How to tell when your painting is finished

I think this painting is finished. But every time I look at it I see areas that I could improve or embellish. Should I continue to work on this painting? How do I know when my paintings are finished?

This is a question that plagues artists. Put another way; how can you avoid overworking your work and ruining it?

“Art is never finished, only abandoned” – Leonardo da Vinci. I have abandoned many works, but mainly because I didn’t know where to take it.

George Braque a fauvist painter and sculptor said, “The painting is complete when the idea is obliterated”. And I think he has hit the nail on the head for me. Most artists will start a painting/drawing/sketch with an idea. Something, whether abstract or real will have triggered a thought or idea that the artists wants to interpret.

When this happens to me I can feel the excitement grow as I focus on the idea, start a new painting and watch as the idea begins to come to life.

However, there are many times the original idea is lost and with it the painting. I will explain this further.

For example, there have been many times an idea I began with may morph and change a little, or another idea will raise it’s head and shift my focus. At this point I find myself working two ideas into a painting and this becomes too much to handle as the ideas don’t gel well. Or a painting begins with one idea and then the idea is replaced with another idea. This creates a problem because the second idea should have started differently and bolting it onto the first idea doesn’t work.

At this point I begin to lose interest as I grapple with trying to bring the two ideas together instead of focusing on the original one. Until in the end both ideas are lost and the painting has failed.

When I started this painting. I had in my head an image, heavy with pattern and shapes. The dress was to be embroidered with patterns and so too was the foreground and background. The female figure was to appear rising, from the ground – rather like Persephone leaving the underworld and Hades.

I began to lose my way when I changed my mind and decided that too many patterns would confuse the eye and decided to create flat areas in the dress and hair. This way the figure would be the focus and not the pattern.

The palette was to be blue and orange and limited to confuse the eye so that the figure would blend into the patterns of the flora surrounding it.

Then I decided to shift the focus of the painting from pattern to colour and introduced green. It was at this point I lost my idea and perhaps the painting too.

I left this painting for over 8 months and then decided to complete it with the second idea and although I filled all the space, I felt I had spoilt the painting.

The areas of the painting that are in line with my original idea, are the parts I like; the upward facing gaze and its central position on the canvas. But the colours and the lack of pattern is something I am unhappy with. It feels as though this painting is the unsuccessful combination of two competing ideas.

But then again I have learned a lot and perhaps “One always has to spoil a picture a little bit in order to finish it” – Eugene Delacroix

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