Stop! How to Know When an Artwork is Finished

Stop! How to Know When an Artwork is Finished

Stop! How to Know When an Artwork is Finished

  • On July 14, 2016

By Melanie Bindon, Art Gym Denver

When you spend umpteen hours working on a project, it’s hard to know when to stop. While the process of finishing will look different for each endeavor, the feeling is often the same. Luckily, time and experience make it easier to recognize this feeling. Remember you’re the artist and ultimately the work is done when you say so.


When you’re determining if a work is complete, try stepping away, resting, and returning with fresh eyes.

Then, try the following things to suss out what is bothering you:

  • Look at each component separately:
    • How is the tonal balance? The composition? The colors?
  • What feeling do you get from the piece? Does this match your intention?
    • If not, how can you shift the mood?
  • Change your view: look at the piece in the mirror, placed in a different environment, or in a photograph.
  • Trust your instincts:
    • For some artists, they know a piece is completed when they are ready to separate from it.
  • Avoid overworking:
    • If you’re not sure if a revision is necessary, omit it.
  • Make sure you’re work is gallery ready with all final presentation details like varnishing and framing complete.
  • Accept that it may never be finished
    • Realize that you can always go back and touch up a painting, edit a lyric, or recontextualize a sculpture. In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, “art is never finished, only abandoned.”
    • Embrace the act of creating abandoned work. Each time you balance working a piece to it’s full potential and overworking it, you learn a bit more about judging your progress. Commit to perennially growing from the inevitable.
    • Absorb what you experienced with each piece and move on to the next work.


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“Part of being able to know when you’re finished is not putting too much pressure on yourself. If you mess it up, you can always make another one.”

– Emilio Perez