Why is it that so often the hardest part of painting is knowing when to stop?
Why do we sometimes keep dabbing at the paper, thinking we need to “fix” this or that?
When I was painting this “Winter Tree” scene, I liked it — a lot — when I first painted the trunk and limbs. Had I quit then and there, I would have been happy.
But the point in painting this tree was to improve my techniques, so quitting wasn’t an option at that point. I wanted to learn to create “wintry leaves” clinging to the branches.
In some places, they actually do look like wintry leaves, but as so often happens, I didn’t know quite when to “say when.” I kept adding more leaves.
Once I’d started adding more leaves, I decided the tree needed more branches, and then I decided that all of the branches probably needed more twigs.
When I tried adding more twigs, I saw immediately that they weren’t turning out the way I wanted. I should have stopped, and I knew it, but instead, I kept adding more twigs, hoping that I’d eventually get them right.
Then there were problems with the masking fluid. I was using it to preserve white that would have the effect of snow on the branches. I had trouble applying it in exactly the right places, though. Some of it went onto the trunk, consequently I had a few ugly bare spots when I removed the masking. I tried to cover them up, and in some places it’s very obvious because the paint colors don’t match exactly.
So what did I do? Why not add a few more twigs and branches, just to even out the color a bit? Hey, it sounded like a good idea. It didn’t work.
I made a couple marks, and at that point I knew I was on the verge of completely ruining the painting. Finally, I did step away and say “That’s enough. It’s done.”
Why is that such a hard step to take?
On my next attempt, I created a more “spring-like” tree, and I do think the branches came out a little better. The trunk looks a bit more realistic, too.
Again, I kept “dabbing” at the leaves, adding “just a little more” here and there. I even had the brush in my hand, about to add a few more lower branches, or extend the leaves a little more.
Whoa! Stop. Cease. Desist. I put down the brush and walked away.
I’ll keep working on branches and twigs, learning more about what brush sizes and techniques produce the effects I want, and I’ll give more thought to masking fluid when I use it. I know I can improve in those areas with more practice.
But will I ever get past that “need to tweak a little more” problem? What is it that drives us to keep adding a little more color, a few more details, a little more…whatever?
How do you know when a painting — or a drawing — is finished? Are there certain guidelines you follow, or do you just go with your gut? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this aspect of painting.