Today's question came to me via a DM on Twitter and it comes from Charlene. She asked, "Dear Carl, sometimes when I work on a painting, I can't tell when I'm done. How do you know when your paintings are done?" That's a good question, Charlene, thank you.
The truth is, like everything, the answer is both easy and complicated. The easy, it's done when it's done. There are pieces that I've done and it's just painfully obvious that it's complete, the image is there, the background is there and I've said what I wanted to say. But then there are other pieces, perhaps more complex ones where the finish line isn't so obvious. I'll explain:
I assume most artists are like myself, tending toward perfectionism. When we approach the canvas, we aim to do our very best work, every single time. We want to create masterpieces for our fans and collectors, not to mention ourselves, we don't half-ass it, so to speak. Sometimes, that drive for perfection can obscure the moment when a piece is done. There's a fine line between that final touch that will really transform a work from a nice little painting to WOW! Because we're always reaching for the WOW, we're tempted to keep going, to add that one more stroke, one more shadow, a little more here, a little more there. The problem is you can do that too much and then you ruin the entire thing. I know, I've done it.
So how do you avoid that? I think it comes with experience. There's a voice in my head, and I suspect in the heads of other artists, that asks, "are you sure you want to do that?" When you hear that voice, listen to it, it's telling you that the piece is done. Put down the brush, walk away. It's like when you were in school. Remember studying for an exam and there comes a point in time when you just put the book down because you know you've crammed in as much as you're ever going to? It's like that, your gut tells you, and like everything else, going with your gut is a good thing.