Wednesday, August 14, 2019

When is a Painting Finished?

Tree 12x9 Oil
Is this painting finished?  Yes, because it met my goal.
The intention was to paint a tree demonstration on a rainy
day for my students, and that is exactly what I did.

How do you know when a painting is finished?  This is a question students often ask me.  To be honest, even painters who've been working at the craft all their lives still ask themselves this question.  The standard answer is:  When you've accomplished your goal (or achieved your vision), the painting is finished.

That doesn't help us much, as quite often, especially for beginners, the goal or vision is ill-defined at the start.  Sometimes it becomes clearer as you get further into the painting.  But sometimes not.

In my workshops, I teach about capturing the moment.  For me, the moment has much to do with the quality of light in a scene.  To take it further, it has to do with establishing an accurate relationship of the color temperature between light and shadow.   I can establish this early on in a painting, though - quite often right at the end of the block-in and adjustment stages.  (If you've taken one of my workshops, you'll have heard me speak of making your "best guess" in the block-in and then going on to adjusting that "best guess" in the next phase.)

At the end of this adjustment phase, I may stop, if I wish.  Or keep on going.  Basically, at this point  I have a very simplified - yet hopefully very accurate - representation of the scene.  If I want to take it beyond this, I will be moving from the simplified toward the more detailed, like this:


Where a painter stops on this line is completely up to him.  It's a personal choice, usually defined by one's comfort level with the agony of creating detail and the point at which one gets totally bored with the process.

An example of someone working at the more simplified end is Wolf Kahn; at the more detailed end, we have Rackstraw Downes.  You can pick your spot anywhere between them.  My own zone is somewhere along the middle.

Wolf Kahn · "Heavy Haze of a Hot Summer's Day."
1979. Oil, 27.50 x 37.5 inches.

Rackstraw Downes, “Under an Off-Ramp from the George Washington Bridge”
2011. Oil, 26 x 56 inches


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