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How to Finish A Painting

January 31, 2011

I spent last week in Nashville, trying to finish the “Concourse of Angels” painting (see my unprofessional photos of the painting below). I worked all day for seven days. By the end of the week, I thought the painting was done. Kind of. In my experience, you have to leave a project alone for a while before you can see it objectively. Now that I’ve left Nashville, I look at my photos of the painting and I can see things I want to change.

It can be frustrating trying to finish a work of art. Many times I have considered a work to be completed, only to realize after it has been photographed, exhibited in a show, and/or put on my website, that something still bothers me about the piece. And so I work on it some more, have it photographed again, and hope it doesn’t happen a third time. People ask me all the time, “How do you know when you’re finished with a painting?” The answer is: it’s finished when there’s nothing about it that bothers me.

Here are a few tricks of the artist trade to determine if a work is finished:

1. Leave for a while. Come back and look at it hours later with a fresh eye.
2. Try as many different lighting possibilities as possible. Look at it under bright light. Look at it under dim light. Look at it under cool, natural light. Look at it under warm, incandescent light. Look at it under halogen light and maybe even under florescent light.
3. The distance test. Look at it up close and far away and in between.
4. Photograph it and look at the photograph. I can’t tell you how many times I have discovered changes that need to be made when looking at a photo of the work. Most people won’t ever see the original anyway–they’ll only see derivatives of a photo, whether it be in print or digital form.
5. Turn it upside down and sideways to see how the abstract elements interact.
6. Look at it through a mirror. This is particularly useful for portraits and faces–errors and exaggerations can be obvious in a mirror image.

As I look back through my paintings, there are a lot of things that bother me. For one reason or another I’ve had to let the paintings go too early. Had I applied these tests to everything, I’m sure I would have been happier with the results. Hopefully this information will help someone out there to not make the same mistakes. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy these photos of an almost-finished painting:)

Concourse of Angels (almost finished), by J. Kirk Richards

Detail from Concourse of Angels, by J. Kirk Richards

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2011 6:29 pm

    Kirk, of course this is absolutely spectacular…. you have such a unique vision of things. Thank you for presenting the figure in such a fresh way, with such a free and deft application of paint that is both bold and subtle and never overworked nor contrived. You da man, Kirk! You leave the rest of us in the dust…


  2. February 8, 2011 8:56 pm

    there is always the touch of divinity in your work.

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