Boy oh boy, I’m looking forward to my wife and son coming home from Oklahoma tonight! They’ve been gone almost a week which has given me time for some projects around the house that don’t involve them: the lawn of course, painting the outside of the house, cleaning and spray painting the outdoor lamps, I cleaned inside the house as well, started a couple new projects, and have made some progress catching up on the TV show Dexter (“Take it!”). The only problem has been that it’s rained for the past 2 days straight down here in the Sunshine State, leaving the house half painted. The beige color looks better than the dirty white that it had been, which reminds me; if you’re strapped for cash like I am check your local city hall. I got 10 gallons of outdoor house paint free. Thanks Oakland Park!
So those two projects I started… I bet you’d like to know about those… well that’s too bad. Today will provide some answers to the ago old question (that I posted last week), “How do you know when you’re finished with your art piece?” I extended this questions to people on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. In total, I’ve gotten around 10 responses! I am so thankful to everyone who contributed,”I totally dig you!”. If you’d still like to contribute your methods for how you get a piece “finished” and be dug by me, please share your 2 cents.
I’ve struggled with different manifestations of this question in EVERY piece of art I’ve made – “How do I find the sweet spot between ‘haven’t done enough’ and ‘done too much’?”, “Am I just knit-picking the sculpture now?”, “I’ve been working on this for the past 3 hours and it barely looks any different!” and on and on and on. Suffice to say, I’m blogging about this topic because I NEED an answer for me! I’ve worked on some sculptures that took hours and other pieces that took months. The Blue Dragon and Stranger bust in my portfolio page took years.
Apparently, there’s no one right answers to this question, it’s very personal. Remarkably, all my searching, kept bringing be back to the same answer from the famous abstract expressionist painter, Jackson Pollock. After being asked how he knows when his art is finished, he said, “How do you know when you’re finished making love?” (you don’t have to answer that). His point is that there is no definitive answer. Some artists go their entire lives never really truely feeling a sense of being “finished”. Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss artist who was notorious for unfinished pieces and reworking his sculptures until there was physically hardly anything left. Georges Rouault burned over 300 paints towards the end of his life specifically because he felt he would never have time to finish them. With your help though, I have discovered that there are a good deal of common answers, and then other concepts I hadn’t considered that I look forward to trying.
If you struggle with when to call you’re art “done” you are not alone. Every single artist faces the internal back-seat nagging, “Are we there yet?” The folk who seems to struggle with this question the least are the ones with a system. Whether they have arrived at their system through experience or some form of OCD, they are the only ones who have expressed that they absolutely know when their art is positively done. If you’re reading because you want specifics on how to finish a piece, I found that the website Draw and Paint in Your Pajamas – The Complete Art Course offers online courses. They describe some specific steps you can take to finish a piece that, for one reason or another, isn’t quite right.
- Step back from your artwork, hold your hands up and block select portions of the piece. If you reach a “calm” feeling while you’re doing this, it may mean that you’re blocking out one of the problem spots. This method of inspecting your art may also bring certain things to you attention you hadn’t noticed before, because you’re viewing it in smaller bits.
- Consider, as you inspect your artwork, which stage of the process is bothering you. Break down the piece into the separate skills you used to make it.
- If you at a stage in your artistic life where you don’t trust your abilities. Have someone else look at it and be prepared to accept advise for improvement.
The idea behind the above steps is that the piece of art will bring on a feeling of “calm” once you’ve completed it.
Besides the artists who utilize a system, there are artists who describe that their art speaks to them and tells them when it’s done. Although I wouldn’t put it past an “artist-type” person to literally hear their art talk, I believe in most circumstances, it’s more metaphorical than literal. It caused me to consider though if art has spoken to me. There’s art that I like and other art I find to be…ehhh, but it seems the magic of speaking art remains elusive to me. I did some research trying to discover HOW art speaks to people, yet each answer is as metaphorical as the question itself. I consider that maybe the idea that “art speaks to me” is a romantic/spiritual way of saying “I like it”.
By far, the most common answer I’ve gotten for how artist know when their work is done is to merely to set it aside; aside and out of view for a while. I’ve utilized this method myself. The idea is that when you come back to it, you’ll see it with “new eyes” and view it differently than when you were working on it and staring at it, day after day. In this way you’ll see problems with the piece you hadn’t noticed before, or you’ll just like it that way it is. My problem with this method and others I’ve tried is that, deep down, I still wonder if it’s really REALLY finished.
Whether you have a tried and true system of finishing art or the art itself tells you it’s done, if you just set it aside for a while or allow another person you trust to determine if it’s finished, it looks like ultimately you’ve got to flip that “finish” switch in your head. Unless art is just your person hobby (where you have all the time in your life to work on a piece), you’ll need to be able to perceive your art as finished (or it’ll drive you crazy and possibly ruin your art). My own conclusion is that unless you follow some sort of art “recipe”, art is never really finished. “Finished” is a matter of perception, and perception is not reality (but we usually do try to get our individual perceptions as close to reality as possible). You may find you’ve finished the school system, but you’re never truly finished learning (although some people perceive that they have). You may have finished doing the laundry… but what about the clothes you’re wearing?! “Finished” is truely just an idea in your noggin.
If you have further trouble determining whether or not your art is finished… show it to me! I won’t take it away or call it my own, but I’ll offer what I can to help determine what’s lacking (if anything). Otherwise, the following are some of the people who offered-up their wisdom, in their own words.
Thanks guys! I really appreciate your help.
Adam – When I start painting, I usually can see the colors filled in. It is strange, like my mind goes ahead and fills in the color and I just go through the mechanical motions of applying it. I also carve stone, and it is the same way. I see the finished piece, almost trapped in the sandstone.
Colin – If I’m not happy with it, I’m not done.
Krissi – I usually stop when I either hit a deadline, it stops speaking to me or I plain old get sick of looking at it. However, I have had a few pieces where my fans told me it was “done.” I think I have only ‘overworked’ one painting.
Jenn – I’m really anal retentive about my Bright Eyed Creatures and each creature is made the same way every time. Dragons are done when the legs are done, and the tail is in it’s final position. Imps are done as after they have faces. All my other work is done when it “looks” done.
Patrick – I find that when I “feel” finished I put the piece in another room I try not to look at it for a week. Then I take a look, if it makes me smile I leave it alone and put it on the market. If I have to study it for more than a few minutes…it’s back to the studio and try again.
Matt – How do i know when a piece is finished? it’s actually a really tough question. i think as i work, i’m reacting to what i see and responding to questions i’m not consciously aware i’m asking. “is this believable?”, “if not, why?”, “what more could i do to heighten the believability?”. but then there’s also the trick of being able to recognize when it’s time to put down the tools. but really, when i get toward the end of the process, i just keep looking and reacting and fixing until when i look, nothing seems to need fixing. it doesn’t mean it’s a masterpiece or anything.. sometimes it’s done, nothing needs tweaking, but the piece is a miserable failure. i guess that’s my 2 cents for the moment. if you asked again tomorrow, i’d probably have a different answer..
Jeanell – her artists I’ve known have said that a piece of art is never really done, it’s just set aside until the artist is ready to work on it again.
Kristin – I think one of the most difficult parts of being an artist is knowing when a piece is finished. Generally the best thing to do is get some criticism from others and/or put the piece aside for a bit. Look at it occasionally and see if there’s anything you’d like to change. Sometimes after you’ve focused on one piece for a while, you need some “time off” to tell if it’s really done.