How do you know when a painting is finished? Turns out it's a simple question with a lot of different answers.
I am an artist who is currently struggling with the all-important question of when a painting is finished. It seemed like no matter how much I worked on a painting, there was always something I could do differently or change in some way. I knew other artists struggled with this as well, so I decided to take a little trip and ask some of my artist friends how they knew when their paintings were finished.
I started by reaching out to my local art community and asking them what their process for finishing a painting was. Through this, I heard many different answers from each artist, but the one thing that remained consistent was that everyone had their own unique way of determining when a painting felt complete. Some said that they continued working until the colors felt just right; others talked about how they would keep refining the details until it felt balanced.
Next, I decided to take an online journey around the country, meeting and talking with artists in different cities, seeking advice on this mysterious but crucial topic.
The first artist I spoke with was an old friend of mine living in New York City. He had been painting for over forty years, so he was the perfect person to start my journey with. When I asked him how he knew when his paintings were finished, his answer surprised me: "I just know," he said. "I can spend months working on a single painting only to reach that point where it feels finished. It's like following my gut feeling." He explained further that sometimes it takes him a long time to recognize that a piece is complete, because he needs to look at it objectively without being too emotionally attached to it before he can determine if it's ready or not.
Next I "traveled" to Portland and had an enlightening conversation with a figurative painter who told me her secret for knowing when her work is done: she sets deadlines for herself! By having an end date in mind while working on a painting, she told me that she has more motivation and focus which allows her to finish the piece quicker than usual and determine if any final touches are needed afterwards before calling it complete.
The last artist I visited was an abstract painter living in Boulder. She said, "Don't be afraid of taking risks! If you're unsure whether or not your painting is ready, make a bold move such as adding or removing elements from your piece until it achieves what you want it to express." This was an interesting concept. Sometimes finishing a painting is just simply making one last big change instead of wasting time trying to make small adjustments here and there that won't get you anywhere closer to completion.
By hearing these stories from other artists, I now have some great ideas about determining when my own paintings are finished. But, at the end of the day, sometimes it just feels right!