10 Things To Check Before Calling A Painting Done
By Neil Blevins
Created On: June 20th 2022

So you've worked hard all week on a new painting, and you're ready to call it done. But is it really done? Or have you left something out? Something that you will regret not fixing later? "Art is never finished, only abandoned", but before abandoning it, I run through a list of 10 things to check first. Performing this checklist, while never creating perfect art, has managed to improve pretty much every painting I've made in small or large ways. I sometimes call this my Tweaks phase. So here's some tips to turn that good painting into a great painting.

1) Does The Painting Tell A Story?

Hopefully this has been an important aspect of your entire process, and you've worked hard to make artistic decisions to back up your story. But it's well worth a final check, sometimes the story can get lost or weakened during the painting process. And story doesn't have to be anything complex. If it's artwork for a movie or book, then sure, you might be illustrating an actual story moment. But even something like trying to get a specific mood across is story. So if my story is "A scary scene where the viewer is afraid of what horrible thing is hiding in the fog", look at your painting as objectively as possible, does the painting tell that story? What's the hook of the image, the thing it's trying to communicate that people will find compelling?



2) Composition Check

Check your composition, I have done several tutorials on various compositional subjects linked below, so do a quick rundown to see if these various compositional ideas are as good as they can be...


3) Color & Light Check


Check the color and light in your image.


4) Form Check


Check the shapes and forms in your painting.


5) Texture Check

One thing many artist (including myself) tend to do when painting is forget to make the materials really read like the material they're supposed to be, or make too many objects the same material. Material variety is important to a successful painting.


6) Ask Someone's Opinion


Fresh eyes are important, and no eyes are fresher than getting the opinion of someone we trust that has a good eye. But that said, remember, if someone says to change something, ask WHY they want it changed, rather than just changing it. Everyone has a different way of solving a visual problem, and part of what you unique as an artist is you problem solve in your own special way. But if you know WHY something should be fixed, you might be able to fix it in a way that's more your own style. As an example, say someone says "remove that car", but you love that car, and you feel you need a car in the painting to show some story point. Ask why they want the car removed. They may say because it's so bright that your eye jumps to it instead of looking at the focal point of the image. And so you can fix it by making the car less bright. Now you've fixed the real problem, but kept the car that was important for other reasons.



7) Compare To Earlier Iterations

I tend to save iterations of a painting along the way, and sometimes I get so focused on the details of my final painting that I'll paint over some aspect of the earlier painting that was actually really cool. So I tend to compare my final painting to my sketch, and see if all of the elements that made the sketch so cool still exist in the final painting. Or maybe the building being 1cm over to the left in iteration 5 looks better than my final painting. And so I am convinced to move that building back.



8) Compare To Other Work

The Ikea effect is "if you put effort into something, you will automatically think its better than it really is." So to break that spell, gather some other artist's work and compare it to the painting you've just made. This is NOT to give you ideas to copy. You don't want your image to look like their image. Instead, you want to put your image alongside other images you like, and see if it holds up. Obviously if you've picked the work of your heroes, you may still feel your work doesn't look as good. This shouldn't frustrate you. Comparing your images may reveal smaller truths. Like maybe compared to the other work you've chosen to compare it to, you suddenly realize your work is far too monochrome. And you'll be inspired to add more color to you image. Or your work isn't as detailed. And so you go back and add some extra detail. It's important to inject a little truth into how good your image looks, but take that truth and don't get frustrated by it, use it as a springboard to improve your own results.


Art by Andy Proctor / Chris Stoski / Neil Blevins / Ken Fairclough

9) Leave Image

Stop working on the image and come back to it a few days later with fresh eyes. After working on a painting for say 20 hours, I am tired and want the image to be done. And so I'm more likely to want to declare it done because I don't want to work on it anymore. But if I stay away for a few days or go on vacation (note, this only works for personal pieces or pieces for clients where the deadline isn't tomorrow), I can come back to the painting and see what needs to be fixed, and have the energy to make those changes.


Go On Vacation!

10) Try On Different Screens

Look at the image on as many different computer setups and screens as possible. Desktop computers, ipads, iphones, etc. This happens a lot, I stare at an image on my cintiq for close to 20 hours painting, I then put it on twitter, look at it on my phone, and I instantly see the major compositional issue with the image, all because I've switched to a new screen. Then I have to take the image down and fix it. So more recently I have exported a "finished" image to view it on my iphone, and that lets me catch the issues before I actually post it for the world to see.



Conclusion

Hopefully this checklist helps the next time you're ready to call an image done. I have my own version of this checklist that's skewed a little more towards the things I tend to forget. So let this list be a starting spot. If there's things you know you're particularly weak at, make sure to emphasize them in your own personal tweak checklist. Your artwork will be better for doing that one last final check!


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