Knowing what a finnished painting looks like

Knowing what a finnished painting looks like can be difficult especially if a person does not have experience in making paintings. I find projects from photo to have greater likelyhood of never ending on and on days weeks months later and still never arrive at a visual resting place. Does anyone care to provide insite as to how you determime what a finnished painting looks like.


  • I am a little unclear on your question, as you suggest you do not have experience but then go on to say you spend weeks months on a painting. 

    It depends what you are after. You kind of do come to a point when you know your painting is finished, even more so if you had an idea what you wanted to do when you set out in the first place.

    You can also overwork a painting, so its good to know when to stop really.

  • Tramontane

    Welcome to the Forum.

    When the canvas is covered, put the photos away. 
    Make a list of twenty things that must be fixed.
    # 20 is Add signature and date.
    Call it DONE!

    A painting always looks finished when the check is in the bank.


  • I know that a painting is finished when there aren’t any more things that need correcting.
    someone once said that painting is nothing more than correcting your mistakes.

  • Many accomplished artists say it's finished when you have said what you wanted to say about the subject, be it an army tank or a pretty girl.

    Richard Schmid has said several times about some of his paintings that he should have quit sooner.

    A covered canvas does not a finished painting make.  Many wonderful and complete paintings are barely more than sketches in oil.
  • When you want to start another one.
  • this a great painting...
    Conclusion....the painting is not done.
  • Its not a matter of rather all the information is accounted for but has the painting taken on a life of its own. 
    A good painting is a believable painting  but a great painting is inbelievably good.
  • Does this painting evoke in others the emotion/feeling I wanted to express? If not, the painting is unfinished. Or it was ill conceived from the outset. 
  • All artists have kept on correcting finished paintings and all artists have completed incomplete paintings. If you are obsessing over a painting it's ok to set it aside and work on something else then when the "spirit" moves you bring back and see if you want to continue or just call it finished. Also is common to start another painting of the same scene rather than continue. The main thing is not to tell anyone you think it is unfinished before they can comment on it.
  • Works from photo give me the most headache. The very nature of the photo...that being frozen time allows for ongoing editing. But also searching for whats not present in a photo....true light...gravity...and time. The most powerful energies on earth....gravity light and time are not ptesent in a photo source. Its one thing to see clues of gravity and then replicate with paint and something else to feel a portrait model negotiating gravity in relation to the weight of her skull. 
    More later. 
  • I agree with @Tramontane I like working from life because you can always see more than you can from a photo.  The eye focuses on light value edge differently when I go back to viewing the subject from one sitting to the next.
  • Isaak Levitan was such a wonderful landscape painter. I put him up there with Shishkin.
  • A proff said that if you get three seconds viewing time from a viewer then you are doing good.
    If you watch people in a museum the proffs statement is not too far off. Color is of course the the initial attractant....and that at first glamce a person thinks yes or no in the first second. After time investment in making a painting negates the ability to see what the viewer sees the first time ...first second.
  • To elaborate on this discussion all have experienced being on the threshold of the next level in your painting. Since you are arriving at new level then how do you know what that finnished piece looks like if you have never seen it before. To know when to put down the brush or to brave onward convinced there is a better painting in there.
  • edited May 2020
    Here's my test for deciding if a work is finished:  A painting is finished when I've said what I wanted to say and I've said it in such a way that the viewer gets the message. If the viewer doesn't get the message the work is either unfinished or ill-concieved from the outset. By "ill-concieved" I mean that something basic like the composition/design just doesn't work. If this is the case then one must abandon it or start again from scratch.

    If the composition is good and colours/values/form need adjusting then it is merely unfinished. In oils, unlike water-colour, corrections are always possible. Oil is a forgiving medium. 

    Most of my failures were ill-concieved from the outset. If that happens you just recycle the stretcher bars and canvas. It's no big deal. When we're just starting out as painters it's unreasonable to expect all, or even most, of our efforts to end up as masterpieces. Masterpieces come much later in our development, if at all. And, as Mark says, raw talent is a myth. I can have the most stupendous talent for playing piano but if I never study piano and don't practice hard I will never just sit down at the keyboard and give a stellar performance of a Chopin ballad.  Most painters who end up producing masterpieces do so on 10% talent and 45% study and 45% staying power. It's more like a marathon rather than a 100 meter dash. It's the same in any field of endevour.  Our paintings don''t rate as great just because one day we, as born prodigies, decide to toss some paint at a canvas and say voila!. Such minimal effort will almost always be unfinished and almost certainly ill-concieved.  

    Maybe we should consider a painting finished when we've done the best we can with it and not let notions of the perfect get in the way of the good. Beginners set themselves up for disappointment when they expect too much too soon. Perhaps masterpieces should always be an aspiration - what we are going to do next - and not what we must produce now with this very painting on which not too much should ride.  Maybe treat each painting as an opportunity to learn rather than our life-defining masterpiece. :)
    BOB73TramontaneJerryW[Deleted User]
  • I think I might have said this before but even though you may not "know" what it will look like when you start, you still have a concept of it your brain, When you get to the end phase you will start thinking more about each touch of the brush and wonder if that stroke will help or make it worse. When most of your decisions say "worse" you're done. But of course there will still be doubts in your mind but you will learn to ignore these when someone views your work and offers compliments. If instead they offer critique, you will consider it but if you decide you don't want to change it then that is confirmation that you are truly done. The bottom line is that it is YOUR decision.
  • edited May 2020
    I agree with you, @BOB73. It's just that I think that "done" doesn't always mean "good". I guess the trick is knowing when to abandon a bad painting. I've abandoned some but probably not as many as I should have. It's all too easy to get overly attached to a bad idea. That's why I disagree with Mark when he says to approach every painting as if it has to be a masterpiece. We can have that hope in the back of our minds but until we have enough knowledge and skill re composition, colour and form, and enough painting experience under our hands, it's unrealistic for us to expect to produce work that anyone else will judge as a finished masterpiece.

    But "finished" doesn't have to mean masterpiece. "Good" is ok. But if it's not even good then it's either unfinished or ill-conceived. So what is "good"? I guess it's what at least one viewer genuinly thinks is good. Perhaps good enough to buy.

    "Finished" is an impossibly relative and imprecise term. The impressionists were derided because their paintings looked unfinished to 19thC viewers. But one or two perceptive viewers of the time saw the greatness of their works and today they are almost universally admired and no one calls them unfinished. In realism (the impressionists were realists) "finished" doesn't necessarily mean photographic exactitude. That's why so many of our snapshots are boring and get deleted. Yes, they look real but that doesn't make them good. We can copy a bad snapshot and achieve a perfect finish in paint. It will be finished but it won't be any good. It will be as boring as the snapshot. So, "finished" doesn't necessarily mean "done" and "done" doesn't always equal "good".

     I'm pretty sure I haven't well explained what I mean but hopefully you'll get the gist.  :)
  • We are creating something today that will communicate to others into the that regard painters are inherently prophesizing. And to add...we are searching an avenue for which to transcend mere mortality when our art continues on post mordem.
  • edited May 2020
  • When your painting is hanging on a stranger's wall and you have extra money to eat out tonight, the painting is done.
  • Is this ear what a finnished ear looks like.
    This is a loaded question but not directed at the expense of anyone in particular.

  • edited June 2020
    To answer the question we would need to see it in the context of the whole painting. It looks like an ear Sargent would have painted. 
  • Pretty sure it's Sargent's ear in his self portrait  :)
  • Its definitely not Van Gogh`s 

  • edited June 2020
    We were right, @ArtGal. It's by Sargent and it is Sargent. Or a bit of him, anyway. I knew I'd seen that ear before. :)

    Having now looked again at the whole picture, I think the ear is finished to exactly the right degree. 
  • MichaelD said:
    Its definitely not Van Gogh`s 

    That's hilarious :)
  • Yeah, not VG’s   Van Gogh cut off his right ear.
  • edited June 2020
    So I hear  :)

    I was going for a little artistic licence for comedic value  :)
  • yes its Sarge..
    My point being knowing what a finnished painting looks like ...I would say this painting not finnished but yet it is. I dont think there are too many people on this forum who could not paint a better ear than that. Its actually pss poor.
    So....knowing when to put the brush down is the lesson.
  • Tassieguy was the first to solve the riddle therefore he wins an all expense paid cruise to Cancun Mexico aboard the world famous ship The Sea Pallette.
  • Not only that but look at how much pure white paint he used in that collar.  I doubt that color was that pure of white in actuality.  
    But seriously, knowing when to digress from what is in front of you makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  
    Maybe a painting is finished when you have successfully brought what is not in front of you into the painting.
  • Here is another example of knowing when to stop and just let it be. The fretting over trivial details.
    This is one of my all time faves even though there are some technical mistakes. For this young woman she is far too complex for mere visual poetry she requires prose unencumbered by ryme. He nailed it in ten words or less.
    Would you consider your painting finnished if you discovered that.....
    The line from one corner of the mouth to the other is not aligned with the line from one ear ring to the other. It appears that one ear ring hanging lower than the other. Bad the point of distraction.
    Her eyes appear so dialated that she must be extremely excited or on hallucinagetic drugs....neither fit the narrative obviously.
    And that atrocist ear. Too big and out of alignment. Total ametuer that ear is.
    And yet it all comes together so confidently that it appears more realistic than lens dependent sources that would not have made these mistakes.

  • edited June 2020
    A cruise to Mexico? Thanks but  no thanks. I'm happy to let you have  the ticket, @Tramontane. That form of tourism has never interested me. Can't inagine anythig worse. Especially in these days of COVID19. But if it had been a first class return ticket on a flight from Australia to the US with a week studying with Mark I may have considered it. I'd like to paint a portrait from photos under his guidance.  :)

    BTW, when are you going to post some more of your work for us to admire, @Tramontane? I want to see what a finished painting looks like.  :)
  • @Tramontane you had to mention the ear didn’t you.   Now I cannot NOT see the awfully large ear!  😀

  • I just started painting six months ago after a fifteen year lay off. Each painting gets better and I am glad I did not show the previous works. I  am working from photo while trying to get it together to work portraits from life.
    Photo projects go on and on...which is what prompt this discussion I started.
  • edited June 2020
    @Tramontane, you are working from photos!!!???

    Now I'm confused. I thought from your posts in the Favorite Artists thread that you frowned on using photos and that you believed it amounted to cheating. Maybe my reading of your posts was incorrect.  :)
  • Thanks for pointing out that conversation and saving me the trouble of re typing my pov here.
  • So, you don't approve of using photos and disparage those who do. Yet you use them yourself. Mmmm.
  • I made a living from tracing photos as a graphic artist back before computer or anything digital. 
    I since have had classic training...teached it and developed my pov...six decades in the making.
    The problem I see time and again is people skip basic drawing and painting and start tracing or copying photos and wonder why their works dont look like sargent. There is nothing original about copying photos. More often than not the images are sterile with impotent mark making as people paint to the flat surface of photo. The practice of drawing and painting from life is the only way to give life to a lifeless photo if you choose photo as resource.
    If all a person has to offer is technical process then the painting is finnished before it starts. 
    Mark Carder is trained from working from life...thats the difference when he approaches a photo resource. 
    When a person traces out a image they skip the investigative process that instills a history and developmental insight to light and form. 
  • edited August 2020
    @Tramontane, I have never traced but thanks for once again offering your opinion on using photos and tracing. I won't reiterate my own thoughts here but refer others who may be interested in the matter to my comments above and here: which boil down to this: the tools we use to help realize our artistic vision are irrelevant. It's the vision that matters. All the classical training in the world and the best tools possible count for naught in the absence of artistic vision which, unlike technique, cannot be taught. Nearly seven decades of looking at and buying art, and more lately, trying to produce it, have lead me to this understanding. Tracing, photography, grids, projectors, classical training ... none of these can replace artisic vision but if they help us realise our vision there is no reason (unless we have fallen prey to purist nonsense) not to avail ourselves of any of them.
  • There are two conversations here....the technical or to trace or not to trace or by any means nessessary and the inspirational ....that being the absolute difference in subject source or real life referencing....the latter being the ultimate artistic vision.
    Two examples of rather dated works from photo. The first is from thirty years ago before any formal college and most importantly prior to ever seeing Rembrandts or Sarges work IRL.
    and this graphite about fifteen years ago.

    These are pictures....meaning they look like something but they have no life in and of themselves...because......the source had no pulse.
    All the works I have going at the moment are photo sourced which is to say it is questionable rather the works will ever have a pulse....and remaim mere illustrations.
  • edited August 2020
    @Tramontane. Those two works are quite good. The graphite drawing is nicely rendered and the painting demonstrates a good feel for composition and colour.

    If I may say so, you seem to have a very severe hang-up about photography. But there is no reason not to use photos as long as we keep in mind that we are making a painting and not a copy of a photo.

     Photography is a wonderful tool for which I am very grateful. I only do big landscapes that take weeks to complete so it is just impossible to do them entirely en plein air. No two days are the same and the weather and light change so quickly and I'm too old to be standing out in the weather for weeks on end, especially in winter.  So photos are very useful. However, I only use photos to remind me of detail. For colour, I make colour notes on site to capture the colours of the moment.  This is necessary because the colour in my photos of landscapes never seems right. And, if I just slavishly copy a landscape photo,  not only is the colour likely to be off key but I also don't get the brushwork and texture  which sculpt form and which, for me, are a big part of the appeal of landscape paintings and what distinguishes them from photos. And I've yet to take a landscape photo and be satisfied with the composition. Things always need to be moved, added or eliminated. That's also part of the process of making a painting. For me, the landscape photo is just an aide memoire.

     I think we would probably agree on a lot about painting if you could get over your photography pathology. And, if you took a more relaxed and tolerant stance re the use of photography, you may just find it a very useful tool as long as you remember that we want to make paintings and not copies of photographs. Good paintings are three dimensional objects in their own right and not copies of anything.  If we remember this then there's no problem in using photos. They are just another tool in our kit.  :)
  • Think about Robert Cottingham, or Chuck Close, or any other painter/artist working from photographs.  It’s just a tool in my mind.  The end result is what matters.  
  • @Tramontane All my works to date are sourced from photographs that I have taken. I like the term you use for photographic source not having a "Pulse".

    I guess when compared to an actual live set up that is true.

    Surely its about the artists interpretation of that photographic source that brings it to life or gives it a pulse.

    Often I take hundreds of photos of something that I intend to paint and when I carefully go through them there will be, at least, one that stands out to me, has some kind of spark.

    To my mind I am not trying to make an exact copy of the photo. For one I don't have the skills of a hyper realist. And I've had feed back from some that they like the fact that its nearly like a photo but not quite.

    I recon thats because in my interpretation I gave it a pulse.

    Lack of space and inconvenience have so far prevented me from working more with a live set up. I do look forwards to embracing that though.
  • Pulse!!   A photograph doesn't stop a pulse it captures a moment in time mid-pulse. Rob's statement "there is no reason not to use photos as long as we keep in mind that we are making a painting and not a copy of a photo." answers the essence of the question for artists. Ultimately it is not the artist who put's the "pulse" in the painting but the viewer.
  • edited August 2020
    That's an excellent way of putting it, @BOB73. It's the viewer that matters. The artist's job is to get the vewer's pulse racing.  :)
  • edited August 2020
    At the end of the day,  I don't think viewers care whether painters these days use photography any more than they care whether Vermeer used a camera obscura as a tool to facilitate the creation of his marvelous works. His camera obscura did not dress and position his models or choose the elements to be included in or left out of his interiors. Vermeer's beautiful compositions, his feeling for design, his amazing paint handling, his brilliant colour mixing ... these are all his alone and the camera obscura had nothing to do with them. Saying his work is not great because he used a camera obscura is just a load of the purest purist hooey. Without artistic vision his camera obscura would have been useless. It would be like sitting someone with no literary artistic vision in front of the best PC loaded with state-of-the-art word processing software and telling them to produce a great novel. Not gonna happen. The tools don't matter. And without artistic vision the best tools are useless. But for the truly visionary artists good tools can facilitate the creation of masterpieces. But they only facilitate. They cannot stand in for true artistic vision.
  • edited August 2020
    I can talk about how I approach painting. I paint from life as much as I can be it a landscape, portrait or a still life. But I have to take help of photos and videos because sometimes it is simply not possible to do it from life.

    To add spark to a painting I trained myself to follow certain ideas. It is not important whether I'm painting from life or from photos:
    1. Lighting: without an idea about lighting there's no spark in anything
    2. Abstraction in shapes: without abstract quality there's no way one can imitate nature. This came through painting more life.
    3. Three dimensional: this is how we see things. When there's no three dimensional things look unnatural.
    4. Although I don't pay attention to these anymore as they happen either planned or subconsciously, values, shapes and color
  • edited August 2020
    That's right, @kaustavM. Photos are just a jumping off point. We don't want to reproduce them slavishly. To do so would be to become merely a human inkjet printer that spits out slick reproductions of even the worst snapshots.  A lot needs to happen in the mind of the artist before a photo can be of any help in the creation of a good painting. 

    Perhaps classical training has left @Tamontane suffocating in the dust of the academy. That's unfortunate, but if photos are of no use to him/her then he/she must paint only from life or imagination and allow others to get on with producing fine art using whatever tools suit their artistic purpose. 
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