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Listening to your art: How to tell when a painting speaks 'Done'.

Updated: Feb 19

One question I often hear is, "How do you know when a painting is finished''?

This question shows how fascinating and complex the art-making process can be. Artists have the opportunity to make something one-of-a-kind that can express ideas and evoke appreciation in others. Completing a painting is not always a straightforward process but that's what draws me back to my studio time and time again.

I find the creative journey most enjoyable, not in the smooth and effortless moments, but when I encounter challenges, grapple with issues, and explore different solutions. The most fulfilling part of being creative is when I face challenges head-on and come up with solutions.

I have a couple of methods for beginning a painting but mostly when I paint I'm drawn to two particular aspects - creating chaos and then bringing order to that chaos. Chaos emerges as I engage in play and, for me, the most rewarding form of play involves experimentation.

I enjoy using tools that add to the excitement and creativity of chaos and play.

When I let go of my expectations for the final outcome, I welcome the unexpected. It's in this space of spontaneity that even the simplest objects, such as a whisk or a kitchen sponge, can create intriguing marks, revealing a world of endless possibilities.

Is it finished?

Deciding when a painting is complete can be difficult at times. Every artist will experience times when they struggle with the eternal question, 'Is it finished?'

As an artist, you are the only person who can decide if your painting is finished or not. At times, I struggle to decide on the perfect moment to stop painting and put down the brush.

A fearless mind set is key to success!

Some artists stop painting far too soon out of fear that they might ruin their work by going too far.

Being brave in the face of making mistakes is crucial when embarking on any creative pursuit. It takes a great deal of courage to step out of your comfort zone and take risks. However, the potential rewards that come from pushing boundaries and putting yourself out there can be immensely satisfying.

Some of my favourite paintings were created because I took a risk and kept working on them until they were just right. After reflecting on the painting below, I found myself hesitating about its finishing touches. I was unsure if it truly captured what I envisioned. This uncertainty made me hesitant about pronouncing it complete because in my gut I knew it did not completely express what I had hoped for.

With 'I wonder why' it was all about reminding myself to keep it simple, to focus on the shapes and how the colours interacted with each other.

The boundless creativity of artistic freedom

Making art is very personal. Every artist has their own unique way of doing things. They put their own techniques, emotions, experiences, and feelings into their work. Whether it's abstract, modern, or contemporary painting, each piece reflects their vision, style, and perspective, which makes it totally one-of-a-kind!

While you don’t need to strictly follow a set of rules or formulas when it comes to creating art, it is helpful to keep some key design principals in mind. There is one rule of composition that I pay particular attention to and that is:


Why not? That's because pictorial elements which are the same are boring and humans get bored very quickly. We dislike monotony and crave variety. We find unchanging pictorial elements uninteresting. A composition needs variation to be interesting but there is a fine balance, as too much variation can cause a painting to lose unity,

In order to enhance the visual appeal of my paintings, I introduce differences to create interest. This for instance may involve altering the size and complexity of shapes, along with how they are arranged in the overall design.

By varying these elements, you can create a more dynamic and interesting composition and at the same time one that is both aesthetically pleasing and engaging.

Often, when I'm immersed in my work, I get into a creative flow, and I prefer not to break that flow by letting my 'left-brain' dictate how much I stick to predetermined guidelines or rules.

Taking a step back

At times, when I look at a painting for a long time, I stop seeing it clearly. At other times, I start focusing only on the areas that I'm not entirely happy with. That's when I need to look at my painting with “fresh eyes” and spend time evaluating it.

Luckily, there are a few ways to do that. I can stop painting and put it aside for a while and come back to it later. Alternatively, I can take a photograph and look at it on a smaller scale. This enables me to gain a new perspective of the painting and identify areas that need improvement. I also find it very helpful to use room visualisation apps that allow me to see a painting in a room setting.

I always make sure the palette works before finalising any painting. When in doubt, I find that looking at a black and white photo of the painting can be really helpful. It immediately shows me if the values and hues are off and helps me make necessary adjustments to create a visually appealing composition.

This simple trick has proven to be useful in my creative process, ensuring that the colours in my work harmonise effectively.

Seeing the finish line

I rely on some key indicators to determine if my work is complete. First and foremost, I trust my instincts; When a painting projects a sense of balance and harmony, it often indicates that it's complete. Yet, as I mentioned previously, even the faintest hint of uncertainty prompts me to revisit the piece. I remind myself that the duration spent on a project is inconsequential; sometimes, the finishing touches come swiftly within minutes, while other times, they may take months.

As the artist, only I know what has gone into my paintings. I'm the only one who knows the convoluted process behind what may seem like spontaneous moments. Only I know how a series of happy mistakes can become the very essence that holds a painting together and ultimately leads to a better painting. Plus, only I know the pivotal element that transformed a piece from one of angst to a state of resolution. Consequently, when it comes to deciding if a painting is finished or not, only the artist themselves can make that call.

Thinking, considering and asking questions

As I near the completion of a painting, I engage in a reflective process where I pose a series of questions to myself. These questions help me evaluate the work and make any necessary adjustments before finalising it.

Some of the questions I consider include:

  • Is there a contrast in value?

  • Do the colours feel connected and complement each other effectively?

  • Does the painting convey a sense of motion through the arrangement of shapes, patterns, colours, or textures within the composition?

  • Do the visual elements indicate a hierarchy?

  • Have I created opportunities for the viewer to pause and reflect on the artwork as a whole?

  • Is there a sense of wholeness in the painting or is there a feeling pulling at me, suggesting that the painting isn't quite complete yet.

Once I answer these questions, I then examine the painting as a whole, taking into account a few other factors.

Here are some other things that I keep in mind

First and foremost, I ask myself whether the painting is balanced and visually pleasing. A painting that feels lopsided or heavy on one side can be disconcerting or distracting. An unbalanced composition invokes a nagging feeling that something is missing. If all the visual activity is concentrated on one side of the composition the viewer has no need to look from one side to another.

Although an asymmetrical layout may require extra time and careful consideration the results can be very pleasing. The resulting composition can be very distinctive, making it more interesting to look at.

The colours should work well together and be harmonious. I look at how the colours interact with each other and consider what is happening with the value, hue and saturation. Colour relationships are key. Clashing colours can detract from the overall message of the painting.

I think about whether there is enough detail in the painting. I always pay close attention to the texture and depth of the painting. For me, it's important that the desired tactile effect has been achieved. I take great pleasure in creating artworks that beckon to be touched, allowing viewers to physically connect with my paintings.

Sometimes, I may need to add more texture or adjust the values within the painting. Other times, I may need to remove unnecessary details to simplify the painting and emphasise the main message.

By keeping these factors in mind, I have discovered that I can now tackle the completion of a painting with a greater sense of assurance. This approach has given me the confidence to trust my judgment and recognise when a painting is truly 'Done'.

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