Lori Sokoluk Art

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How do I know when a painting is finished?



Two weeks ago, I promised to write about knowing when a painting is finished. I get this question alot from students, usually when working abstractly or from their imagination. What they don’t realize is that the question is just as pertinent when painting representationally.


I ask my students to think about WHY they are painting something - what’s the content? Three people may be painting the porch of an old house, with gaily painted gingerbread woodwork and hanging flower baskets. But the content might be completely different for each one:  one may be interested in depicting the aspects that characterize a particular style or era of architecture. Another may be fascinated by the dappled light and shadow that dances around the filigree woodwork, leaves and petals. Another may want to paint the porch because it is the house that her Mother, her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother were all born in. Those should be three very different paintings!!


Having a ‘thumbnail’ concept (like the ones noted above) in mind can help determine when a painting is done. It doesn’t have to be complex. It could be the glowing red-orange of a poppy that captures your attention. 


You can then step back as your painting progresses and ask yourself “does it say what I am trying to capture?” If a painting is about a spooky house set back behind a dark hedge, the detail on the shutters is probably not important.  If a painting is about the glowing red-orange color of a poppy, the exact shape of the petals is probably not important.


When working abstractly, it can be a bit trickier. The painting may be about an emotion or feeling. I imagine a mental ‘thumbnail’ of what that feels like, then compare with the impression I get from my painting.


None of this precludes looking with a more analytical eye at composition, design, and balance. I always look at how my eye flows through the painting. More about that in another post...

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