When is a Piece of Artwork Finished?

Is a painting finished when you run out of paint, sunlight, time, or energy? One of the most common questions students ask me when I teach is, “When is the painting finished?” This is a really difficult question to answer because it’s personal.

How did Vermeer know when his Girl With a Pearl Earring was complete? When did Piero Manzoni decide that his Merde d’artiste Number 31 was just right, or Jackson Pollock know when to stop making drips, layers, and pours for a finished piece? The definition of art is widely interpreted and there is no magical formula, as in a cookbook, to guarantee a winner.

Perhaps these artists knew what their objectives were and followed through to achieve them. I once heard, “You don’t have to like [the artwork] but you should understand the concept or intentions.”

portrait painting by Jean Pederson_011714

I think about balance within my paintings. If there is a bit teal over in one place, I should balance the composition with teal in another area. In the end, I want to l see if it has met my intensions and go with my gut. I ask myself, “Does it feel right?”

What are your objectives; did you meet those objectives in your last painting? Just like anything in life, you have to think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. For example, if you were to start a garden, there are several things that you would need to consider. How large is your garden? What kinds of fruits and vegetables will you grow? When will the crop be ready to harvest?

Artists really want to know that their painting is finished, when they feel the painting is successful. Producing a successful painting is much the same as growing a successful garden: you expect to have a good result if you have the knowledge, proper tools, don’t over work areas, and make good decisions.

Here are some ideas for traditional painting that might help you.

1. Consider your objectives.

2. What do you want to paint?

3. What style will you use?

4. What mediums will you use?

5. Do you want to design your composition in advance of your painting process?

6. Which elements and principles of design will you choose to tell your story?

7. Learn to step back and critically observe.

Try placing your painting in an area of your house or studio where you can see it from a number of vantage points. See the painting with different light, or from a variety of distances and angles or in the reflection of a mirror.

If the painting feels right every time you glance at the image over a period of time, then you may consider it finished. When you look at your painting and something is bothering you, listen to your inner voice and consider what could be wrong.

Try holding your hand up over the area that seems not quite right; is the painting better when you cover up that area or is it fine when you bring your hand away? If the offending area is bothering you, ask yourself why. Usually if a painting isn’t cohesive, the elements and principles of design haven’t been given enough consideration.

Knowing your intentions, understanding your materials and subject, developing a critical eye, and committing time to practice your art will result in a larger pile of finished paintings and a smaller burn pile! ~Jean Pederson

Learn more from Mixed Media Artist Jean Pederson
Mixed Media Painting Workshop: Explore Mediums, Techniques, and the Personal Artistic Journey (book or download)
Expressive Portraits: Watercolor and Mixed Media Techniques (paperback)
Wet Glazing Watercolor Portrait (DVD)
Watercolor Artist, August 2011: Create the illusion of depth in your paintings with these simple tips and helpful illustrations of linear and aerial perspective. (article)
• See her work at www.jeanpederson.com

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