Is a Painting Ever Finished?

Habaneros, 24″x24″ WIP, and Ginger Tom.

Who hasn’t wondered about this? A cheeky response: When it’s signed. Boom Boom. Well, it’s not all that straight forward is it? I ran across a poor devil in a real conundrum. His client, to whom the painting had been signed, literally sealed and delivered, had requested some changes. Chappie needed a tutorial in removing  varnish so that he could put into effect the client’s wishes. In reality, it’s a job for the restorer. Do not try this at home. Especially if money has already changed hands.

Continuing with this problem for a few more beats, we all know what Chappie should have done, don’t we? Work out a contract. In the contract, along with payment schedules  requesting half of fee up front; and importantly you state that you will work with client on only three changes like the color of a tie, or adding/subtracting a piece of jewelry, or god knows what people want changing. Before varnishing. Think that full length portrait of Donald Trump, notorious for a brief time as an example of alleged misuse of corporate funds to pay for it. Now think a request to stuff a pair of socks in the package department; or larger hands. We’re talking portraiture animal/human. You don’t hear about these horror stories because good portrait painters still have a living to earn and don’t want to scare the horses, as it were.  On the other hand, A-list portrait painters don’t answer to anyone. Google Lucien Freud’s Portrait of The Queen if you’re skeptical.

It’s simple, really, to determine when you’re finished or nearly finished for all practical purposes. You have solved all your painterly problems: color, proportion, anatomy, fur, flesh, water, suggestive bulges in the family jewels, bigger hands, etc.etc. You perceive only three areas to tweak. It’s simple really. You are finished when these three problems have been solved.

The snag remains: how do I know there are problems? Ten thousand hours removes the snag.

2 thoughts on “Is a Painting Ever Finished?

  1. Abandoned is such a loaded word, isn’t it? Why not try out . There are definitely a couple on the wall I’ve set aside and need to be oiled out and brought up to speed. Sometimes it’s difficult to go back and revive intentions and thoroughly analyze with an eye to those last three areas. Maybe they just need culling. Since I’ve begun to rigorously stick with the three last things analysis I’ve been more confident and feel that the painting is under my control rather than the reverse. Thanks for continuing the convo.


  2. Your topic drew me in: I wanted to see your answer to this eternal question. Someone (who maybe looks over my shoulder) has said, A painting is not so much finished as abandoned. I think I know the weariness and frustration behind that idea! I have a lot to learn about the world of professional portraiture I see.


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