Knowing or more truthfully intuiting when to stop painting is one of the more subtle judgements to acquire as an artist. My sense of when a painting is “done” has improved over the years – at least to my own opinions of what is finished – but it’s a new test with each painting.
This mixed media figure caught me by surprise: after working on it as part of the portrait series I’ve mentioned earlier I added a few last details and hung it up to let it rest in the studio. It’s bothered me ever since…
It wasn’t until I looked back at the process photos that I knew why: I over-finished it and much preferred the stage before where the whole composition was bolder and had more power. So, why – why didn’t I see it in the moment?
I’ve been working towards more abstract work with less exact, and fussy, details in favor of more feeling and strength for years now. And, here I am doing the fussy, fussy fiddling at the end all over again. After all, I spent years before that perfecting drawing and seeing skills to faithfully mark down all those details and my hands sometimes betray me if I let my judgement wander.
Both versions have merit, but the earlier stage resonated with me with more strength. This reminds me that raw intuition and bold strokes often carry more power than overworking in pursuit of perfection. Sometimes, messiness holds magic. It’s a constant vigil against the urge to overwork our art. I think it’s a combination of reasons: the comfort of control, the fear of not being understood, or simply the familiarity of detail-oriented habits. I’m working on recognizing it before that critical moment, to know when to stop painting and step away before muting the soul of the work I’m trying so hard to let out.