Finished? < Deep Thought Thursday

How do you know when an artwork is finished?

When is it time to sign the work and move on?

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38 thoughts on “Finished? < Deep Thought Thursday”

  1. When there is nothing left to do. When I look at the painting and I am frightened that adding the smallest spot of paint to the canvas will only do damage.

  2. Exactly the same way Rafi views it..that if I add another collage element it will spoil it.
    I also put the artwork aside for a day or two, and look at it with a fresh eye a view days later.

  3. Kristine Schroeder

    I know I’m done when I run out of wire! Seriously, though, I look for balance in a piece of jewelry. How does my eye flow over a piece? Does it stop at the right places? I like to see a smooth grace.

  4. Usually it’s just a feeling i get. I look at the artwork and am very content. I can’t exactly identify any thing that needs adding or fixing and the artwork generally seems to meet “my style”.
    However there are times that I rely on other artists to tell me when a piece is done because I do have a tendency to sometimes “overwork” a piece which isn’t an effect that I want.
    I suppose with time and experience that will improve.

  5. Serge Puchinsky

    Just finished teaching a hi school class about arts business and this topic came up through our study of Persig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence” Persig postulates, and I agree, that the artistic process is an ongoing cycle of comparing the actual physical product standing in front of us, and the completed project that we have in out mind’s eye. As a composer and arranger, I go through that same process of tweaking and revising a work – and it’s a long process that sometimes goes into a composition’s or arrangement’s actual performance run.
    So – when do I know when an arrangement is done – you kind of just know. I agree with the above comments, however, sometimes, when you revisit a work later with hindsit or a different perspective I find that I’ll continue to revise a work for changing situations. Something that you probably cannot do in art in the same way as you can in music, but the artistic process is the same.
    FYI – the Ontario, Canada school system’s curriculum is available online (don’t have the link – on my iPad right now) and has some great info on teaching the creative process!

  6. I never have that “it just feels right” feeling. To me, there’s always more I can do, but I’m fighting the desire to be DONE. Here’s how I did it this year: each piece made me smile more than not, and the sense of nagging that something was wrong had (mostly) disappeared. I slowed down when I thought the whole collection was getting close, and gave each piece some breathing time. So, more of a relaxed feeling, I guess…?

    1. I’m with you, Liz. As long as a painting is within my grasp, it’s fair game! Right now my last finished canvas is sitting on top of my entertainment center (to protect it from kids and cats…hopefully). When i stopped painting, I said “she’s done.” Ever since, I see this little area and that little area that, as Serge describes, I want to “tweak” just a bit, nothing major, just a little thing here and another thing there…and probably will, unless someone rescues it from my cluches! ;D

  7. I have a really hard time with this. Usually I’ll get close, then put the painting aside for several weeks. When I come back to it, either I decide it’s done, or figure out what needs more attention.

  8. That gut feeling and being happy with it. Nothing leaves my studio unless I’m happy with it. Just sort of knowing, not wanting to add anything at all. And it makes me want to dance a little. 🙂 (yes really) I actually disagree with the fear idea – usually if I want to add something but am afraid it’ll wreck what’s there that means something does need adding. I embrace the fear, knowing that it pushes my and my abilities and usually ends up making a better painting.

  9. When I’m sick of it! No, that’s when I’m done. 🙂 When it’s interesting to look at from afar and close up. When I can’t think of another thing to enhance it or take away from it (editing, very important).

  10. My paintings start to have an inner glow and that’s when I know I can stop or at least I’m close. I like to put them aside for a few days and then look again to make sure I still see it/feel it.

  11. I get this feeling that I need to slow down. Then there is a sort of tightness that starts in my chest. I know I am close. I know I need to stop and step back. I too put it away or just let it sit taking peeks through out the week. If I don’t see anything jumping out at me that screams “fix me!” Then I know it is done.
    And I never listen to others that say, “it’s done!” Only when I know it’s done, it’s done.

  12. It varies for me. Most of the time it’s just a feeling like a lot of people have suggested so far and/or if I added something else it would just ruin it as it becomes overworked. This has happened a few times and I have to paint over (or wipe the area clean) and fix it. If I wait until I’m sick of it then I’m sick of it and don’t like it and usually paint over it the entire painting and start over with something completely different. there’s a small window there…

  13. I let it rest over night, propped somewhere I can see it first thing the next morning when I come in the studio. If nothing is screaming at me to fix, I know it’s done. Or to put it in the positive…when I come back in the studio and the work gives me a sense of rest I know it is finished and I can sign and seal it.

  14. “Painters don’t finish paintings, they abandon them.” -Leonardo
    I’ve always taken great comfort from Leonardo’s quote. If an artist of his caliber can have trouble knowing how to finish then we’re all in the best of company.

  15. When I am getting to the point of almost being done with a painting, I play close attention to the elements of it that maybe rub me the wrong way. Like a new pair of shoes irritating me slightly. Then I fix what is rubbing me wrong. When that feeling of unease turns into calm. I know I am done.

  16. I have to agree with Philip Koch’s comment. I feel like I abandon my paintings as well. Whenever I’m about to declare myself “finished”, I look at it, I notice a few things wrong with it, but it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t really want to touch it anymore…so I decide it’s done with.

  17. I don’t know that I ever am!
    Actually I can work on a painting for a long time, and then I make one mark and I love it. Before that mark the painting made me anxious.
    Of course, many famous artists would go into museums and change their paintings. Sometimes I am at a patron’s house and see one of my paintings. Without saying anything I start to walk out with painting. When they ask why, I say I just need to change one little thing….

  18. With a clear idea of what I want to express and intend to paint, a finishing point is pretty easy. I don’t start a painting without a well thought through plan. Not to say there aren’t surprises along the way!
    If I get the urge to keep dabbing at it, then it’s usually not a particularly good painting anyway. (Sometimes the vision and the execution don’t quite match.) 🙂
    I never consult with anyone, asking their opinion….that’s the sign of a painting not thought out and they will always have an opinion…not usually matching yours. Not all paintings will be top notch or without errors…’s not fatal. Just keep painting!

  19. Suggested reading for this discussion: The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary.
    I get a sense of “Let’s wrap this up” towards the end of a sculpture, but then the next process begins>mold making, >casting> patina…and marketing> showing the work>more marketing, > more showing…..
    I guess I know a piece is done when it is sold.

  20. @Philip – Love the quote!
    @Lisa – I agree, I never completely know.
    I guess if I start nitpicking on tiny little details that don’t make a hoot of difference in the big picture, then I know I should put the brush down.

  21. I was going to quote Leonardo di Vinci’s statement about abandoning a painting, but I see Philip Koch has already done that. I finish paintings when I am satisfied that I have done the best I know how to do, but there have been some paintings that I have picked up again many months later, or even a few years later because then I knew more or saw more clearly.
    Alyson, I like your warning that having an email sent whenever a new comment is added could be a lot.

  22. Easy! If you decide what you are after at the beginning BEFORE you start the piece….If you decide what effect you want it to create on the observer, or what message it is to convey, you can assess it from that point of view as to its being complete. If you never decide what you are going for, you will never know when it is finished.

  23. When I feel a painting is finished, I put it in the frame. At that point, the frame will tell me what finishing touches the painting needs. I am finished when both the frame and the painting are equally beautiful. Margret

  24. This may sound odd, but I ask the canvas, “what else do you need?” When it doesn’t “say” anything, it’s done.
    As Deboorah Gall mentioned, it’s good to let it sit overnight, and look at it with fresh eyes.
    I especially appreciate Judith Peck’s insight – that a painting is done when it’s sold!

  25. Anita L. Rodriguez

    When the painting has a certain “grandeur.” It’s an intuitive thing – as others have said, if one more thing is added, the work is a wreck. Even so, it might still be resurrected if allowed to just sit or hang around.

  26. Something I already worked out before – when I become scared to ruin the work, and this fear outweighs the pleasure of painting.

  27. I agree that it’s usually a gut feeling. The best way to finish a painting is to feel it is finished. That said sometimes I’ll look at a painting I wasn’t happy with even a few years before and resolve it, and finish it. But the reason it’s finished is the same. I feel content with it. That’s a great feeling.

  28. It depends. Some of my paintings are finished when the design is completed. Not that I quilt (once was enough to make me respect quilters forever), but sometimes “finished” is obvious and unambiguous.
    Other paintings can be tweaked forever. Fortunately, I paint only with watercolor, a medium that sometimes screams “STOP!” or gently says “No more fiddling around.”
    I also use the “smile” test, and the “enough already” test.
    Among my paintings is one call “100 Buttons,” which — trust me — has more than 100 button shapes. As the Chief Expositor of the School of Painstaking Exuberance, I diligently traced each shape (coins), painted a Davy’s Gray outline, painted inside each shape often with multiple colors, then painted “threads” so that the buttons would look like covered buttons, and finally, outlined each button in a contrasting watercolor.
    When I thought that I was half-finished, I counted the buttons. That’s when I discovered that (a) I wasn’t close to halfway done, and (b) that there were way more than 100 buttons.

  29. Pingback: A Picture and A Thousand Words: Unfinished Business, How Do You Know When A Picture Is Finished? | The Dao of Doing

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