Is a painting ever finished?

“We do what we do by the light we are given.” My paternal grandmother used to say that.

A fresh batch of homemade buttermilk scones.
A fresh batch of homemade buttermilk scones. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We used to love going to her place on Sunday afternoons. Nan always made scones and there were countless cups of tea in creamy china with a green stripe around the lip. Letters from overseas cousins and interstate aunts were read. We shared the week’s stories and laughed like fun at what had once seemed terribly serious. Nan often laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks. Her laughter was infectious so we always had fun. She was also very compassionate and not afraid to dispense a little advice. But her wisdom is what remains now.

So, “We do what we do by the light we are given.”
This particular saying gave me a great sense of comfort. Despite feelings of failure (mostly as a young parent) I could accept that I had actually made my decisions as well as I could with what I knew at the time.

Literally, in painting we do what we do by the light we are given – of course. But we are also challenged in our perception, our skills and our decision making. None of these and the thousand other factors exist in isolation, but the last of these three is the toughest for me. I think it’s about fear of making mistakes.

This painting April Surge

Philippa Robert, Australia, acrylic on canvas

has been lurking since May and under bubble wrap for the last 6 weeks or so. This is how I left it.

I have blogged about it here and also here …… AND here. So if it hasn’t haunted you it certainly has me. For the Open Studio it was uncovered and out again in the light.

A few brush strokes on that first Saturday arvo. Then the visitors started to arrive. On the Tuesday I was re-engaged. Now I call it finished.

acrylic on canvas, Adelaide South Australia

(it is actually a green painting not blue. Gotta find my white balance setting sometime soon)!

So, what’s happening out there? Is a painting ever finished? As the ‘light’ changes do you start again or rework?

10 thoughts on “Is a painting ever finished?

  1. When you burn buttermilk scones they are burned (finished) when you take a painting too far and it looks like the equivalent of burned you can always go back to square one and repaint it. I have to be very careful not to leave my paintings nearby if I dont’ want to paint over them. It’s more painting over them that I am likely to do rather than doing more to them later. A museum curator was telling me that they now have a policy of never allowing purchased work to go back to an artist because in the past they have sent paintings back to artists for cleaning only to find the works repainted when they return!

    1. I understand this completely. It is tempting to work on a painting until delivery date – so glad they often require an image early on. Our perspective often changes doesn’t it? Painting over is drastic, but definite!

  2. This is my nemesis – as I grow in learning I too often ask my past paintings to grow along with me. Then I sometimes look at a photo of the original and wish I had stopped at that point, but not always – reworking sometimes improves the original. Logically one cannot keep on doing this – it is an obstacle to moving on to new work – but how many of us respond to logic? Perhaps a sale or gifting is the only true completion…

  3. Yes, that’s an interesting way to look at it John. If we are really honest about our stage of learning we leave it and move on. Worth remembering. It is easy to lose sight of the learning side of things, and just focus on getting it right (cover the tracks of my learning). I appreciate your perspective on this!

  4. Your April Surge is superb! I clicked through the links and am in absolute awe of the processes involved in getting to surge v6 and I have so enjoyed listening in on the above conversation, thank you so much!

  5. One of my teachers advised me to take lots of progress photographs. One reason for doing this is to see afterward if there had been an earlier point when I should have stopped. Even if I could not reverse (because the freshness was an essential ingredient), at least I would have the evidence. (Unfortunately, whilst in the throes of painting, I don’t remember that advice.)

    Sometimes (like twice a month) I will revisit a painting that I had called “finished”, but only if there is a really jarring element that I hadn’t noticed before, or a color that deadens instead of enlivens. If that happens too often to the same painting, I have to conclude it’s just a very bad painting and will have to visit the sandman. (sander)

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