Is my painting finished?

Posted on February 17, 2017 | No Comments

How does an artist decide when her painting is “done?” That’s something I definitely struggle with, especially the paintings done en plein air. The painting SESSION is usually done when the light has changed too much, when your painting time is up, or when you are just too tired or uncomfortable to continue. Nature often provides those deadlines. Painting in snow, rain, midday heat can be challenging. Once you can’t feel your toes, you know it’s time to stop!

But the problem happens when you bring the painting back to the studio if it didn’t quite feel “finished” when you hit your stopping point. In plein air competitions, you are not allowed to alter the painting once you leave your outdoor location. But if you aren’t in a competition, that “finished” decision is up to you. Some artists feel fine using their notes and photo reference to work into a plein air painting. Others don’t touch the painting again. Using it only as a study for a larger, studio painting. Normally, I do very little back in the studio. The painting made need just a few spots of darker darks, or a nice highlight. But the painting I posted with this article, just didn’t feel complete to me. I stopped because the light had changed too much, and I was really uncomfortable. I decided to work on it “just a little.” But then it was a little more, and a little more. And then, all of a sudden, it was overworked. I’ve heard¬†that’s it’s always better for a painting to be underdone than a little bit overdone. Although I am in awe of painters who can create super realistic paintings, I am more drawn to artwork that leaves some “breathing room”,¬†drawing the viewer in, leaving it to the viewer to finish the scene in their own minds.

Some artists say that their paintings are only done once they leave their possession. There are stories of artists who are still adding “finishing touches” to their paintings hanging in an exhibition. I laughed when I read a quote that said, “It takes two people to make a painting: The artist and someone to kill the artist before he ruins it.” So true. More than once, while painting with other artists, I have exclaimed, “Oh, this part is just perfect. Don’t touch it!” And more often than not, they do. As so I.

I got some feedback on the painting(s) in this point from a Facebook painters’ page. Most commented that the original study was better. A few said they liked the newer version enough that I should keep it. But I am still not satisfied with it. So I may go fuss with it some more and see if I can rescue some artwork, or it may go into my “abandoned” pile.

Original Plein Air on the left, reworked piece on the right.

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