I know he was a genius but I have to disagree with Leonardo da Vinci.
Apparently he once wrote;
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
…which strikes me as a rather defeatist way of deciding when a piece of work is complete. But if getting started on a blank canvas is daunting, then I’m not the only one who finds knowing when it’s time to stop is near impossible!
A little confession. I’m great at starting projects and not quite completing them; the curtains with the hem still pinned, the work top stripped of old varnish but not yet re-waxed, I’m not even very good at putting my clothes away at the end of the day. What is it about finishing?
Maybe it’s because it feels so complete, so final. When something is finished it’s like announcing in a bold voice “This is now perfect, I can improve on it no further”. And it takes a bold person who is comfortable with that when it comes to artwork!
This has been a week of finishing things. It was the last few days I had to work on pieces before they had to be at the framer ready for the upcoming Spring Studio Show. No pressure there then! And yet we all know how a little bit of pressure in the form of a looming deadline is often the extra push we need to get things done…
On Monday morning I was feeling slightly sick. I knew I had some lovely pieces and yet there was something about them that didn’t feel quite ‘settled’. It’s very hard to put your finger on but I often enjoy the loose beginning stages when you are reacting in a more instinctive way to get your initial ideas down.
But there comes a point where you need a more considered approach to go from ‘in progress’ to ‘complete’. This is also the stage where it can go wrong and you can ruin all the work that has gone before. This can be a matter of opinion – I have been posting daily images on Instagram of my #365create project and one day I posted “this is the day it all goes wrong” and people commented to say they disagreed – they liked it just as it was.
Which is lovely to hear, but you have to get it to the stage where you feel comfortable to present it. Sometimes of course we get this wrong – we are too close to the emotion of the painting and the effort it has taken to get there to be able to see it objectively.
Last month I was talking to a gallery owner who told me about a visit he had made to an artist’s studio to review new work.
A canvas was on the easel, but the artist was unsure; still debating with himself… He asked the gallery owner’s wife what she thought. And as soon as she said “It looks finished to me”, he whipped it off the easel and announced “Well, that’s good enough!”
And it seems I’m not the only one. Also on Instagram this week I came across the work of Linda Colletta when she posted her dilemma about two pieces she was working on, “Think these might be done. No promises”
It was the “No Promises” bit that got me. Because that’s exactly the way it ends… you think you are there. You’ve got a bit too close so you need to take a relationship break and see if something keeps drawing you back.
And this was the way it worked for me. The pace slows right down… I have an old Thai lounging cushion in my studio that unfolds along the floor. It’s just perfect for sitting back and contemplating. And this is what I did. I waited. And then I could see which parts needed adjusting and they moved from uncomfortable to settled and I knew they were finished.
So, going back to Leonardo and his abandoned art? Perhaps he’s right and art becomes abandoned when you have no more to say. Or perhaps it’s like bringing up a child… you do your best, you never get it perfect but at some point they are ready to go out into the world and make it their own. I prefer this way of thinking about it.
Time doesn’t stand still, you have to keep moving things forward. By freeing yourself up from a piece of work it no longer has to become the sole answer, you can move on to another painting. As your work finishes each new painting is ready to go and be part of someone else’s world. This isn’t abandoned, this is set free!
Do you paint? How do you know when something is finished?
Do you ever look at a painting and feel it’s incomplete and the artists abandoned it too soon? Let me know…