Arguably an ability that ranks high on the list of life skills to master, it is also a valued skill to develop as an artist.
Although the inspiration to start a painting can be a challenge, the wisdom to know when it’s time to put down the brush may be even more elusive. Many of my paintings have been cast in a dull patina of excess fiddling. At the other extreme, lackluster efforts have been rescued by a few additional brushstrokes or slight color adjustment. The problem for the amateur (me) is learning to judge proximity to either pole, to make more calculated decisions about when to rest and when to push on.
If my experience is any indication, I’d guess that beginners err on the side of doing too much, desperate to fully manifest the kernel of a good idea. Masters almost certainly know when enough is enough, when to move on. Not every painting is meant to be saved.
My decision to let this painting rest has been an acute struggle. I see flaws – things I’d like to fix or explore further – and bits I’d like to preserve in a better painting. I also know that the risk of ruining this particular work is far greater than the likelihood of additional improvement. I’ve already edged into destructive territory. Perhaps my willingness to stop here is a small step towards mastery.
Addendum (day after original post): “Oops, I did it again,” to quote Britney Spears. I said I’d stop, but I didn’t. Hear me out though!
As promised, I stopped to let the painting rest. Then I looked at it. And kept looking. I’d already determined it would never be a great painting. Still, there was apparently more to learn. So, before burning it in a ritual fire, I began again with nothing to lose but time.
Ironically (considering the orignal post content), I think the painting is improved in a number of ways. Under no illusions it’s now a great painting, with areas that are evidently a little worse for the wear, I nevertheless prefer it.
What then is the lesson here?
Perhaps knowing when to resume is as important as knowing when to stop. Especially for a beginner, squeezing every last drop of learning from each creative experience may ultimately be more valuable than the final outcome.
Sometimes growth may require a step or two back before finding the right stride forward.
The before and after images are below. Which do you prefer?