Blog 9 – 23/5/18 (already where does the time go?)

Not so much a blog (which I usually like to be short and to the point) but a researched article on ‘when is a painting finished’


Here we go.


I have decided when I put a picture in a frame I am not going to seal the back with tape until its sold.


The reason for this is that when I look at my ‘finished’ paintings I invariably see a detail or three that needs extra attention; it could be a corrective stroke of paint or sometimes a lot of paint, some added colour or toned down colour here or there, a tweak to add something or take something out, whatever ‘something’ may be. If it’s all taped down, I either need to ignore the perceive flaw which is highly recommended as no one else will probably notice it or I need to remove the tape, wrestle with it as it sticks to my hands and everything else around me and as I am doing this I knock over my water jar and the paint brush in it drops to the floor and rolls under a cupboard just out of reach, then as I bend down from the chair to pick up the brush (which is just out of reach) I hit over some paper which scatters everywhere and as I come up from unsuccessfully retrieving the brush out of breath and, now seething, I hit my head on the side of the table and put my hand on the table to steady myself and put it in the pool of water I created a few milliseconds ago and then, and then, and then; how can so much go so wrong in a short period of time….and I’ve still not retrieved me brush or made the amendment that nobody else will see!!!!!!


This touches on the question ‘when is a painting finished?’, a question often asked and discussed by painters.


It seems, for me, a painting is only finished when I have sold it or given it away or it becomes inaccessible by some other means. This doesn’t mean its finished though, its just in a place where I can’t see it and meddle with it.


I thought I would look up about what other people thought about ‘when a painting is finished’ with some quite interesting results.


Someone said ‘a painting is finished when you run out of paint, sunlight, time, or energy’. I suppose you could add to this ‘or when you drop your paint brush under a cupboard and can’t reach it!!!!’


Some say ‘a picture is finished when you’ve signed it’. This doesn’t do it for me, a signature can be a bit premature, certainly for this meddler. I have signed many cheques in the past and regretted it.


‘When you look at your painting and something is bothering you, listen to your inner voice and consider what could be wrong’. Not sure who said this but sounds a bit Van Gogh’ish to me, he spoke of inner voices.  


Jean Pedersen, a watercolorist, mixed media, teacher and presenter says ‘ If you place your painting in an area of your house or studio where you can see it from a number of vantage points. See the painting with different light, or from a variety of distances and angles or in the reflection of a mirror. If the painting feels right every time you glance at the image over a period of time, then you may consider it finished’ This seems to work as a reasonable measure of ‘finishedness’ (just made that word up, finishedness), but it’s not a flawless measure because you may become so familiar with the painting, warts and all, that you can’t see where else you could take it. Some one else might look at the painting and instantly see something is not right, a third person perspective.


Someone said (that elusive someone) ‘….a painting is finished when a trusted third party says its finished offering a second opinion on the work’s quality and completeness’.


Eric Fischl asks his painter wife April Gornik for her opinion. If she sees problems in the picture, there is more to do. ‘On many paintings, I’m exhausted,’ Fischl said. ‘I’m hoping it’s done. I want it to be done, but I’m not always sure. Every painting I’ve ever done is overworked, at least in some area of it.”


School of Paris artists Alberto Giacometti and Georges Rouault were renowned for never knowing when enough was enough, reworking again and again the same areas until other people (Rouault’s dealer, Giacometti’s brother) physically took the pieces out of the studio.


I reckon the next offering comes from someone like Oscar Wild, Stephen Fry or Frank Skinner ‘it takes two people to make a painting: The artist and someone to kill the artist before he (or she) ruins it’.


Diana Boanas (what a great name!) says ‘I often find it difficult to reach that ‘it’s finished’ moment.  I love the feeling of putting the brush down on completion and looking at the painting without any irritating doubts’. 

Thats OK in that moment but the irritating doubts often come later when the painting has been resting and then looked at again and you start to see little things that you and, probably only you, feel needs doing.


A lot is talked about artists seeking a state of excellence, never being satisfied with their work, always wanting to improve on what they do and, as mentioned, always meddling in pursuit of perfection. However, there are artists who are able to say ‘that’ll do’, ignoring the flaws, the muddiness of the paint, the lack of detail or too much detail, the absence of or too much colour here or there and irritating perspective issues and just move on, completely satisfied with what they have achieved; quite a nice world in some respects, but not one, it could be argued, that is going to effectively and continually improve your practice.


This next quote could appeal to the ‘That’ll do’ fraternity, but equally applicable to all…..New York City painter James Wills says ‘a painting is never done, there are just different levels of done’.


So there you have it,….or not! The debate continues ….when is a picture finished. That’ll do from me.


Cheers all