I was in a class several years ago in which another student complained about painting abstractly because she didn’t know where to stop. She said when she worked representationally, at least she knew when she was done — for her, it was when the painting looked like the thing she was representing. Of course, it’s not as simple as that for many representational painters, but often it seems when one is just starting to draw and paint, success is measured by how close one’s piece gets to looking like the object or scene one is depicting.
It’s so different when you give up representation. The answer to the question, “how do you know when you’re done?” becomes more elusive.
Is it when you achieved what you set out to achieve or perhaps when you discovered something you didn’t know you were looking for?
For me, it’s a bit of both — I like to keep my goals pretty loose so that I can explore an area of the process of painting that fascinates me (like color), and still discover something new in that process.
Sometimes — in a glorious moment — a piece just comes together. Everything seems to work — the colors sing, the composition works, the texture and brushstrokes are interesting and well-integrated. One more stroke and you could really lose it.
At other times, there’s something not quite right that keeps nagging until you figure out how to make it work. I had a wonderful moment yesterday when I reworked a small painting from earlier this year that never really sparkled, and suddenly, I got it right! Oh, the thrill!
Sometimes though, I lose interest in a piece before I feel I am done…and then it may languish in my studio until I regain interest and work on it some more, possibly finishing it…or it may just be added to the stack of unfinished pieces.
What about you? How do you know when your piece is finished?
It’s been 3 years since I left art school. I’ve been painting and drawing nightly for a while — it’s amazing how I’m starting to really ‘get’ some of the things I heard in art school, but somehow didn’t make it all the way through from my ears and eyes to my brain to my hands and brushes.
It was such an immersive and exciting experience to be in art school in Chicago, always doing, thinking, breathing, reading, seeing, smelling, tasting art, and always surrounded by others like me. At times it seemed like I was experiencing a sensory overload – I was like a kid in a candy store – there was so much I wanted to do and see – so much I DID do and see – our museum (hundreds of times), other museums, galleries, artist talks (like Ross Blechner and John Cage), school art openings and art openings in galleries, participating in some art shows, art camp at Oxbow, watching the beautiful iron-pour from the roof of the painting studio there, the sunset over Lake Michigan just like the painting we had seen in a slide just days before, parties, cheap dinners at great ethnic restaurants, a few nights out on the town, listening to great Chicago Blues, the occasional movie, the zoo, free music at Grant Park, riding my bike along Lake Michigan, riding the El, sliding on ice, trying to drive through snow. Getting in touch with the language and culture of my ancestors (which is so easy to do in Chicago, and so hard to do in Texas); having gobs of friends of so many ages from all over the world.
Lessons Learned (Belatedly)
With all that going on, plus full-time classes and part-time working, it’s great to discover years later that somehow the lessons I kind of missed then were planted somewhere inside that didn’t manage to get lost.
Simplify! Simplify shapes, strokes, colors.
Use any color you want for anything – experiment, see how far you can go — it’s your little painted world, after all. Why be constrained by the colors of reality? OR, why not aim for the colors of reality, if that puts lead in your pencil, so to speak.
Enjoy what you do…don’t let it get tedious, don’t have shoulds or should-nots (hmmm, is that a ‘should-not?’); explore, discover, expand, have a blast! Allow yourself to be filled with the excitement of enjoying and immersing yourself in the process and the moment…get lost in your creations…