Finishing artwork may be the hardest creative stage, especially with abstract art. I often compare it to assembling a jigsaw puzzle, only without referring to the photo on the box. Artists hear the question “How long does it take you to finish a piece of art?” all the time. In one of my last workshops, I was surprised and maybe a bit disappointed that one student consistently felt his work was finished before I felt like he’d even gotten close. Students can be deceived into thinking that teachers usually paint quickly. In reality we are trying to  finish a demonstration painting quickly, just to allow students time to get to their easels.

In the privacy of their own studios, most artists work much more slowly and deliberately than they would when doing a demonstration or teaching a workshop. I was also surprised to see a friend and fellow artist in her studio recently. She pulled out numerous paintings that were mere beginnings; they hadn’t been worked to full completion. Why is finishing so difficult for this painter?

It got me thinking about my own process. I rarely feel I can start the next painting until my current painting is finished. I have the same proclivity when reading books: one at a time. Maybe that is what got me into trouble with my most recent works. I started two at a time.

Trouble on the Horizon

At the beginning, each painting related to each other. But as I worked on solving the puzzle that each work presented, they began to differ. To be fair, I worked on them over the course of 3 long months. I am usually quicker about finishing artwork in a more condensed period of time, but teaching interrupted the time I had to paint.

My challenge was finishing each artwork so that they related to each other and to my original inspiration, without looking to similar or too different. Here are the two finished paintings:

At a certain moment, the painting will shout or whisper, ‘Leave me alone,’ and we must hear, and agree, and give up our active role in the conversation and let the painting speak for itself.

– Bonnie Mandoe

“Wetlands was the first to tell me it was finished. While “Silvery Slough” took much longer! I’ve put together a brief (10 min.) video that shows you some of the stopping points in my process of finishing these artworks. You’ll also see a couple of artists I’m taking inspiration from right now: Felicia Van Bork and Stuart Shils.  I hope you’ll enjoy seeing their work. Shils’ comments on finishing artwork were particularly interesting to me. His photos of work in various stages, and in various lighting are as thought provoking as his writing.

Further Reading

You can read more about finishing artwork in these posts from Art is Truth.

Chime in:

When finishing artwork, how do you know when to stop? Are you like Bonnie Mandoe? Or does one of the other quotes below the video speak more to your process? If you are a collector, do you enjoy seeing photos of artworks in process? Why or why not?


“I let myself have a night’s sleep to work things out… Only the next day do I consider a new painting truly finished.” – Jean-Francis Le Saint

“When something is finished, that means it’s dead, doesn’t it? I believe in everlastingness. I never finish a painting – I just stop working on it for a while.” – Arshile Gorky

“How do you complete a painting, really? There are paintings by so many different artists that are interesting precisely because they haven’t really been completed.” – Peter Doig

“I have to keep working, not to arrive at finish, which arouses the admiration of fools… I must seek completion only for the pleasure of being truer and more knowing.” – Paul Cèzanne



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