I have been thinking about this post for a while but I have been asking myself the question – when is a painting finished? – for quite a while!
It first started when I began to paint semi-professionally in about 2004 when a friend of mine asked if I would like a professional artist friend of hers to come and see my paintings and give me some advice. This was at a point when I had just put together a set of around 10 abstract oil paintings. Many of these paintings had only one coat of paint but I was happy with the finished products.
The artist who saw them gave me some good feedback in a very subtle way. She said that most good paintings consisted of lots of layers and that was one thing that helped them become good paintings. I have always taken this on board in my future work and sometimes I take it to the extreme!
Anyway, I digress slightly from the topic as I want to really address that question.
When is a Painting Finished?
The first point I would say in answering this question is that only you know when it is finished. You have to keep asking yourself if you are 100% happy with the painting. You should get a feeling that you are totally happy with it before you stop painting.
One problem that most artists come across is that they are scared to ruin a painting. In fact I know someone who frequently does not do extra work to their paintings because they think they might ruin it and will waste all of the work they have put in so far.
What I would say to this is, never stop a painting unless you are at least 97% happy with it. Sometimes it may be the case that 97% is enough to satisfy you before risking spoiling it – for example if it is a really big painting that you have spent a lot of time on! In which case I would say 97% is good enough.
So this artist has a lot of paintings that seem unfinished, because they did not dare to take them to the level that they could be. If you don’t dare to maybe take a few risks with your paintings then how are you going to progress and try new things?
Only rarely have I messed up a painting that I was 90% happy with but tried to push to 100%. One reason for not messing paintings up is that often the more paint you add, the greater the depth of the painting. I think this particularly applies to paintings with texture in.
If I keep pushing the painting, even if I am not happy with the extra that I have added, I feel that I can still keep adding paint until I am. So maybe I might go from 95% happy to 86% but then back up to 100%. In any case I can recommend to keep on painting.
If it does end up unrecoverable then it is worth thinking of it as good practice. Don’t worry about having to throw artwork away or scraping all the paint off and starting again, it is all good experience and the time you have spent is never wasted.
I had an example of this recently in my studio. I textured up a canvas and I had an idea of what I wanted the painting to look like. I was going to be creamy white with bright colours coming out of the texture. When I had finished it I would say I was 90% happy with it.
I kept going with the same idea but it just wasn’t getting any better so in the end I decided to change the colour scheme completely and went for some blues and purples. However, I was still only about 92% happy with that painting!
I thought that the texture needed something extra so I added in some black and metallic blue but then I was back to about 85% happy. But I did like the elements of black in there. So I painted the whole thing black fading to grey.
I was in 2 minds about just keeping it all quite monotone but then I thought it needed some extra colour so I added some purple.
To cut a long story short I kept adding colours on top of the back until it started looking a bit like a black opal. Eventually I got to about 95% happy when I realised it needed a bit of gold leaf.
Once that was added in I was 97% happy but took the chance to get further by also adding a bit of copper leaf.
Finally I would say I was about 99% happy with it so I decided that was it!
The whole process of this painting took over 6 months as it spent lots of time sitting waiting for me to decide what to do with it but I am glad that I kept going and kept changing it until I really decided it was finished.
So here is the finished painting. Obviously just because I like it doesn’t mean other people will too!