Beginner Art · Painting

How Do I Know When To Finish A Painting?

This is a question that is very difficult to answer because only you can know.  Most of us at some point have overdone a painting or drawing and regretted it.  Drawing and painting something isn’t a job that has an identifiable beginning and end. For some the completion of a painting could take many years, for others just a few hours.

When it's finished with depend on your style and the medium
Is it finished? When it’s finished with depend on your style and the medium

When to Stop?

I think one of the dangers of the never finished painting is the obsessing that can happen in going over areas just to make it more green or more red and somehow it never seems ‘just right’.  Sometimes this can happen so much that we sit for hours, don’t go out, neglect to make phone calls until the painting is just how we want it.

Then when it isn’t we can feel incredibly frustrated and it can put us in a bad mood, enough not to want to paint again for some time.  This chain of events is not much fun because when we are in this state of mind when one area is perfected, another area we are dissatisfied with can take our attention and so the painting is never complete.

Just a bit more? Or is it time to stop?

Trusting Your Senses

There is an element of just knowing when a painting is done and it is something that you can get used to the more you paint or draw.  The finish is not to be confused with gaining perfection, because then it will never be finished!  It has to do with being satisfied with that particular piece of art and that anything more might not add to the piece.

Painting of a vegetable

Second Opinions

For some having a second opinion on when a work is finished is important, this does have to be someone trusted who has an understanding of your work.  Some famous painters have been known for having to ask their husband or wife when the work is finished.

This might be an idea for those of us who tend to overwork artwork and just can’t help but rework areas.  It is much easier if you are attending an art class or you are in an art club because you can ask fellow painters what they think.

Fall in love with art
Asking others if they think it is finished is always a good idea

Stepping Away

One way of knowing when a work is finished might be to step away from the artwork by putting it away for a while.  When you come back to the piece you will have fresh eyes and a much clearer idea if there is more work to be done and if the artwork is finished.

Drawing a portrait
You develop a sense of when to stop

The state of mind we are in when we paint or draw is very important.  For anyone who has experienced being the creative flow, you will find that finishing paintings is effortless.  In this state we have an abundance of ideas, we are eager to produce work and create one artwork after the next.

However creating art isn’t always like this we can have times when ideas don’t flow, we put things off, if we do work on our artwork nothing is easy and the work seems laboured.  At times like this it might be worth stopping and stepping away for a while.

Step away from your artwork to avoid overworking
Step away from your artwork to avoid overworking

Rework or Start Again?

Sometimes starting again is more productive than reworking a piece if you have been trying for some time to get a piece just right and not getting very far. Sometimes there is a thing in art called ‘cutting our loses’ where it is just best to stop and start again or put the artwork away.  Most artists have one or two pieces that were very slow to create because they spent time in the drawer for long periods and were worked on intermittently.

All is Not Lost

Sometimes a painting that is overworked to the point where colours lose their freshness and vibrancy.  Often there is one area of the painting you are happy with. In situations like this could your artwork be cropped so you had a small painting of just one successful area?

Some paint media like oils are easily scraped off

Some mediums allow you to scrap off paint and start again like oils, as long as your support is robust enough it should be able to cope with this.  I can remember this is how I learnt one of the painting techniques that I still use today.  I was forever lifting off and scraping paint off a canvas or paper because I wanted to start again and noticed the interesting texture that was created.  I started then scrapping off paint intentionally just to get this ‘rough’ textured look to my backgrounds.

Try not to treat every artwork like it is a masterpiece, if you are learning which we all are whatever our level of experience then you should expect a few less than perfect pieces.  Even if the artwork isn’t your best you probably learnt a great deal from working on it.

Have you overworked pieces? What are your tips for stopping and knowing when it is finished?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.