How to Finish Art That Never Seems Finished

How to Finish Art That Never Seems Finished

Have you ever worked and worked and worked on a piece, but it never quite seemed done? I know I have. As long as I’ve been an artist, I sometimes wonder how to finish art that never seems finished.

I’ll bet you have too.

How to Finish Art That Never Seems Finished

Part of the problem can be perfectionism. I wrestle with that on almost every creative project. Every piece begins with my vision for how it will turn out and it’s always great.

Then reality sets in.

As good as the piece may be, it never measures up to the original vision, so it never seems finished. Talk about discouraging!

So for me—and maybe for you, too—it’s important to remind myself that I’m not perfect and that nothing I produce will ever be perfect. It can only ever be as good as it can be.

But is that all there is to it?

No (and oh, how I wish it were!) But don’t despair. I have learned a few other things over the years that may help you, too.

How to Finish Art That Never Seems Finished

Put down your pencils and step away from the drawing board.

I’m sorely tempted to add, “and no one will get hurt.” 😉

Why is this so important that I listed it first?

Because sometimes when I don’t put down the pencils and step away, something does get hurt. I end up making a mistake that takes hours to fix. Sometimes I totally ruin a piece. Had I stopped when I first started having trouble, I wouldn’t have made the mistake.

So sometimes the best thing to do with a piece that never seems finished is to set it aside for a few days. Maybe as long as a week. Put it in a place where it’s out of sight, so you’re not constantly looking at it.

Then take it out and look at it again. It’s quite likely that just giving yourself permission not to examine it every day will allow you to see it in a different light.

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I can’t tell you how many times I set aside a painting I didn’t think was right, and when I looked at it later, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

Just sign it and move on.

Sometimes the only thing to do is sign the piece and move on to the next one.

There are times—even now—when I come across a problem I lack the skills or tools to deal with. In cases like that, the only real solution is to sign the piece and put it away.

You can tell yourself that when you develop the skills or get the tools to fix that piece, you’ll finish it. That has helped me put something away when I didn’t think it was finished.

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But you know what? Most of the time, I never go back to it.

Usually, by the time I see it again, it doesn’t look so bad.

Review the art in a different way.

For me, that means scanning or photographing a piece and looking at it on the computer screen. For you, it might mean snapping a shot on your phone and looking at the artwork that way.

There’s something about seeing your work in digital form that points out mistakes you didn’t otherwise see. I don’t know what it is. I just know it works.

Don’t have a computer or phone with a camera? Hold your artwork up to a mirror and look at it in reverse. That’s a good way to spot problem areas, too.

Read How to Judge Your Own Work for more tips on evaluating your art.

Photoshop it.

I’m serious. Once you scan or photograph your artwork, play with it in a photo editing program. Up the contrast. Change the color settings.

Feeling frustrated? Crop it! Yes! Crop it in different ways to see if a different configuration or composition solves the problem.

The neat thing is that you can do this digitally without touching the physical art.

And sometimes after you’ve done all this cutting and changing, you discover the real thing looks better than you thought.


If you get the idea that dealing with art that never seems finished is a lot of  mind games, then you’ve gotten the right idea. At least in my case, the reasons I think a piece isn’t finished are all in my head.

Actually, I can narrow the cause down even further, and it’s this.

I don’t think I have the skill to create that initial vision.

The truth is, I don’t. Those visions are always so perfect, after all.

But the truth also is that a vision is usually just a vision, and we artists need to find ways to convince ourselves that we have or can get the skills to improve our work, no matter where we are in our art career.

If you want to avoid this problem as much as possible, read How to Finish What You Start (The Artist’s Edition), which I wrote for EmptyEasel. I can’t guarantee you’ll finish every drawing you start, but if you follow these suggestions, you will finish a lot more pieces than you give up on.

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