When is a Painting Finished?


I posed the “when is a painting finished” question to several friends who are painters. I think it is a question all of us struggle with. It is probably one of the most asked questions I get from participants in my workshops.

For me, the work is complete when I walk into the studio a day or more after I felt the painting may have been done and feel a sense of calmness when I look at the painting again. As with my process, it is something that is very intuitive in nature.

Below are the answers I got from a few of my friends…..

Scherer and Ouporov

“When we both agree that the painting is done. Each of the elements must be in balance and work together harmoniously. One of the great advantages of being collaborative artists is that we have ongoing dialogues and critiques throughout the entire creative process. Even after a painting is “finished”, however, we oftentimes will alter it years after it was created. That is, if it is still in our possession.”

Julian Jackson

“I am never quite convinced that my paintings are completely finished. I am more likely to accept that and move on when the work develops a certain luster and glow, a certain weight of effort. Occasionally, when all of the elements at play seem finally to have fallen into place with some harmony, I leave the studio with a good feeling thinking I am done. Usually the next day, I’m like, what was I thinking? The process of painting for me is very open ended, and seems to preclude endings. I much prefer beginnings.”

Peri Schwartz

“I work directly from life and am constantly changing the things that are in the set up. For example, if I am painting the bottles and jars, I will move their positions or change the color of the liquids. This process can go on for weeks until I find a composition that satisfies me. The problem then becomes: do I repaint the whole composition? At that point I know I am getting close to leaving the painting and calling it finished. It may happen that I get up and realize there is nothing more I can do but start a new painting.”

Erin Cone

“In The Art Spirit, Robert Henri writes “The work is done when that special thing has been said.” For me, the “special thing” is not so much a concrete vision of how the piece must look but rather a certain feeling of harmony, interconnection and balance in which all of the elements in the piece support one another. When the painting reaches that point, I know there’s nothing more I need to add.”

Jamie Kirkland

“The work is finished when I have a specific physical reaction to it… a feeling of overall harmony.”

Chris Richter

“I usually turn the techno music up and dance around the studio.”