How to Know when Your Artwork is Finished?

Healing Power, a finished artwork by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

This is my latest painting called “Healing Power”. Painting this piece was so much fun so I decided to work with acrylics on a canvas. I’ll show you the main phases on creating this painting while giving my view on how to know when the artwork is finished.

Finished Artwork? – How to Analyze?

I have heard many advice on how to decide when your artwork is finished. The worst is: “When you feel like it is”. Often you are just tired, fed up and that’s not a good point to finish. Take a break instead, sleep over night and then continue!

Then there are more technical approaches like this one including an infographics or based on historical studies and interviewing artists like this one. But as my students usually want to bring more content and self-expression to their art I have composed a simple and short check list focusing on those only. And instead of diagrams, I show how I deal with the issue in practice.

1. Do You Have an Opinion?

Every time I begin creating, I have pretty conventional ideas. Like here, I thought that I would make a flower painting and express “tranquility”. But to truly express tranquility, I show also include anxiety. I should have an opinion, a personal view on the difference between tranquility and anxiety.

Now you say: “But this is just flowers and nothing deeper”. I don’t think so. If you want to express yourself, you should express an opinion of some kind. This doesn’t mean you have to begin with an opinion. It’s more like vice versa: stay open to what is going to appear! But if you don’t have any more thoughts than “flowers”, “tranquility”, “pink”, you are not finished yet.

Painting on canvas with acrylics

So while thinking about opinions, I got anxious and added some of it: brownish red!

adding contrast with dark paint, acrylic painting

Another way of asking this: “Does the painting have both light and darkness?”

2. Do You Have a Focus?

When I continued the painting, it felt good to add rectangular shapes on it. Then some more colors, then some directional brush strokes. But directional or not, I really didn’t have a clue where I was going. Maybe this could be a flower bunch and the white part on the bottom could be a pot. If so, I should make them more clear.

acrylic painting in prgress, no clear focal point

Another way of asking this: “Is it easy to know where to look at first?”

3. Have You Told a Story?

I continued the painting by turning the it upside down as it seemed to be even easier to build a pot with flowers that way. When I was at step 1 (see the image below), the painting was a bit too busy so I added dark thin layers to make it easier to look at (step 2). But then, what does this painting mean? Does it really connect with my thoughts? No, not really!

Steps for finishing an artwork, by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

After a break, I turned the painting upside down (3). I saw a woman there, wearing a hat and taking care of the flowers. Maybe that could be a start for a story? I continued painting, trying to make the woman clearer.

Then it hit me: she was some kind of an angel, holding some kind of a magic ball. And finally: this is about healing, a subject I have been thinking a lot lately. My older dog Cosmo has had stomache problems and I have worried about him. I have also thought about many of my students, either in the middle of the sickness or having someone close to worry about. If only I could have the magic power to make everything what’s wrong, back right!

Another way of asking this: Does every element on your artwork contribute or lead to what’s most important?

Healing Power, a finished artwork by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet

This finished artwork is for you who would like to have that magic ball of healing power.

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35 Responses to How to Know when Your Artwork is Finished?

  1. Valerie says:

    Your description of your wonderful process led to a lovely inspirational painting.

  2. Molly says:

    This process description was great. I also like knowing I’m not the only one who uses a piece of glass with edges taped for a palette! Thanks, Paivi…

    • Päivi says:

      Thanks, Molly! I got a glass from a man who painted icons tens of years ago, when I was a little girl. So it has also sentimental value!

  3. Mignon says:

    Thanks for the tips Paivi! Love this piece 🙂

  4. denise dineen says:

    A lot to think about. Thank you.

  5. Cindy Richter says:

    What a lovely process to show caring for others as well as yourself.

  6. Deb says:

    Thank you so much Paivi. I love your painting and need the healing angel now fighting 2 cancers. I love your teaching and classes. I have learned so much from you.


    Thank you for the step by step instructions and photo references. This seems such a clear way of finishing a poece!

  8. Bill Purvis says:

    I love the process of evolution to your finished work.

  9. Jlowe says:

    Wow, this is exactly what I needed right now. Thank you so much for sharing your thought process. Your painting is beautiful. An eye opener for me. Powerful! Many Thanks!!!

  10. Diana Meade says:

    These were extremely helpful questions to consider. Valuable for me to ask myself in the early stages of the painting as well because I am so often clueless whenever I try to force the work instead of letting the work flow through me. Thank you.

    • Päivi says:

      Thanks, Diane! It isn’t easy to decide when to fihinsh but I think this method is easier than any that focuses purely on technical characteristic of the work.

  11. Marja says:

    Absolutely a stunning painting ! All the advice was needed and without you knowing the things that puzzeled me you gave the answers. Maybe it was the angel in yoyr painting whispering into your ear ;-). Huge thanks for sharing the process and teaching!

  12. June says:

    lovely painting! Healing is the best power to have…if you could choose a super power! Hope your dog gets better soon.

  13. Nel Wisse says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this.
    I’ll try to practice this way for my artwork.

  14. Alejandra says:

    Thanks for sharing these great questions to make while working on a new artwork.
    Your painting came up beautiful.

    • Päivi says:

      Thank you, Alejandra. I am amazed by the number of comments, this surely has been the subject many has been pondering about!

  15. Monica Smith says:

    As always very thought provoking and inspirational.

  16. Barbara says:

    I love your website and videos. Everything you do inspires me.

  17. Mary W says:

    You have presented the other side of the coin – not the inspiration to begin, but the wisdom to understand the end. I plan to copy your words on a board to stand next to me when I’m arting. Your words, as usual, are vitally important to have. I’m so thankful that you share on your blog and in classes.