Starting a painting or drawing or sculpture is difficult. Most artists will tell you that the blank page or space can be daunting. Sometimes I feel like that blank canvas is sticking its teasing tongue out at me saying “na na na, come and get me!”
When I finally start making motions and marks, I almost get into a trance. The fear evaporates and instinct takes over. When I’m in the groove of things, anything is possible. Then comes the end. But is it the end? Is it over yet?
How do you know when to stop?
Well, here are a few tips:
Perspective: You should be doing this throughout your creating process, but you need to physically stand away from your work from time to time. I know that I tend to get about an inch away from my painting when I’m really into it, and I get way too focused on one spot to see the bigger picture. Take a few steps back, and if space is limited in your studio, take your work out into your living space or somewhere with different lighting, and look at it from a different angle. Maybe even leave it in the living room and go through your day, glancing at it as you pass by, and see what jumps out at you.
Clarity: In both painting and drawing, when there is just too much on the canvas or painting, things start losing their shape. I’ve erased and redrawn, and erased and redrawn, until I’ve literally torn through my drawings. It was probably time to stop about four erasing sessions ago. If you are painting and you’re starting to muddle your colors together, especially when using oils, you should probably give it a rest and come back to it later.
Thickness: This ties in with clarity, especially when painting. Some of my acrylic paintings have dried and unfortunately revealed cracks in places where I know I went a bit overboard on the correcting and changing and layering and correcting and changing… Acrylics will crack, oils will never dry, watercolors will seep, pencils will carve into your paper, and charcoal won’t stick to your surface anymore.
Opinions: It’s definitely difficult sometimes to ask for others’ opinions on your work, especially I you aren’t sure it is actually finished yet. I won’t say there is no harm in asking for someone else’s opinion, because if you’ve spent some 6 hours on a work and you get critiqued, it can definitely be hard to accept it as constructive and just see criticism. On the upside though, sometimes someone else’s words can be just the right dose of approval to give you the confidence you need to say that you’ve completed your work with a job well done. We’re hard on ourselves, because we know what went on from beginning to end, but to the eyes of another the process isn’t necessarily part of the final picture. Unless of course they’ve been around you each time you erased and corrected …
Feel it: Don’t forget to give yourself the credit of knowing what you know. If you make a mark on what might be a completed piece and it feels, well, just wrong … then stop! Ask yourself if you’ve achieved what you were trying to get at. If the answer is mostly yes, then you should probably call it a day. No one knows your artistic practice better than yourself, so trust your gut.
And finally, don’t forget it’s not over ’till its over… You can always come back to your work in the future and make some changes and upgrades if you want to.