How do you know when a painting is finished?

August 1, 2007 at 2:58 am 4 comments

Last week I crowed to a good friend about two paintings I’d just finished.

This friend knows me a little too well. His immediate response was “did you sign them?”

Uh, no.

Signing a painting is, for me, an irrevocable step. It is the point where I say “This painting is absolutely complete. There is not another brushstroke that will improve it.”

That’s a very hard statement for me to make!

I know I’m not alone in this difficulty. Many artists have trouble knowing when their paintings are finished. It’s easy to tweak this and go back over that. “Maybe just one more stroke… well, maybe two…” At some point you just have to say “enough.”

Leonardo da Vinci said “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Barbara J Carter signing a painting

I find signing to be quite challenging. Most of the time I paint with big brushes and large luscious gobs of paint. Signing, on the other hand, requires very fluid paint (I use a special liquid paint just for signing) and a very steady hand. I use a tiny brush called a “liner” for signing. I’ll save up several finished paintings and sign them all at one go, for efficiency. I have to carefully mix a color for my signature for each painting so it will show up against the multi-colored background, yet not interfere with the overall painting. Signing is a tricky business! Which is just another reason to put it off, unfortunately.

But yes, I did finally sign those paintings. After adding a few more brushstrokes…


Entry filed under: Painting, Signature.

My Brushes The Foothills Paper – July 13, 2007


  • 1. vyala  |  August 1, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Barbara, like your very personal style very much – especially your paintings about the Californian hills.
    Also I realized that your working place seems to be so orderly and clean and well organized – just the contrary to what I often see (I wrote a little rant about it on my blog – in “a painter’s consumerism”) – there is no usual chaos – must be the scientific heritage of your past life. This is refreshing to see!!

  • 2. barbarajcarter  |  August 1, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks vyala. In fact the rest of my workspace is not quite as neat as it appears in the photos. But I will confess to a certain manic obsession with having my paint well organized. I use a very limited palette and simply can’t afford to run out of a critical color.

    Your work, by the way, is lovely. I wish I could see it in person.


  • 3. Work in Progress - Finishing the Painting « Barbara J Carter  |  February 12, 2009 at 12:18 am

    […] When is a painting done? […]

  • 4. Lisa Berry  |  August 31, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Hi Barbara, I agree it can be hard to call a painting done. I find lately that I start getting an urge to sign at about the 97% point, and I’ve allowed myself to sign while still adjusting the work. Takes the pressure off the signature event and allows me to start disengaging with the piece so I can move on. -Lisa

Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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