I have been battling a variety of physical complaints this week that have kept me close to home and more inclined to sleep than paint.
However, I did go to painting class and today went to the TRAG gallery where I put–what I think is–the finishing touch on my newest piece: “Sizing Up the Competition.”
While there are many difficult stages in the painting process, I think the most intellectually challenging stage is figuring out when enough is enough.
It’s a common problem. I’ve heard a number of successful artists talk about this challenge.
“Overworking” a painting is a common mistake. It’s when an artist goes back and tries to fix something… and fix something… and fixes it again until the purity of the brushstrokes are lost.
Additionally, artists are always learning. I’ve heard authors with a long print history talk about the benefits or drawbacks of re-editing previously published pieces. On one hand, it was the story they want to tell then and the best they could do at that time; on the other, time has marched on and the author has learned additional lessons.
I’ve sat in critique groups where painters brought in paintings years old that they were still thinking about changing. While I see their point, I have often advised to start over; why battle with the mistakes of your past self? If a piece takes more than about 6 months to finish, I think you’re done. If you are still interested in the subject, start over.
The other extreme also has it’s merits: “It’s done when I say it’s done.” And into a drawer it goes.
For me, my best paintings have a lot done quickly, then months in critiques making minor changes. Patricia Schmidt describes this process “tiptoeing”. It’s a good description.
This painting has sat on my wall for two weeks and each time I passed it I thought to myself, that spot (the small dark triangle on the upper mid painting) needs to be darker. Today, I made that change. It took less than five minutes and it improved the painting so much.
I still think the grey’s nostrils should be darker, but I’m going to think about it for a couple more days to be sure. Then… well, you never know. I might call it “done.”