People often wonder how does an artist decide if their painting is finished. I think it is very much an intuitive decision but I notice a few consistent things happen with me.
Very simply, I decide something is finished when I don’t have the urge to make any more changes. Most of the time this happens when I don’t have any more questions, such as what would happen if I did this, or how can I make it better? Sometimes it happens because I may have learned something from the process, but I’ve lost interest in pursuing that particular piece, but I like it enough to want to keep it.
This is beyond the stage where I think it is close to being done, but then decide to change this little thing, or that little thing, or then change that big thing as a response to that little change, or where I end up completely changing direction or completely painting over it and starting again!
Deciding something is finished usually takes a lot of long looking. As an artist you are constantly looking at your work while you are making it. You view it up close, from far away, often turning it on its side or upside down for a new perspective. When I finally feel like the painting is done I sit back, usually with a cup of tea, and contemplate it. If I’m not sure, I may leave it for a day or two or more and come back to it with fresh eyes. I pay attention if there is a gnawing feeling inside of me, and try and figure out what that means. On the other hand, if there is that feeling of excitement and I don’t feel the urge to change anything, I know it is finished.
My recent painting is a good example. The painting had gone through a number of variations and eventually became a very minimalist painting. It had the center section where the “water” meets the “sand” but the top and bottom sections were mostly flat color. There was something I really liked about it, so I was trying to decide if it was finished. BUT I had this gnawing feeling inside that it was just too minimal for my liking so I put it aside for a few days.
One night I was watching a film —Leviathan— a heavy, intense, beautiful Russian film, and there was a haunting cliff scene, and suddenly I knew what my painting needed –cliffs! I printed out some cliffs that had made an impression on me from a trip to Hawaii and set about seeing if I could work them into my painting. I knew there was a good chance that it may not work and the painting might fail, BUT, the question was there and it was worth the risk to find out rather than keep a nice minimalist-but-too-minimal-for-me painting.
I drew cliff lines on top of the blue, which didn’t work but gave me the idea for the “wave” lines and made me rework the “sea”. And I painted cliffs down below that were initially way too neat and orderly and made the painting feel too graphic, but once I realized the problem, I was able to work towards what I was after. And the final touch, the loose purple lines, were inspired by where this painting had begun, which was from a photo I had taken of red earth with some lovely purple flowers in Iceland.
Red Beach is finished and I am pleased to say that I am happy with it!