Is it done yet?

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We might recall asking this when baking cookies or a cake with a parent.  I am sure you can imagine using that phrase in many different situations.  This month’s blog will continue to focus on art and not cookies, although I wouldn’t mind having a few right now.  But that is another problem.

How do you know when the painting, sculpture, fiber art, etc. is done, if you don’t have a recipe, or pattern to follow?  Students ask me all the time.  It’s a subjective question and answer. 

Is it done when you run out of paint? Or is it when there isn’t any more white space showing? Is it done when you can’t include any more details? Is it done when you have made your work look like it is a copied photograph?

In order for me to know when I am done, I need to know what my destination is before I ever begin. How can I relay my message in the simplest way? Am I accomplishing what I set out to do?  I ask myself this throughout the whole process of creating an artwork.  Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry answer to the question. It is like taking a trip; you have to have a destination and a route to know if you have gotten there.  Sometimes it is fun to not have a plan and just let things happen.  That doesn’t usually work for me though, so I like to know my intentions at the get go.

I would consider myself more of an impressionist artist than a realist.  I do not like when I get bogged down with too many details. I do not believe it necessary to include every blade of grass or ripple in the water to convince the viewer that they are looking at a landscape. If I paint or draw two lines vertically and make them not perfectly straight, and then include a few lines reaching out to the sides from those vertical lines, you may see something that could resemble a tree. If the viewer knows what a birch tree looks like, do I really need to put every single notch in the tree or make sure I include every single black/grey bit in the bark?  My answer is an emphatic NO!  I have to leave something to the imagination.  I want to let the viewer fill in the blanks.

Most artists, especially new artists or those who work only occasionally, tend to work too long.  Often, less experienced artists believe they have to show every last detail so the viewer knows for sure what they are seeing.  This concept has driven many an artist to knives, and scissors. (not for use on themselves!) I cannot say this enough!  Including all the details, will NOT tell you your work is done.   It doesn’t always improve a work or make it more DONE. 

This is one reason I love painting with fabric.  Not only does pattern and color play into the imagination as people look at my work, but they are forced to look closer to understand what they are seeing.  No, I am not an abstract artist, but when I get it right, people will see things I didn’t intend to put into the piece. They see impressions of all sorts of things. I consider my work done when I leave enough not done.  I hope that makes sense.

I am not always successful at knowing when to stop.  If I look at some of my past work, I can definitely see that I should have stopped sooner than I did.

I am working on a fabric painting of birch trees and I have been for some time already. I have gone way too far in the details of the trees and I am very unhappy the way it looks. I should not have made so many tree shapes, all of similar sizes. I have torn off pieces and added other pieces, thinking I was fixing things and making it look better. I only have made it worse. I was trying too hard! When I started this painting, I intended to create a background of Fall colors, giving the impression that the sun was shining through the trees.  I am sure you can picture it in your mind without any help.  Because I over worked the Birches, I see only messy disheveled blobs of fabric.  I kept changing my mind about what was the main subject and what I wanted it to look like. I lost sight of my destination.

I can usually tell when a painting is not going well because every step seems difficult. All artists , no matter what level or medium, reach a point of no return on some work.  When it is time to tear up the paper, rip up the canvas, dump the glued fabric and just start over. Like most people, I am not a fan of failure, but you know that old saying, “We learn most from our mistakes.” I admit it, it is true.

So here is the question again.  When is it done?  When I can stare at my work for ten minutes and be pleased with what I see without wanting to change anything!

Less is more.

Go make art!