How do you know when … a painting is finished?

Most of the time, you don’t. Put down the brush. Walk away from the canvas. All too often, you only realise that the painting was already finished when you add those extra tweaks and regret that it looked better before you did so.

On the other hand, it’s tricky because sometimes those finishing touches are the magic that brings an artwork to life. So sometimes you have to take the chance and go that step further. But mostly, it’s a good idea to resist the temptation and wait. Painting is like coffee, it needs to brew. If in doubt, wait. Artist instincts are usually right but they’ll be clearer if you step away and come back with fresh eyes.

While a good number of my creations have a few extra strokes on them that I wish I’d never added, there are plenty of paintings that hang around my studio for weeks or months (and sometimes even years) while I ponder what is missing. Sometimes you just know that “it’s not there yet” (to echo a phrase my boss used to say when I worked as a senior graphic designer and have since said many times to my design students).

And then there are those paintings that you proudly think are finished and then realise that they’re “not quite working for me” (another phrase from the same boss).

Finished Spectre danseur painting

My new danseur creation, Spectre, is one of those paintings that I finished a few times. I began and completed him in the summer. But I initially only shared a detail of his torso on Instagram in August. This first version had a lovely boldness of form but felt too static to me.

Spectre danseur painting early stages

Next, I added more texture to his costume and looser brushwork to the background to accentuate the movement and balance the additional texture on the figure. Thought he was finished again. I shared some process footage of his original evolution on Instagram and received lovely feedback on him in October. I even shared what I thought was the finished painting, hidden at the end of a carousel of close-ups. Turned out he wasn’t finished. He patiently hung around my studio for a couple more months waiting for me to figure out what he needed.

Spectre danseur painting details added in mid-stages

In December, I was working on a flower commission and Spectre kept catching my eye across the studio. In the summer, one of the reasons I decided to create a Spectre-inspired dancer was because I wanted to do a peachy pink painting. I realised I’d been too restrained with my original colour palette and that this painting needed a bit more contrast. Voila! A splash or few of my favourite Michael Harding Kings Blue Light and a few more airborne petals brought the spirit of the rose to life. Amazing how a little bit of vibrant colour contrast can create so much more depth.

Spectre danseur painting late stages but still incomplete

And as he sprung to life, inspiration joyfully danced onto two new canvases. I immediately began work on my next danseur. And on the same day, another. Creative flow at its best. And both of these danced their way to completion without any delays or deliberations. Proof that sometimes you do know instantly when an artwork is complete.

And, since I enjoyed creating these so much, by the time January arrived, I was all fired up to create a few more. Keep an eye on my danseur collection. I'll be adding a few more to delight your senses soon. 

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