Peony and Parakeet

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 of 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 bits of 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 overnight and then continue!

Then there are more technical approaches like this one including 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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Making the Most of Visual Nuances

"Summer is Coming", a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet
This is my latest mixed media painting “Summer is Coming”. It has been exceptionally warm weather in Finland and all that sunshine has brought summer not only to my mind but to my painting too. I tell you now how I created the painting!

First Layers: Having Fun with Watercolors

The painting began with watercolors. I made a mess that didn’t look so good when looking at it from a distance. But it looked wonderful when taking close-up photos!

Starting a mixed media painting with watercolors, by Peony and Parakeet

After splashing the first couple of layers with a big brush, I changed to a smaller one. I painted simple shapes with soft edges and thought that maybe this will be an abstract piece.

Is This a Still life – Again?

Mixed media painting in progress, by Peony and Parakeet

But after a while, it looked like a still life! I must admit that I have developed some kind of obsession for still lives. I have loved them for a long time already. But recently it has begun to feel that anything could be expressed with them. Well, a Finnish artist Miina Äkkijyrkkä has painted and sculpted cows for all her life, so still lives might not be so bad …

More Details with Colored Pencils

With colored pencils, I made the flowers more distinct. I wanted to work as softly as I could so that the delicate look of watercolor paint would still be dominating.

Almost There – Visual Nuances

Then I entered the actual finishing phase. This is what I call “Almost There” phase. It is the point where many just call the painting finished, and they try not to think about it too much. But if I am teaching a class, I encourage people to continue. One way is to show them what they can do next. So I open the photo of the painting in Photoshop and make little adjustments. With these suggestions, I try to add more visual communication and interest to the painting. Sometimes a little spot of color can make a big difference! See what kind of suggestions I made for my painting!

Adding visual nuances - suggestions for finishing a mixed media painting, by Peony and Parakeet

What’s the Magic of Using Photoshop for Suggestions?

One thing is that I can zoom as far as I can. Another thing is that I can try out different kind of adjustments without making a mess. I don’t do this often for my paintings, but I wanted to show you how little guidance can take the image to the next level. This is one thing that an art teacher can do: show you how you can fine-tune your work so that it has those visual nuances that make the painting more dynamic and alive.

Finished Painting

Here’s the painting after finishing it according to the suggestions. I used colored pencils and white gesso for the final details.

"Summer is Coming", a mixed media painting by Peony and Parakeet

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The Art of Finishing

Dawn of Change, collage painting by Peony and Parakeet

This collage is called Dawn of Change. It is inspired by the history of art. There was a time when I preferred modern art. If I went to an exhibition showing older than 20th century’s art, I used to yawn and think how pretentious it was. But the more I have examined art, the more I see in the old art. I see colors and concepts that can be reproduced in many different angles. Also, seeing good art makes me think of finishing – how much it affects the experience of the viewer.

The Creative Process

Getting inspired about old world art, keeping it visible while creating

When I began to create Dawn of Change, I kept the painting of Giotto di Bondone visible on the table. I did not copy the image; I just kept it as a reminder of what to aim for.

The first layers were painted with watercolors. Then I added some Copic Opaque White to create lighter areas. The white layers were rubbed so that they shined vaguely on the watercolored surface. I also sprayed some Dylusions mists to make the background even foggier.

Creating a background for a collage, by Peony and Parakeet

After a little bit of doodling with colored pencils, black marker, and white gel pen, the background started to show the guidelines for collage pieces.

Adding decorated papers to a collage, by Peony and Parakeet

Then I picked up the box of hand decorated papers and began to attach the paper pieces. In this phase, I always get surprised how well the papers fit the artwork even if they are all different. Creating your own papers will bring you that happiness! Try to avoid using same papers many times in the same artwork. That way the result looks more interesting.

A phase of making a collage, before finishing, by Peony and Parakeet

After a little bit of doodling, I was getting tired and decided to end my session. Even if the composition was accomplished and nothing major decisions left to make, I felt that the work was incomplete. I needed to ponder how I was going to finish it. Over the years I have noticed that finishing does make a difference. In arts and crafts, the finishing rarely alters either the message or the use of the work, but still has a high impact on how appealing we will find it. Sometimes that extra addition of quality will change entirely what we think about it.

Finishing a collage, by Peony and Parakeet

So, if you want to improve your results, get into the habit of taking breaks. I like to have a good night sleep, walk the dogs or work in the garden. Especially physical activities make the subconscious work best. Then, when I grab the thin brush I know exactly what I want to achieve and how to do it.

Finishing Art – Making Subtle Changes

Finishing a collage, by Peony and Parakeet

In this piece, I wanted to increase the impression of the colors fading together. The acrylic paints were the best to accomplish that. I added small strokes of various shades of grays to create a more muted look. Then I also added some pale yellow and off-white to create the fading in lighter areas.

Before and after finishing art. By Peony and Parakeet.

The difference between before and after is not big. When placing the two pictures side by side, you have to search for the differences. But I claim that the overall experience of the quality is better after finishing.

A detail of a collage, created by Peony and Parakeet

So I challenge you to finish your work – even if it already feels finished!

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