The Problems with Using Two Different Names

In response to my Art Marketing Action newsletter about using two names for your art, K. Henderson commented:Henderson

What a timely column!!! I do a contemporary work and really want to expand into something more traditional. I’ve been thinking of using another name but I’m wondering how to do it. I use my first initial and last name now. If I make up a totally fictitious name it opens up problems like how will I cash checks at the bank? What do I use as a resume? I’m thinking of using my husbands name. I really don’t want to start a new DBA business because I do enough paperwork now! Any suggestions?

Oh, boy! This is a can of worms. I suspected two names would create problems and it’s not my favorite solution, but these are great questions. I presume that you would have all checks made out to your real name. Beyond that, can anyone help K.?

And more difficulties with doing business under two names raised by Mark Levin:

Levin_1If you’re going to be consistent you would have to apply to shows with two different applications and if only one series got in a show and the other didn’t-you wouldn’t be allowed to show that series of work or if both got in, you’d have two booth fees-per a couple of promoters I’ve spoken with about this. With a 20′ booth going for over $2000 at the better shows that’s starting to really add a lot of additional expense. It costs me on average $5750 to do a show on the east coast as it is.

Secondly, if your work is being collected you have diminished the "collectabiltiy" of the series with the new name. Once you have developed your name where it becomes a brand and collectible, having a second name would really convolute and dilute that issue-this is per one of the most esteemed curators in American Studio Craft.

Yes, Mark, you’re right. It’s not the best solution for at least 99% of artists. I would say that most artists who use two names don’t worry too much about collectibility. My hunch says they’re in it for sales.

Anyone else care to comment?

Images (c)The Artists: (top) K. Henderson, Sacred Clown. 30 x 36 inches.
(bottom) Mark Levin, Flower Petal Hall Table.

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10 comments to The Problems with Using Two Different Names

  • Sure…There is a longstanding tradition in Canadian history of fine artists working in two different styles…Our Group of Seven painters, Canada’s most famous, were well known for working as commercial artists to earn their bread and butter money, while also producing their fine art works…The fine art pieces are all across the country in museums and wealthy homes…I have not seen any of their commercial works as of yet (I am going to Google it now though)…suffice it to say, the works have been kept very separate- but I don’t think the name change was necessary…I’m sure anyone can check this online- as this group is well documented here…

  • This makes me think of Picasso who worked in many different ‘styles’. I think the public needs to learn that artists must explore. If you look at the early work of artists it’s always different than later work. David Hockney is a contemporary example of an artist who has explored different ways of painting and making images. That’s what being an artist is. I also think I can always see Hockney in all of his permutations. I think it’s good to own our explorations…unless , of course, you’re painting on velvet. Then definitely…keep that under wraps.

  • http://lyndathompsonartquilts.com Both domain names go to the same site. The reason I started using Quiltzart in connection with my work years ago is there are so many Lynda Thompson’s. Quiltzart encompasses the quilt and art work I do. I was encouraged to use my name in connection with a site in order for search engines to find me, so I obtained a site for that reason.

  • Casey

    Good subject. Since I live in a very rural area, my bankers know me, and know my “two” names. I recently got my real name taken off of my checks, as I had on my business licence, and had them print my fine art name, Casey Klahn, on my checks. Get to know your banker. The second line, or subsequent lines of art that I dream of making, are indeed more about the subject than the art, or the artist. One could market that. The art fair question is a little strange to me. Why would I want to have two booths at a fair? Also, why would I want to have two styles in one booth? Neither are good ideas. Fine art: Bellevue, Park City, Sausalito, etc. Traditional, or illustrative work: Boise, etc. (Sorry, Boise). Why should a different style effect my signature works or it’s “collectability”? Yes, patrons do get mystical about their artists, but those of us in the field should realize that we are regular people, and that our art has it’s own intrinsic value. The illustration of Picasso’s changing styles shows a development over time. I am talking about producing different styles simultaneously. Fire away.

  • Using two names is often more than twice the work of using one. In most cases I would suggest spending twice the effort on one name rather than half the effort on two. If your current work is selling, then redoubling your effort to promote it should pay better than splitting your efforts between two identities. As far as check cashing goes… If setting up a DBA is too much to take on, then maintaining two separate business identities is *WAY* more work than you want! Doing justice to both names or product lines will take much more work than the initial paperwork. Remember, with two identities you will have to do everything twice: promotion, shows, billing, bookkeeping, shipping, etc. Much better would be to just style a series of products as a “line” under your own name (ie: the traditional collection from artist K. Henderson). I would only suggest using two names if you have styles which are mutually exclusive (ie if Robert Mappelthorpe wanted to illustrate children’s books) or if one line of your work is so successful that it requires and supports additional staff. A great example of an artist with a successful wholesale line is Sarah Grant’s Sticks Furniture. Although the furniture and accessories are marketed under the name “Sticks,” Sarah’s name is still associated with the design and product. She now employs over 150 craftsmen to meet the demand. I would expect that if she still has time to do original paintings, the sales of paintings are not hurt by the fact that she is also famous for her furniture line. As for Mark’s point: I think that the market for work by individual artists is generally different from the market for items sold under a brand name… there are exceptions, sure, but if I were using two names to represent work that was different enough to justify the two names, I would also apply to different shows for each. Thus I would take a wholesale line to show where I could sell large orders to buyers for catalogs and I would take fine art to galleries or shows that focus on limited editions or one-offs. One more thought: I make a lot of different work under my own name in many different media. It all gets signed with one name, but I market it in very different settings. Some people will buy a steel sculpture without knowing I also do mosaic, while others might think that furniture design is my gig. If you find the right market for the right pieces, you can establish a good reputation in multiple areas without really confusing anyone. Some people will get to know you and your work well enough to be impressed by your range, others will stick to the specific work they like. I’ve found that different things sell at different times. By marketing a diverse body of work in different markets I’ve been able to insure that there is always enough work moving to bring in a fair income year round.

  • John, thanks for the great post. I also work in more than one medium. I’m a painter and a filmmaker and I use the same name for marketing both kinds of work. I blogged about this very topic today on my own site. Here’s the link: http://www.lauratyler.com/wordpress/ Alyson, thanks for raising such an interesting question.

  • I’ve been using multiple names for years. In the past I created production art, commonly referred to as “multiple originals” and sold in volume to a dealer. I also had a line of posters under the same name “Ann Walker”. When I changed my business model to commissions only, I starting using my real name Robin Ann Walker. If I want to do production work now, depending on the style, I use different names. I don’t want to undermine the reputation I currently enjoy by flooding the market with paintings in my own name. Also, my clients have asked me not to publish posters of series that are currently selling well for them. They feel it will affect the saleability of originals. I also am a professional photographer, and use a different name (Walker Sanford). I do this because on a hotel project, for example, the designer may want to use a combination of paintings and photography, but not use just one artist. So I present my own work under two names.

  • That’s fascinating, Robin Ann! I’d be curious to know if you ever have any difficulties juggling the identities.

  • Name Withheld

    My predicament is using my first name and middle name for my art, not using my legal last name (married name). I’ve always been doing so since I began a career in art. So, when my last name is asked in forms on submitting proposals, for example, I get to wonder what is a right way. I still use my first name and middle name (which has been used as the last name in art) in art forms. Any comments? Thank you,

    • NW: Use the name by which you want to be known for your art and on the proposal. Just be sure to use legal names where required (perhaps on government grant applications).