View Full Version : When to say "it's finished"?

02-07-2015, 06:02 AM
Hi all and apologies if this has been discussed before, I tried looking for a similar discussion but gave up after 80 page loads!
So I've never painted,drawn, sketched or used pastels in 36 years, after poor attempts at school. A month ago I rectified this and now I really enjoy all forms, but pastels especially. My question is when do you decide something is 'finished' and put your pastels down? I've read lots of talk about layering in soft pastels, and adding more and more, but that seems ultimately to be using up the materials to what end? I'm happy with my effort so far, and think that with my limited ability I risk overworking this piece and tinkering too much etc.
For info it's a portrait of Monroe taken from a reference photo on A3 using Rembrandt pastels on pastel paper. Off and on I've spent about 15 hours on it.

02-07-2015, 07:34 AM
For me, I work an image until I can't stand it no more, :lol: I usually just know when I'm satisfied enough to put down my brushes or pastels. Of course, this is very different for every artist, but at some point you have to call it. Personally, I use pastels as a break from the rigors of oil, so I don't like to run marathons with this particular medium. I'd say quit when you're satisfied, but, considering I myself am rarely satisfied with my own work, I imagine other artists experience a similar dilemma with theirs.

Sometimes, it helps to step away for a while, and allow the image to simmer on the back burner, that, and posting it to one of the forums can also help give you perspective and ideas on what might need to be worked on more. But, I say if you're happy so far, it may be time to slap a signature on her :lol:

02-07-2015, 08:01 AM
Welcome, Delacey! There's no image from you, so I hope you get one uploaded so we can see your portrait of Monroe.

As to your question of, "Is it done yet?", I can only say that sometimes I just know immediately when the last stroke is added. Those are the good times! Much of the time I struggle, not sure if a painting needs something more or if I will totally destroy whatever good parts it may have if I keep messing with it. Last night I attended an art opening where I have two pastel paintings entered. One painting was a struggle to complete over a course of many months of working on it, giving up, and then going back to it. In a panic to find something for this show that I had a frame for (!), I grabbed it and added a few strokes and said, "It's as good as I can get it (and I'm sick of working on it)." The other painting in the show was done from a sudden inspiration after viewing online some pictures of ice sculptures. Those were very large blocks of ice in which the artist had frozen masses of real flowers. I wanted to capture that wonderful, abstract look in a painting. So I grabbed a 12" square piece of cardstock and started throwing pastels on it, smearing and rubbing without thought for detail, mainly just putting down color. After an hour, I declared it done. I posted here on WC and received some nice critiques and a suggestion to tone down an area in a corner that was grabbing too much attention. I did that before framing and rushed to the art gallery to get the paintings hung on time. Last night at the opening, each painting received about the same interest and attention, with many people telling me they really liked both of them. Will that translate into a sale? I doubt it, since not much sells from that location. However, the response confirmed for me that both paintings received about equal interest and, more importantly, both paintings were "done." So the moral of my rambling story is that sometimes you can spend very little time on a painting and yet know in your bones it's finished, while others are just a struggle that you keep trying to get right through many painting episodes and still may not know for sure they're done until you see them framed and see that others admire them. One thing for sure, it is extremely helpful to me to get feedback from everyone here on WC! I don't always make the recommended changes, and sometimes viewpoints conflict about what changes are needed to a painting, but I always benefit from having those other sets of eyes, other aesthetic opinions, and the wealth of knowledge from the many artists on WC whose skill and experience exceed my own.

02-07-2015, 09:43 AM
Well said Blayne! I too like to post on WC and actually find many artists inheritly know that we are looking for someone to say "Done" and they do! I love it when I post on one of my WIP threads and someone says "nailed it!" "Frame it!" But I to don't always take the advice and only negative I've had was when someone didn't see that it was finished and no longer a WIP and made suggestions and now it's framed and I see those areas that need a simple change and can't! So moral to the story and message the moderators that you have finished a WIP and they will change it to finished! Still get suggestions for next time but they don't seem to sting as much😁. I read somewhere that you should stop when you feel it is 75% done. That artists over work paintings! I also post mine on Facebook and actually ask people to tell me it's done! This is a cheep way of getting compliments from my non artist friends😉. But it does help to put the pastel down and walk away! In portraits I found I was ruining them by overworking the nose and mouth so I started projecting it or checking it with photoshop like tools (I need to bite the bullet and get the real deal) my colors were getting muddy and while I was trying to fix and area I was really breaking it! Ok this is getting long...one more point...I sometimes find it is when we know the subject to well or intimately that we never feel it is DONE I did a painting of my daughter at the beach and changed and worked on her nose and mouth a millon times but no one ever seemed to have an issue with it on here. It was because I know she has a cleft lip and nose that I was trying to hard to get it just right to look like I know she looks not how it should be in the painting. Ok ow I need help deciding this post is DONE!😉😜

02-07-2015, 09:44 AM
Knowing when it is finished is one of the questions that has perplexed artists for centuries! I don't think anyone has come up with a good answer yet! In my case, and I think many cases, artists tend to go beyond when they should have stopped! If you reach a point where you are not sure what do to next, then stop! If you let the painting sit for a day or to and still aren't sure what to do next - then it is done!

Or not...:eek:


ural jones
02-07-2015, 09:45 AM
I want to quote one of my favorite artist - teachers from the past, Robert Henri.
From his book, The Art Spirit, pg.16:

"The work is done when that special thing has been said."

No one person, except the artist alone can know when the 'special thing' has been said. It is good to think of his quote when you ponder the question.

02-07-2015, 12:27 PM
Ok sometimes I wish there were like buttons on this bc Don you made me laugh out loud!!

02-07-2015, 06:02 PM
If you start looking for something else to do on the painting, stop because you are done!! That has always been my belief, and I live by it. I tell all my students this, it's something I feel strongly about. Almost always, you will overwork the painting if you continue looking for something else to do.

02-07-2015, 06:30 PM
I prefer to err on the side of stopping too soon, especially since all of my paintings that I loosen up more have been getting raves and positive responses. I don't overwork things often and would rather show something that could go a bit farther than overwork it. Fixing something after it's overworked is always a real pain. It can be done but it's seriously annoying.

One thing that helps now is that I sometimes use the Colourist method, in which I don't add the details till last. This does a lot of things but one of them is that when I use that four step Method based on Susan Sarback, Charlotte Herczfeld (Colorix) and others, it has a definitive stop point. That might be putting in eye details, it might be adding a stem, it could be whatever the final small things are that complete it. But doing those details last, going from block-in to some shading to more color nuances to final details helps give a better sense of when it's done.

If something can be left out and the painting still makes sense chances are you didn't need it.

02-07-2015, 06:37 PM
Well I went back to have a look at a couple of things, and made one change that I was pleased with, and then left the piece alone. So I will sign this one off. I'm sure there are things other artists would leap on and improve or adjust, but for my new found 5 week old ability I'm safer leaving it alone now. I don't want to 'fix' things and break them in the process! And thanks folks for your great responses.

02-07-2015, 11:25 PM
Best to do that. If you find out a year later that there were improvements you could make you can always tweak then - or do the same subject again. I date everything and try to improve constantly trusting I paint better than I used to and not as well as I will.

ural jones
02-08-2015, 09:23 AM
Best to do that. If you find out a year later that there were improvements you could make you can always tweak then - or do the same subject again. I date everything and try to improve constantly trusting I paint better than I used to and not as well as I will.

I like that Robert. May I quote you?