When To Call A Painting Finished

10.19.2020

"Art is never finished, only abandoned." -Leonardo Da Vinci

Posted by

Josh Medina

When painting, it can be challenging to know when to put the brush down. Art is often viewed through a different lens than many other professions and has a subjective element inseparable from the craft. Leonardo Da Vinci once said, "art is never finished, only abandoned," which is perhaps one of the most accurate statements ever spoken on the subject.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo highlights how every artist shares their work as a finished piece at some point or another. He also speaks to the fact that you can always push a painting further since perfection is virtually impossible and in the eye of the beholder. In practice, you can always add more detail, strengthen a concept, or push the boundaries of color and composition to enhance a work of art.

While there is no direct way to tell when your painting is genuinely ever "finished," here is a list of practical advice that we've learned along the way to help you better understand where you are in your process.

Step 1: Leave your painting out of sight for several days or even weeks if necessary. You will return to it with fresh eyes and be able to see things you may not have noticed before.

Step 2: Look at some of your favorite paintings that are classically regarded as "masterful." Think about what makes them feel complete and try to identify specific elements that make each piece "finished." Q: Are these elements present in your work?

Step 3: Focus on composition.

Step 4: Ask yourself hard questions that lead to results.

  • Have you accomplished the feeling or narrative you were aiming to portray?
  • Does your composition keep the viewer engaged? Is there a depth of field? Does the composition feel balanced?
  • Are your values correct? (Paintings typically have a variety of mid-tones, shadows, and highlights. Many painters make the common mistake of focusing too much on the shadows and highlights, creating a highly contrasted effect when a large portion of most paintings are typically somewhere in the mid-tonal range.)
  • Does it look great from a distance AND close-up? Do all of the elements of the painting work together?
  • Lastly, is there a "wow factor" or an eye-catching element in your painting?

Use these steps to help guide your creative practice and move towards what's most important. We hope this helps you on your painting journey!

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