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survey - How do you know the painting is finished?

When is it finished? Do you have an exact image in mind? I feel like at some point I will crest the hill and start making it worse. As soon as it gets almost as good as I think it's gonna get I stop. Sometimes I go to far and have to try to back up. I try not to be lazy and quit and convince myself it's done. I have safeguards for that.


  • Ezra

    Some folks say it’s finished when the painting is quiet and my mind is quiet. Others reckon the painting is finished when the cheque is banked.

    I take the view that when I have fixed the twenty odd things listed in the “what’s different” exercise Mark teaches, then l’m done.

  • I call my work is done when the image that I imagined is more or less replicated on canvas. That happens when values, shapes, colors, spirit of the scene etc. are similar to what I envisioned.
  • Yes, I agree, @Kaustav. Although what @Dencal said resonates with me too - "It's finished when the painting is quiet and my mind is quiet."
  • We are our own worst critics and are never finished but we reluctantly stop the painting when we can no longer find a way to make it better. That's the wrong answer but true for me.
  • Bob... I think your "wrong" answer is the right answer and true for me as well.  If you come to a point when you are unsure of how to make it better, I have found it better to leave it alone until the "better" way comes to you, either by thinking through it or with fresh eyes on another day.  Unless you just purely enjoy the act of putting paint on canvas, or experimenting "just to see what happens", moving with uncertainty just ends up wasting time and often moves you backwards on a piece.  Then you ultimately have to devote time and effort into correcting those missteps.  At least that has been my experience.
  • edited September 2018
    I always say that before I start a painting I like to know where I'm going and how I'm going to get there.  If I do all the planning and preparation and the execution as best I can I sometimes 'get there' and then the painting is quiet and my mind is quiet and I know that it's finished. Sometimes it creeps up and I'm surprised by the realization that it's finished. I just  stop and think, hey, that's it. Then I get this sort of empty feeling and the question What now? pops into my head.

    Then the search begins for another subject to paint.  :)
  • Years ago (like 30 or so), I was strolling through an art gallery when I came upon a nice painting that had an unfinished look (unfinished look, to me).  I commented that it was unfinished.  No, my companion said, adding, this was all he (the artist) had to say about it.  In the same vein, I've heard many artists say, after making a deliberate stroke or two, "that's the statement I wanted to make."  So, for all these years, I feel my painting is finished when I have nothing more to say (in paint) about the subject.  Just the other day, I watched a video with Mark and a woman who had painted a very nice picture of a girl in a pink hat.  She noted that it wasn't finished and that she was going to take it home and finish it.  Mark said something like, "au contraire fair maiden from Colorado . . ."  Well, actually,  he said, no, it's finished . . . I wouldn't do another thing to it. 
  • Very interesting y'all. Indeed. You have given me a lot to think about. For me I make sure to take my time so I don't rush the ending and get lazy or sloppy to finish. One way I do this is that I have a schedule. I'm working on multiple paintings at various stages and two stages are built in rest periods. Im in the middle of 4 or so paintings at any given time .time apart gives me add d patience and perspective so I can catch things I miss. Before it's done I just hang it somewhere and pass by it casually for a few days and ask for feedback. Someone mentioned the mirror test. Yes. That helps. I said before I get to a point where I feel like if I continue I'll start making it worse, then I declare it finished. Sign it and sell it for tons of money
  • Bob I guess I'm as close to your idea as anything. It's a bit haphazard. I don't know how it will turn out
  • Agree with @dencal.  When the dogs stop barking.
  • When the voices inside my head quiet down enough so I can sleep.
  • One answer to this question that I read somewhere is 'when it looks like it was done by somebody else'. I thought that was rather interesting. I tend to work in sections, fully completing each one before moving on, so generally I'm done when the last section is done.
  • When do you know a discussion thread is done?
  • When people stop posting. :)
  • When It stops occupying every waking minute in my head. Then I just go blank, until I start the next one.
  • Let's not forget those pieces we just get tired of working on. We put them out of sight and wait for divine intervention which may come in a flash of ideas that inspire us to bring it out and finish or we run out of canvases and paint over it. It's like Yogi Berra said about baseball games: "It ain't over till it's over."
  • Very true. That doesn't happen often though.
  • Another very useful thing to do when you feel you may be finished, or very near to it, is to turn the painting to the wall so you can't see it.  Let it sit there a week (or 2 or 3).  Spin it around later and take a look.  Any number of thoughts will strike you.  Either you'll think, Yuck, did I do that, or yikes, this is great, or kowabunga, I see a couple of things I need to change.  The point is that taking a vacation from your work for a few days/weeks will give you fresh eyes.
  • Yes. Those are my built in pauses
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