Knowing When You are Finished With A Painting

March 18, 2013

Filed in: Uncategorized

Ahhhhhh…..the illusive dilemma each artist faces, knowing when one is done. I am really not sure there is a definite answer to that, but there are a few tips, depending on what type of painting an artist is working on, to help reach a place where one’s internal voice of being finished is easier to hear. 

Yesterday, I blogged about how to become a better painter and showed the progression of a painting from start to finish, but one I gave myself permission to really make a mess with. It was totally intuitive, no plan in my head, and these types of paintings are a bit harder to learn how to complete than if you were painting a still life or realistic piece I think. To really understand the process from start to finish of the two paintings in this post, you will want to go back and look at the last one which you can find HERE, because the two pieces you see here are the end result of my piece yesterday, unexpectedly. 

Yesterday, I just wanted to play around with acrylics, charcoal, and mark making, which I did. The “finished” piece, I Could Throw Eggs, was basically done, but not one I was over the moon about, it was simply a learning piece. I could have matted it, someone might have loved it, but I didn’t and my spirit knew it was not finished. This morning, I woke up, took a deep breath, and cut it in half.  
This picture shows the piece cut, and I had already begun to add new layers as I sipped my coffee….avoiding the brush in coffee morning I had the day before, 🙂

Although I still was working totally by instinct, I began to identify the sense of faces in both pieces and wanted to work with sketching them in with charcoal, but not so perfectly that it looked like I was just painting a face. I wanted to keep my texture, my marks, the ‘weirdness’ of each piece, and most importantly, I wanted to keep it rather grungy. 

As I worked with the juicy tidbits, the two brothers began to evolve and the one beauty. I knew then where I was headed and as much as a love to paint, I love even more painting through a story. I started laughing at the pic of the brothers, one with a blue face, one with a red and could only imagine, being in love with the same girl had to be maddening. I also laughed at the beauty, because to some, she may come across as female but to others they may question the gender. I had successfully and playful captured a face with the oddness I had wanted and the two pieces found their voices. 

“ONE BEAUTY” 5″ by 5″ mixed media on paper
“TWO BROTHERS” 5″ by 5″ mixed media on paper

Knowing when I was finished was a totally gut instinct for me, but there are parameters beginners can follow to help guide them on their journey of painting enough pieces to help that ‘finished’ voice be constant. Here are some tips to help one know when one is done when painting a more abstract piece. They are basic, but a start. 

1. Stepping at least 5 feet away, does your ‘gut’ tell you it is done?
2. Do you like/love the piece or are there any parts that cause you tension or stress?
3. Have you conveyed a message through color, line, texture, pattern, or shape that you were hoping to achieve? If not, keep working. 
4. Do your colors work, are they too muddy? Have you chosen colors that either compliment one another or contrast to create a visually interesting painting?
5. Are there light/dark areas, contrast is important, even when working with a monochromatic color palette? 
6. Does your eye land in the center and stay there? If so, you might want to consider placement of color, object, or line because you want to avoid creating a piece where they eye lands and doesn’t move around a painting. Consider visual movement as you paint. 

There are tons of books, blog posts, classes, and rubrics you can find online that help an artist develop that sense of knowing when one is done. If you are painting intuitively, the challenge will be to paint often, even daily, because that sense of being finished will become obvious over time and the more one paints the stronger that sense becomes. 

I love my two pieces now and will let them rest because my knowing sense tells me they are. At this point, artists must love what they create and release it out into the world. There will always be those who love it, who hate it, who don’t get it, but when an artist works through a piece and their inner voice says stop…then stop. For my students, I will be creating a rubric to help aid with the ‘being finished’ issue because I am a firm believe in using that format to learn a framework much faster. In the meantime, I hope some of you love…. “Two Brothers” and “One Beauty” as much as I do. 

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