Often when I am teaching botanical art and watercolor painting, a student will ask me, “Mindy, How do I know if my painting is done?”
This question haunts us all. As artists we probably are hardest on ourselves. We are striving for the “perfect” painting. My answer to that is …. PHOOEY!
Creating art is also about the journey. If I create the perfect painting, I figure my journey is over and I have to go on to something else. There is always something that I don’t like in a piece, something I could’ve done better.
I find that artists that are too critical of their work will become unhappy very quickly and the passion will go dark. I decided I didn’t want that to happen to me so I set up some rules for myself.
If I find that I am spending time in the same spot going over it again and again, I am probably overworking it. (It is like my hair…. Whatever happens in 5 minutes is what it is going to look like for the day. The longer I fuss, it either looks the same or it gets worse…. ponytails and baseball caps are beginning to work for me.) Rather than fester over my work, I either quit for the day or start something new. I leave the piece for at least a day, put it in a drawer and pull it out when I am:
1. In a better mood, had something to eat, played with a cat, walked the dog…
2. Given it enough time so that maybe I forgot where the problem was/is
3. I have had a chance to view it with fresh eyes.
If when I look at it the painting a light bulb goes off and “Viola!. Bingo!. Aha!” I see what the problem is.. too dark, too light….. not enough contrast…… badly drawn etc…. I get out tracing paper and work on a solution before I continue to fester on the painting……
If when I look at it……. I am still dazed and confused….
I am DONE! The solution has to hit me right away and I must have a course of action. If I can’t find that moment of revelation quickly I am done. I accept that this were I am at , at this moment in my journey. I can create many more paintings if I choose to move forward or I could stay stagnate and waste more time on this painting which I am beginning to dislike intensely.
Then I do one of 2 things:
1. If I am miserable….. I rip it up and toss it in the garbage. This way I can’t waste any more time and I don’t ever have to look at it again.
2. If I kinda sorta think it is okay….. I SIGN my NAME to it!!! My rule for myself is that once I sign my work, I am NEVER allowed to work on it again. I am happy to say that I have signed more pieces than I have trashed….. some of them have even gone to happy new owners…. people gave me money for them and I don’t have to see them again either! I have learned that what I like is not necessarily what others like and if I can sell my work, it keeps me painting.
I hope this helps a bit to keep you from overworking your paintings. I have found that the time spent in fussing could have been used to create many more paintings. Remember, it is a journey….move forward!
Do you have ways that you decide if your painting is done? Please share it. I would love to hear from you.
Mindy thank you for posting this 🙂 Perfect timing for me! I'm working on my jasmine flowers at the moment and your information is going to help to know whether each flower is finished! So very hrd to know and i often overwork things and then if i don't overwork; my tutors tell me to use more shading to create more form and tone! So i have to find the middle balance i guess?
Finding a balance is indeed a good thing to find. It is hard to stop the compulsion of wanting to overwork something. The problem is it always looks overworked… better to move on and keep working on things you know you are weak on. Can’t wait to see the jasmine painting!
Hi Mindy; been painting all afternoon and i have been working on the theory of less is more! Still have lots to do and i need to have it in the post by the 21st of this month! Taking a break now and shall look at it later!