily base. A 25-year history of doing this on canvas might not be long enough to know for sure, but I suspect that if one looked at your friend's earliest examples of when this was done, some bleeding/spreading effects would be visible. Anything with an initially liquid consistency will be drawn into the fibers via capillary action, causing a bleed or spread of the line.

Helen Horn Musser
Barb, Have used this method too and I think the buyers appreciate it.

Spencer Meagher
I tried this once from my smartphone and it didn't go. So here we go again.

Placing information on the back of a painting can be a hidden treasure for a future collector.

Case in point; I have long admired the Tucson watercolorist Tom Hill. Recently I had the opportunity to purchase one of his earlier works. The seller had no information on it.

When I received it I wanted to change out the frame to freshen it up. Taking it apart I discovered Tom had written the title of the painting on the back as well as a three digit number. Wasn't sure what the number was for.

An even greater thrill was discovering Tom had used the backside of an apparent failed watercolor to paint my painting. I recognized the painting on back as "Behind the Chutes" which the original can be seen in Tom's first book "Color For The Watercolor Painter". The version on the back of my painting must have been a first attempt or a study for it.

Knowing when that book was published helped me to determine within a year or two of when my painting "Burro Power" was likely painted.

Information on the back is a good idea.

Kay Pratt
Thanks "Everyone" for all of your insightful comments regarding this topic. I'm going to try Keith's foam board technique on my next painting!

I know this is so old but I found it when googling and it's the most complete source of information I've found on this topic (both the article and the comments): what to use to write on the back of a canvas! I see there's a lot of "dont's" and some good ideas. I'd like to be able to write on the back of the canvas; so since I can't use sharpies, pens, pencils or oil painting, I was wondering if a little diluted acrylics would do? Anyone know if there would be any problem with that?


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