541.787.4395 (Pacific Time Zone) kristen@kristenoneillart.com

The Art of Knowing When a Painting is Finished

by | Apr 25, 2023 | Art Lessons | 0 comments

As a painter, you have likely experienced the struggle of knowing when a painting is finished. On one hand, you want to keep adding details and perfecting your work. On the other hand, you don’t want to overwork the painting and lose the energy and excitement that originally inspired you. So, how do you know when a painting is done?

First, it’s important to understand that there is no one right answer to this question. Different painters have different approaches, and what works for one artist may not work for another. However, there are a few tips and techniques that can help you determine when your painting is complete.

Stepping Back

One approach is to step back and assess the painting objectively. 

  • Does the composition feel balanced and harmonious? 
  • Are the colors working well together? 
  • Are the details and textures adding to the overall feeling of the painting, or are they detracting from it? 
  • Are your values correct. (Squint or take a photo with your phone and desaturate it to see the values.)

When you take a step back from your work, you also have the benefit of seeing what it looks like to the viewer when they first see it in person. 

At museums, we often find ourselves kept back from the work. Taking some space from your work as you paint is a great way to make sure your artwork will still have impact in this situation.


Another approach is to set a deadline for yourself. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in the process of creating a painting that we forget to put it aside and move on to something else. By setting a deadline, you give yourself a clear endpoint and a deadline to work towards. This can help you stay focused and avoid overworking the painting.


It’s also important to trust your instincts. If you feel like the painting is complete, then it probably is. You know your art better than anyone else, and if you feel like the painting is saying what you want it to say, then your painting is finished.


Don’t be afraid to walk away from a painting and come back to it later. Sometimes, a fresh perspective is all you need to see if the painting is truly finished. You also have the best chance of seeing it with fresh eyes. Take a lunch break, a walk outside, or visit it again another day. Set it up so that you can first see it from a distance.

  • What do you see first?
  • Do you like the overall feel?

(This is also a great strategy if you can’t figure out what is wrong with a painting.)

Knowing when a painting is done is an art in itself. There is no one right answer, and each painter must find their own approach. However, by objectively assessing your work, setting a deadline, trusting your instincts, and stepping back to look at the painting later, you can gain a better understanding of when your painting is truly finished.

P.S. – Just don’t fuss. If you find yourself painting over and over the same spot, immediately stop and take a few steps back. This will break the cycle, and give you a chance to evaluate your artwork as a whole.