When to Stop

“A work of art … is never really finished; it is abandoned.”

Brooke McEldowney

I love this quote – it’s so true. The hardest part of making art is knowing when and how to stop. Especially when you reach a point in a piece where you really like it but feel something else needs to be done. How often do these next steps spell then end of that piece? Eventually one gets timid and the pile of almost-finished pieces grows.

You may have heard the advice that when a piece is 75% complete, it’s done. Of course, the challenge is that it’s impossible to tell when that point arrives because it implies you know how much further you could go. The optimist in us believes that a few more little changes will make all the difference, while the pragmatic side of us wonders if we should just leave well enough alone.

In many ways I think it has become harder to know when to stop. Less representational work doesn’t give us much help in knowing when we’ve achieved a sufficient likeness. If your work involves digital tools, there are so many and so many capabilities, that the possibilities become endless. For photographers, in the old darkroom, there was only so much you could do with the limited tools you had. Now, one can go on and on, endlessly tuning, tweaking, testing, twisting… It takes a lot of discipline and good judgement these days to know when it’s done.

Like much of modern life, we have more possibility, more capability and more complexity in the art world these days. Not sure that’s better, it’s just the way it is…

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4 responses to “When to Stop

  1. I love the way the figure is up against the edge of the piece – like she’s trying to find a way out of all this complexity. The human condition. Life seems to come at us in this demanding way – the complexity in the art world you speak of reflecting it.

  2. Great composition, bob! I wonder what dimensions, and what is the support ? Yes, digital art could be great and I do myself have a few ideas… but all that technology doesn come free… for me, a plotter (or one of those “giclee” ink jets) are out of possibilities… But if I win the lottery I will make myself a great studio with the best computers and plotters and a lot of space and light and big big canvases…

    I think that you have to finish in a jolt, not to be timid for a few minutes, to do your finishing idea in a split second… But to cumulate the energy and the determination for that is the problem… That’s why, effectively, exceptional stuff is really rare… And so are very good artist like yourself and susan (no kidding)…ok, and like myself… Each of us are, in our special way, different and alike…

  3. I also like the composition of the piece, It has the figure touching 3 edges. The more colorful part seems like the negative space, that’s a cool effect, with the white texture overlaying and seeming to mute the color and creating shapes in it.

  4. Bob,

    I read your post a while ago and it’s stuck with me. I find myself thinking about this a lot as I’m painting (or working on a graphic design piece even). When to stop? In the moment, it’s hard to tell – I don’t want to push it till it breaks. On the other hand, while painting, I like to finish a painting as much as I can, when I can (I don’t have a lot of time to paint with a nearly 2 year old and full time job.).

    Anyway… I was thinking, here is yet another technological tool to use. I came across another artist who took a video of themselves painting, then played it backward (I suppose you don’t have to play it backward). I took the playhead and manually moved it back and forth with the mouse – I saw fairly quickly a brushstroke by brushstroke replay of the painting.

    I could see if I used this in my own work, I might find the aha moment when that painting that was going so well, was ruined. It might not do you much good after the fact, but you never know.

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