How to tell when your Painting is Finished

This is the final post and video in a series on painting a large commission. I have loved sharing my work and process with you and this time I’m excited to share how to tell when your painting is finished.

I will work through adjustments of composition and color as I alternate between pushing the paintings and allowing the paintings to guide me.

First, I added bruised purple darks and shadows to create foreground depth. I worked predominantly with palette knives in this project and limited my colors to muted shades and tones. This gave a lovely softness to the finished paintings.

I almost never work on only one painting at a time. Usually, I work on at least three to upwards of six simultaneously. I make new marks on one, solve issues, try new things and push it further. Then I set it aside to dry and pick up the next.

This is how I carry the progress and breakthroughs from one painting to the next in a lovely cycle of discovery and improvement. And I never have to wait around for paint to dry.

Working with acrylics is wonderful for impatient people!

Working smaller and going back to drawing

The further along I get with the process, the smaller my tools become. Smaller palette knives, tiny brushes, the corner or a rag, for all the tiny details and touches.

Throughout the process I come back to my drawing tools. I use watercolor pencils, graphite, and markers to make intuitive marks connecting spaces and following the threads between my memories and the composition emerging on the substrate before me. This is such a satisfying process it’s hard to describe. It’s more than feeling the hardness of the tool bump over the texture I’ve created and skid through paint that might still be wet. It’s about an almost spiritual connection between what’s happening deep inside me and the outward form taking shape in front of me.

Using Surprise Tools

I adjusted the shapes of the mountain range towards the end of the process to more accurately reflect a real location. I love this combination of reality and fantasy, realism and abstraction in my work.

The original inspiration for these painting was a picture taken by the designer from the property where the paintings would hang.

At one point I rifled through my tools and pulled out my darling little floral FROG. I used it to scratch through some of the texture to reveal more of the layers of paint and collage. Little secret surprises only revealed to those who choose to step closer and learn the hidden secrets of this beauty. This is one of the foundations on which my art practice is built – my fundamental belief that deep beauty is only discovered below the surface and through the scars and pain of life.

So, how do you tell when your painting is finished?

So how do you know a painting is finished? This will look different for different artists depending on their styles and methods of working.

For me it comes through a process of observation and a kind of listening for guidance from both the painting and my intuition. I keep going until finally the voices become still. The composition of marks, shadows and layers finally feels right. I look at the work for a long time. Often I put it away for days or even weeks or months. This breaks the familiarity of being too close to something to see it properly. I know I’m done when I can keep looking at it without any urge to make changes.

I get that feeling of satisfaction, like the final puzzle piece has slotted in perfectly. I can tell I am finished when I love it so much, and I’m proud of it. Then it is done.

Once I’m certain the paintings are finished, I can focus on the packaging. I tidy up the edges, usually with a lick of I neutral battleship grey paint. Then I seal the work and wire it for hanging. Often, I won’t frame larger, gallery-wrapped canvas like these. I recommend buyers hang them unframed to get a feel for them in their space first. Then they can decide on what kind of frame would work best – or whether to frame them at all.

Since this was a commission going to hang in a designer-styled home, the designer had requested they be framed. Simple floating frames are usually the best choice and for these I ordered pre-built frames and assembled them myself. They certainly gave a nice polish to the final result.

A final word on commissions

If you’re curious about how commissions work, take a look at the first video and post in this series. If you’re interested in commissioning your own painting head on over to my website at I have a full page dedicated to the subject – and contact me with any questions you still may have. Getting started really is that simple.

Well, that’s a wrap for this project folks! The paintings are finished and installed in their gorgeous new home. Thanks for following along. You can watch the final video of my painting below. You’ll find more videos and other forages into my creative life in my studio journal.

If you’d like to stay in touch sign up for my studio email. You’ll get alerts to new videos, creative projects, books I’m reading, travel, design, and other delicious creative inspiration.

Bye for now,

Colleen xo

Watch the Video Here


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