Work in Progress – Finishing the Painting

February 12, 2009 at 12:12 am 3 comments

After I’ve filled in all of the obvious gaps and gotten past the worst of the hard part, the next question comes up: is the painting done yet? What more does it need?

When is a painting done?

Well, there’s the famous quote (famous amongst artists, anyway): “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” (Leonardo da Vinci)

I knew an artist in Boston who caught so much flak from critics about his paintings looking unfinished that he wrote his artist statement about how much he likes the raw unfinished look. (It sounded a bit defensive to me.)

It’s up to the artist to decide. There’s no right or wrong answer. It depends on what you like.

Yeah, it sounds simple in principle. In practice, however, it’s another thing altogether. It can be an agonizing decision. I might like a painting as it stands, but then I’ll wonder if it might be even better if I just add a little more? It’s scary because sometimes when you add more the painting loses its sense of freshness or spontaneity. It’s kind of like gambling. When do you walk away from the table?

“Overwork” is a word you’ll hear artists use when they feel that they’ve ruined a painting’s charm by laboring too much over things like small details. I do worry about overworking my paintings (although small details are not so much an issue for me). In my case, it’s more about diminishing returns. For example, I like to have bits of the original red background peeking through here and there, and if I overwork a painting the red tends to get completely covered. So one big question for me is how much of the red do I want showing.


In the case of this particular painting, I decided to let just a little more of the red background show (slightly more than my “usual” amount). The painting felt balanced and I liked the effect, so I decided to let it be. I could have worked on it more, but I’m not sure I’d have been any happier with it than as it now is, so I’ve declared it finished. And I did sign it.

I’ll post more about this painting (with a clean photo) now that it is really finished.


Entry filed under: Landscape, Painting, Process.

Work in Progress – the Hard Part Art for Valentine’s Day


  • 1. bootgun  |  February 12, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Great work here!

  • 2. Work in Progress - the Hard Part « Barbara J Carter  |  February 17, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    […] finishing the painting. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Caleb Weintraub Interview, part 2A List of Things […]

  • 3. New Painting: “Satwiwa” « Barbara J Carter  |  February 17, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    […] 17, 2009 If you read my “Work in Progress” posts (here, here, here, and here) you’ll recognize this painting. "Satwiwa" by Barbara J Carter, 40×30", […]

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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