How to Authenticate and Protect Your Art

Authentication for Artists

Thanks to the Internet, access to art and artists is now easier and more immediate than at any point in the past. Interest in art is at an all-time high, and along with increased interest comes increased desire to own fine art. More and more people are buying, selling and collecting art than ever, and many of those transactions are taking place online. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that unscrupulous sellers (aka criminals) have taken notice as well. Fakes, forgeries and otherwise questionable works of art are being produced and offered for sale in record numbers. This is happening with all types of art, art in all price ranges, and with artists at all stages of their careers whether living or dead, famous or not. No art or artists are immune. If there's a market for the art, you can bet that sooner or later, swindlers will try to cash in.

Not too surprisingly, unsuspecting buyers are also being taken advantage of in record numbers. As an artist, you might think this doesn't concern you, and that there's little or nothing you can do about the problem. But you'd be wrong. Without too much trouble, you can make it really difficult for disreputable individuals to fake, forge, doctor or otherwise misrepresent bogus works of art as being by you, and in so doing, help keep them off the market. How, you ask? Simple. Below is a list of things you can do to authenticate and protect your art in the marketplace, and to make sure it is always identifiable as being by you. Whether you eventually become famous (and faked) or not, the more of these recommendations you follow, the easier it will be for people to recognize genuine works of your art and avoid con job imitations, not only now, but forever...

* Sign every work of art you create. Be consistent not only in signing everything, but also in how you sign, where you sign, what your signature looks like, what medium you sign in, and so on. The more consistent you are about signing your art, the harder it is for forgers to take advantage.

* Whenever possible, embed your signature in the art. For example, sign a completed painting before the paint dries. That way, the signature is actually in the surrounding paint rather than on top of it.

* Whenever possible, sign in the medium of the art. For example, sign watercolors in watercolor (not pen or pencil), sign drawings in the same graphite or ink you used to create them, and so on. This makes it more difficult for forgers to add fake signatures to work that's not by you.

* If your signature is illegible or difficult to read, make sure you clearly identify yourself somewhere else on your art, either in writing or printing that anyone can read. Standardize the medium, method and location of these identifiers as well.

* Be consistent in what your art looks like from the backs, sides, tops, bottoms, edges, and so on-- in other words, the parts people don't ordinarily look at or see. When possible, use the same materials and techniques during the preparatory stages for making your art. The more ways experts have to verify that a work of art is actually by you, the better.

* If possible, title, date or add relevant written information to every work of your art somewhere on the art itself. Personal touches like this are difficult for forgers to duplicate.

* Provide a certificate of authenticity or COA with every work of art you create. They can either be printed or handwritten. Once you decide how they should look and what they should contain, standardize their appearance, content and language.

* Every COA should describe the specific work of art in exact detail, including size, title, medium, materials, edition size (for limited edition prints), date of completion, and other relevant particulars. The more details you provide, the better.

* Attach or print an image of the specific work of art in question on every COA you create.

* Hand-sign and date every COA. Handwritten signatures are harder for forgers to fake.

* Take a photograph or make a short video of yourself holding or standing next to every work of your art, or at least as much of your art possible. Or photograph it at various stages of creation, at a specific location in your studio, etc. Photographic documentation like this is difficult to forge, especially if you standardize how you do it.

* If you want an additional layer of protection on your COAs, add a fingerprint, blindstamp, seal or other difficult-to-duplicate features.

* With every work you sell, provide a complete receipt and description of the work. Save an exact copy of that receipt for your records. Along with the selling price, include the same information you provide in your COAs. Standardize what your receipts look like and what details they contain. Accompanying documents like receipts, certificates, photographs, and other written or printed materials always add value to the art.

* Keep a personal inventory where you record of every work of art you create including the same information you provide in your COAs as well as any additional personal notes or documentation on its history and creation. The more art you create and the longer you continue to make art, the more important your inventory becomes.

* Archive every work of your art including details and images somewhere online. This can either be on your website, in the cloud, on a third-party inventory site, etc. Making your archive accessible to the public is a great way for anyone to verify that a work of your art they're being offered in the marketplace was actually created by you. When possible, also include information about where specific works of art sold, who they sold to, who owns them, where they were shown or exhibited, what awards or distinctions they received, where they were featured or reviewed, where they're stored, etc.


There's no better way to protect your art and reputation as well as your legacy as an artist than by documenting, cataloguing, archiving, and providing written or printed materials with every single work of art you create. Need assistance with documenting your art? I can definitely help. You're welcome to call 415.931.7875 or send me an email.


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