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How do you know when a painting is done?

January 27, 2013

Classic still life Jan 27, 2013

Classic still life Jan 26, 2013

It has seemed like a long time, but really, there has only been a month’s work on this one. By now, the apples had started to rot and the lemon dried to a hard little yellow  rock, but luckily I had the photo to work from as as well.  I didn’t work on this every day. I think there are maybe 15-20 hours of actual painting in this.

Here is the progression, though many steps have been left out between January 5 and the painting’s completion on the 26th.

It is hard to know when to stop on a painting. You need to be clear about your end intention.

Mine wasn’t to create a hyper realistic replica of what I saw in front of me. I wanted to appreciate it through paint really. I think that is what painting is for me, a way to make tangible my love for being on this Earth at this time, and gratitude for all the beauty contained in even the simplest objects. That is probably where Rende’s work and my work meet, though we work in different media.

I wanted to enjoy painting with a minimum of worry about whether things looked ‘right’ or not. Of course with realistic paintings you run into some of that, but my main aim was to explore what the paint and colours and textures were doing.

The other way I know when a painting is done is very simple: when it doesn’t bother me any more, and I can leave it alone.

When something is unresolved, I’ll keep going back to it and changing it. The changes may be unnoticeable to someone else, but they glare for me.

The consequences of rushing the last bits and just leaving unresolved problems is that I can never look at the painting with satisfaction that I gave it my absolute best. It will always bother me.

And of course the disadvantage of this, is that I have to keep from perfecting every little thing, because that leaves no room for mystery or for others to fill in their own interpretation.

This painting is complete event in itself, but it also has been a step toward greater understanding of the media and what I would eventually like to be able to do with it.

I want to thank Liam Rainsford for his site and his generosity in sharing his painting knowledge. One of his tips- to put thinned layers of paint on before applying the white,  pulled me through a stuck place I was in with the bowl.

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18 Responses to “How do you know when a painting is done?”


  1. Thank you for your kind and supportive comment on my work. Yours is lovely. It is one of the nice things about our virtual world that we can connect to one another when otherwise we never would. I shall certainly return other than at 3AM! Blessings~~


  2. Your piece turned out beautifully! I go through the same question every time I am working on something. When I feel I am done is usually when I look at the piece and can’t figure out what to do next or fix. I might see it later, but at the point it’s time to back away from the brush.


  3. Sarah ~ you must have such a wonderful sense of satisfaction! Your painting bespeaks a theme of all being right with your world. Quite serene and comforting. Thank you for sharing it!


    • You are perceptive, it is one of those good periods in life where all is and everyone is well. I have finally learned how to consciously appreciate those times when one is fortunate enough to have them!! thank you Annie.

  4. J M Naszady Says:

    I think a painting is done when it reaches out and grabs you. Yours is wonderful.

  5. PictureS Says:

    Thank you Sarah for the nice words. I’m delighted I was of some help. The painting looks wonderful.


    • Thanks so much Liam. Feedback from fellow artists is important since I don’t have that locally for the moment. (I should have mentioned in the post that the colors in the finished painting are less harsh than in the photo- especially the reds and oranges.)

  6. decorartuk Says:

    The end result is STUNNING.

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Kristina thank you. I’ve had friends here pass by it on the easel and not blink, personally I was so pleased with it yet my present realistic series doesnt’seem to connect with some people. Is it just Holland? I don’t think so, there is a strong comtemporary realistic tradition here.

      As I remarked to someone else, the colours in the original are much less harsh, everything goes down a few tones. I didn’t post that because it looks quite dull against the photos I took of the previous stages, but I might do so in a later post.

      • decorartuk Says:

        Sarah, sorry the previous comment was a bit short, yet I think it reflected everything I wanted to say. I think you should be very proud of what you’ve done – it’s hard to believe that no one commented – I’d definitely love to have it in my house!

        Even though the colours might be not as bright in reality (please post more photos when you get a chance), the whole scene and the way it’s depicted still reminds me of Cezanne’s still-lives (I hope you’ll take it as a compliment, because that’s the way it’s intended to be).

        Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like paintings that are too realistic or that resemble photographs – I think they have no “soul”, the artist doesn’t put anything of his, simply copies the reality and maybe shows off his/her skill? For me every painting should be a personal interpretation and yours definitely is.

      • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

        I am perfectly flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as Cezanne. This was directly inspired by his still lifes, so your comment is right on.

        I’ve, in the meantime, posted another photo, it is hard to se the difference, but this one is a bit less brash in colour, primarily the yellows and oranges.

        I also am not fond of over realistic paintings, except by the Dutch artist Henk Helmantel. I’ve been in his home museum and studied his beautiful works closely, and they are made of trillions of little coloured strokes, they are totally alive. Helmantel has been accused of simply painting traditional Dutch still lifes, but an art history teacher said if you put a Helmantel next to an old Dutch artist, you’ll see how modern Helmantel’s composition and handling are.

        Anyway like you I am totally bored by realistic paintngs which merely show off skill and say nothing. And prefer, slightly less photographic more expressive work.

        Actually, if one can draw, it is quite easy to make a super realistic painting. There is not much skill in it other than paint manipulation. But people get so impressed by ‘real’ looking things. Sigh.

  7. Tim Girarde Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, especially this bit – ‘It is hard to know when to stop on a painting. You need to be clear about your end intention’. Stepping away and letting go are often the hardest things to do.


  8. Tim,thanks for your kind comment. I enjoyed looking around your site, reading the poems, by you and others, and appreciating your unique take on reality through your photos.


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