Thursday, January 28, 2010
When is My Painting Finished?
Six Crimee by Basquiat, 1982, triptych
Our recent discussion raised an important question about an artist’s process in contrast to that of a craftsman. As Denis Dutton put it: the craftsman knows in advance when he'll be finished. For the artist, that is always a big question. Even when you think you're finished, you may change your mind. (Or, in the case of painting, wish you'd quit half an hour ago.)
I’ve been thinking about this. How can I know when my painting is finished? How can any artist know? My viewpoint has been rather simple: your painting is finished when any changes or additions will diminish the desired effect. But, the artist isn’t always the best judge. Commonly, I overwork my paintings and have to force myself to stop.
I decided to conduct an online search to see how other artists decide when a painting is finished. I only found two sites, so maybe you have more information to add to this discussion. Here’s what I found:
Watercolor artist Caroline Buchanan writes that a painting is finished when it comes into balance. When everything is there for a purpose and working together, and when there is not one thing (stroke, object, color) that is not contributing to the whole. That’s a tall order, but something I want to strive for each time I paint.
By contrast, Jo-Anne Sanborn wrote an article listing a number of specific criteria to help the artist determine when a painting is finished. Here’s the list:
1. Is the underlying abstract (drawing) strong and defined?
2. Are the weights (lights and darks) and colors of the painting balanced in an appropriately asymmetrical fashion?
3. Are the shapes of all negative spaces varied and pleasing?
4. Does the eye have visual paths to follow, keeping interest on the canvas?
5. Can you find any walls or other impediments to the eye that shouldn’t be there?
6. Are transitions to and from various parts of the painting seamless?
7. Will the viewers’ eyes return to the focal point after moving around the canvas?
1. Is a color strategy clearly defined and executed?
2. Do either warm or cool colors predominate, with the other supporting?
3. Is each hue consistent throughout the painting?
4. Is any one color too prominent at the expense of the others?
5. Are there any jarring or popping colors that should be eliminated?
1. Does the technique or style fit the subject matter?
2. Does the color palette support the intended mood?
3. Is the light source consistent?
4. Are the cast shadows consistent with the light source?
5. Is the feeling of the painting consistent across the entire canvas?
1. Are the materials used of good enough quality to stand the test of time?
2. Are the painted forms drawn correctly and visually believable?
3. Is the perspective correct and consistent?
4. Has the paint been applied in a uniform and deliberate fashion?
5. Is the painting attributable to the artist through a definitive signature or style?
6. Is there a final protective coating (appropriate to the work) sealing the painting?
This is a fairly comprehensive list and well-worth considering. How do you determine when your painting is finished?