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The Finishing Process

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

It's a really good feeling to stand back and decide that a painting is finished. Sometimes, the finishing point is not so clear cut. Other times, finishing a painting leaves an underwhelming feeling, a sense that it could have gone better. Whatever the case, once I declare a painting completely finished, I take five steps to wrap up the process. These steps are helpful when I need to return to the painting for exhibiting or selling. They also add a sense of closure to a long project.


Before I remove a watercolor from the painting board, I give it a few days to dry completely and for the paper to stretch flat. This is a great time to rest my eyes from the subject. When you work on a project for days on end, it can be difficult to see it objectively. I like to cover the painting with a large sheet of paper (usually just drawing paper) and lay it on a table in the corner of the studio. After a few days, I uncover the painting and look at it with fresh eyes. If it still looks finished, I can go ahead and remove it from the board. If it needs adjustments, they are easier to see after time away. This technique is actually good for any project you might be completing. Take the time to step back and gain a new perspective.


It's tempting to announce new work as soon as possible. Who doesn't love to hear responses? I try to wait until after taking second look to post the painting to social media and ask for feedback. It's no use getting feedback before it's really how I want it. Feedback can be confusing. Before you post your progress or success, it's good have a strong vision about what you are trying to accomplish. That way you can weed out the unhelpful comments and stay on course.


I keep several journals in my studio. Some of them are for writing down goals and action items, others are for documenting progress. When a painting is finished, especially a large detailed one, I write about the challenges and successes I had during the painting process. This might be notes about color choices, compositional problems, why I chose certain elements in the painting or even what I listened to while working. This is really just a closing reflection that clarifies my thinking and informs future decisions. I also log the painting into a simple inventory spreadsheet (Google Sheets) and include information about title, size, price, hours of work, cost of framing and any exhibition notes. All of this documentation is helpful when applying to calls, sending information to galleries and buyers, and for reference when completing a similar project.


This is the step that I always dread because it is both time consuming and expensive. Every finished painting needs a good photograph. Photographing my own art is challenging, but I have a good camera and light kit. I set up the lights in the studio, set my camera to its RAW setting, align the painting with the tripod and take a few solid photos. Then it's off to Adobe to do some editing. I use Photoshop but there are many free editors that work great. I adjust the white balance and color, crop and save it with the highest value available. That's the time consuming part. Framing is the expensive part. I order my frames from a local frame shop and do the framing myself. It's the final step in finishing the artwork. When I can't afford a frame right away (which is often), I place the painting on an archival board and wrap it in a plastic sleeve for storage.


Transitioning to the next painting begins before I finish. I learned that it's easier to avoid "writer's block" and apathy if I start thinking about my next painting before finishing whatever is in progress. In one of my journals, I brainstorm painting ideas, thumbnail sketches and titles. These really help to keep me motivated. As soon as I'm sure that a painting is complete, it helps to do a deep clean of the studio space. Paints are put back where they belong, palettes are washed and organized, and table surfaces are cleared. It's just the way I work. For many artists this step is entirely unnecessary. The fresh start feeling really energizes me. It might do the same for you. Whatever work your transitioning to, clearing away the detritus of a past project can help to wipe away any sense of stress or failure your last attempts may have brought.

It seems to me that finishing is much more difficult than beginning. However, taking the time to shore up loose ends lends a satisfaction that the project is really over. This confidence is freeing and leaves space to savor the start of new project.

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