How do you know when you’re done?

Casual Encounters, oil on canvas © Anne Kullaf 2007

"Casual Encounters", oil on canvas © Anne Kullaf 2007

This close up of the painting shows how detail is implied with loose brushwork--the point is to make each stroke count as opposed to fussing over minute details.

This close up of the painting shows how detail is implied with loose brushwork--for me, the point is to make each stroke count as opposed to fussing over minute details.

I am asked this question by at least one person in every class, workshop or demo that I present. To me, a painting is done when it says what I want it to say clearly and concisely without embellishment, fussiness or extraneous decoration. It isn’t a question that anyone else can or should answer for someone else. As an artist, only you know what you are trying to convey with your work, therefore it is up to you to decide when your painting has effectively communicated your message.

Knowing What Your Work is About

It helps if you know what direction you are going in with your work as a whole. Writing an artist’s statement can help you to identify the concepts that are important to you as an artist.  For example, here is mine:

“My paintings are rooted in the visual patterns created by motion, repetition, color, texture and light. Using these patterns as a point of departure, I attempt to capture the essence of objects and places with a form of realism that is expressive rather than simply a recording of what I see.”

If I am to remain true to my artist’s statement, my work needs to imply detail rather than painstakingly capture every petal on a flower or every crack in a city street. As a result, I try to make each brush stroke count and am conciously aware of the effect each stroke has on the painting–as soon as I can tell a Mason jar is a Mason jar and its filled with water and flower stems, my job is done.

Now, if my goal was to paint photorealistically, the above would certainly not work.  That’s why I say it isn’t the type of question someone else can answer for you.  Take the time to really get to know your own style, figure out what you are trying to convey–once you’ve done this, you’ll always know when you’re done.

Note: The painting above, “Casual Encounters” is available for sale through Trudy Labell Fine Art.

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