Are We Done Yet? How to Know When a Painting\Drawing is Finished
This hub will be an exploration of a question that plagues artists frequently: how does one know when a painting (or drawing, or sculpture, etc.) is finished? This can be a tougher question that it might appear. As artists, we all want our work to look fresh and spontaneous, while still giving an impression of completeness and wholeness. Many artists will succumb to the temptation to do "just one more thing" to their lovely, fresh painting and end up overworking the piece to the point it has lost whatever spark it might have originally had.
How and why does this happen? As artists we are "chasers of perfection," however we define that perfection to be. This does not only apply to artists who work in a realistic vein. Artists who work in abstract or impressionistic styles also strive for their "perfect painting." The "just one more thing" syndrome with the accompanying assumption that this "one more thing" will make the piece "perfect" has quashed the life out of many promising works. Many artists also mistakenly think adding more and more detail will solve or hide underlying problems with the work's structure or composition.
The following process will help an artist decide when their work is finished while it is still fresh and vibrant.
The Seventy-five Percent Rule
An artist completes a work of art in a series of steps (sketch or plan, block-in, working from big shapes to small shapes). Consider bringing this process of refinement to where the work feels about 75% finished. At that point go immediately to finish completely the center of interest. One way to draw the viewer to the center of interest in your painting or drawing is for that area to be the most detailed.
Immediately stop work at that point and step back to study your painting or drawing.
Questions to Ask
The following questions may prove helpful in determining if a painting is finished.
• Is the center of interest defined?
• Are any other areas competing with the focal point?
• Are the values correct?
• Are the (color) temperatures correct?
• Is the drawing correct? Is the perspective right? Are the proportions accurate?
If the answer to any of the above questions dissatisfies you, make changes or corrections as needed.
Take your painting/drawing out of your workspace. Put the painting away for a day or two. Don't let yourself "play around" with the work - don't "fiddle." Look at the painting again after this one or two day break and fix any glaring problems by asking yourself the same questions as done earlier. Do this whole process ONLY ONCE!
Once you've satisfied yourself that the painting or drawing is finished, sign it and move on to the next subject. Be ruthless! Once it's done it's done. Overworking is a pitfall all artists must work to avoid. We all hope for our work to look fresh and lively, not tedious, muddy, or confusing. Employing the "Seventy-five Percent Rule" will help an artist learn to stop before he or she does too much.