Ever find yourself hovering over your artwork in that final stretch, muttering “Am I really done? I’m not sure I like my painting – I think it needs something…more!” Then continuing to paint over the hard work you just spent hours creating? *Gulp*
Well, trust me, I get it! I’ve been there, too – multiple times! Honestly, knowing WHEN to put your brushes down is one of the hardest lessons to learn in painting.
I’ve spent years trying to learn this gut-wrenching lesson. Many moons ago, my former art director at Art In Motion (take a look at my style back then–it’s vintage!) had some wisdom around this subject. He told me that the *feelings* we have while creating art show through in our finished paintings. So, if we're frustrated, disappointed, or insecure about our art (aka–we can’t stand it), our customers aren’t going to like it much either.
Wow! Talk about pressure!
Painting can be stressful enough when we don’t trust our process and are lacking confidence in our art. But now we have to be concerned that others will feel that lack of confidence too? Seriously!?
Are they really going to know we hated creating that landscape? That we painted the background over a million-gazillion times? That the mountain range is a thick blob that covers all the trees we messed up? It’s hard enough to finish our art without that kind of pressure!
So, where do we go from here?
First, understand that just because you like your work (and that’s the goal, FYI), not everyone will. And that’s okay, not everyone has the same taste! We don’t want to live in a world where we all think alike, right? You love chocolate ice cream and I love vanilla, it doesn’t mean that either flavor is bad.
So, back to the main question – “how do we know when our painting is finished?”.
The short answer is: if you like it, it’s finished. That’s what my art director was trying to say. If you bring your art to a point where YOU like it, others will too. And you know what? I’ve lived by that rule for over 22 years, and it’s helped me confidently finish every one of my paintings!
So, what’s my secret? How can I possibly like every painting I create? Well, let’s be real. I might not be a fan of every theme and style that I paint (I do paint a lot of commissioned work), but I always *like* my work when it’s done. By that I mean, I’m confident in knowing when my work is complete that I painted it to the best of my ability. Yes, practice comes in handy.
But I’m also human. I face many challenges in my painting too. However, I’ve learned to stop adding brushstrokes for the sake of adding brushstrokes. You’ve heard the acronym K.I.S.S., right? That applies here. Knowing when to put your brushes down and stop painting is key.
Keep It Simple, Stupid.
This applies to any art style, regardless if it’s ultra-realistic or heavily detailed. Think of it like being at a party and everyone’s getting ready to leave. You want to get a vibe for when the party is over. Don’t be the straggler who overstays their welcome.
Your art is your party. Look for signs when the end is near. Have all the spaces been filled in that you wanted filled in? Put your painting down and look at it the next day with fresh eyes. Perhaps you’ll rethink that swash of paint you were going to put down. Have a few friends look at your art and get their response (feel free to only use the constructive criticism you want. That’s your right!).
If you find yourself questioning whether you should keep painting (keep hanging out at the party) or be done, the answer is probably *it’s time to say goodbye*.
You can easily get to a point of no return and end up ruining your work. I know!
One way to get better at trusting your gut is to ask yourself, “does my painting look good enough? Does it capture the vibe, the mood, that I was aiming for? Are others generally happy with it?” If so, put it down and walk away. YOU. ARE. FINISHED. You might not necessarily love it, but you’re building confidence in knowing when to say when. And that is something.
Confidence goes a long way here. If you can gain trust in knowing when to stop painting, that’s half the battle.
People will sense that *feeling* of content in your work, even if you had other struggles in the process (which we all do!).
But at least your painting isn’t overworked, soiled, and overtired from hanging out at the party too long!