Finished? Not finished? Finished? Not finished?

How do you know when a painting is finished?

Many artists have trouble determining when a painting is finished. It can be excruciatingly painful to let a painting go, especially after you worked on it for a long time. If like me, you focus on problems as you work, it can be easy to fixate on them. But fixing problems does not equate to finishing a painting.

The only way I know how to work out if a painting is finished is to answer the question: does it please my eye.  This means, at a minimum, that problems don’t stick out, the work captures my original intent, and–most important–it has life; it lives and breathes.  There’s no easy formula to determine this, of course, so until I can answer that question with a resounding ‘Yes!,’ I keep working.

The Press, oil, 40″ x 50″

I thought I’d answered ‘Yes!’ for The Press, but as soon as I signed it, something bothered me. I set it aside for several days hoping that fresh eyes would release my doubts.  But when I reviewed the painting later, my eye immediately identified what bothered me. No, I am not going to tell you what it was. Sketchy-looking or unfinished-looking passages are perfectly fine. False passages or overworked areas tend to be show stoppers.

(Over-worked areas spoil a painting, but my advice is to blast through. Work as much as needed until you solve the problem. Such hard-won victories stick with you, and in the long run, it’s much better to work through a problem than it is to paste some safe, cliched passage over it and pretend it’s a solution.)

Anyway, I started in on the problem passage and worked on it until I was satisfied. That was a week ago and The Press is–finally!–finished.


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