I took just one painting class in college — oil painting. I loved it, but had more fun working in clay, and spent many semesters up to my elbows in “mud.”
Years after graduating, when I decided to paint again, I dug out my old oils. They still held magic.
Back then, I was working full time as Creative Services Director, and got up to paint before going to work. That gave me 20–45 min. of painting time about three times a week.
Each day I took a photo of my painting in progress. I liked seeing the painting develop, and knew that I could “blow it” with my next brush stroke. I figured if I had a record of what it looked like when I liked it, I could get back to that stage.
Opaque oil paints are “forgiving” because you can always paint over a passage you don’t like.
Watercolors are transparent, so there’s really “no going back”. Instead we continually move forward, adjusting our plans to make use of any perceived mistakes along the way.
I still take photos of my paintings in progress. I like to see the evolution of paintings — and so do my students.
I am both a “fast” and a “slow” painter. My motto is:
“Get in, Get Out, Step Back, Repeat…”
Basically this means that each brush stroke is done quickly, decisively, courageously … and then I STOP, step back, and look to see what’s happening with the painting.
If I know what to do next, I continue on with this “Get in, Get Out, Step Back, Repeat…” method.
Sometimes there’s a long pause between brush strokes. Sometimes it’s because I don’t know what to do next. Sometimes it’s because there is something else that must be done (dinner anyone?).
Most of my paintings take weeks to complete. Even when I think a painting is finished, I put it away for a day or two so that the next time I look at it I have “fresh eyes”.
This is one reason I like to have many paintings in progress at one time. I can easily switch from one to another if I get stuck.
My students long to see me finish a painting in class. Sigh. They want to know how to know when a painting is finished.
Alas, this is a subjective matter.
Robert Genn, a revered master painter from Canada once wrote: “it is better to under paint by 10% than to over paint by 1%.”
Keep painting. The more you do it, the better you get, and the easier it will be to know when your painting is finished.
It’s an unsatisfying answer, yet true.