How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished

Is there a “works-every-time” way to decide when a drawing is finished?

How I wish there was! The truth is that there is no such method because every artist creates for a different reason. Many times, there are also reasons for individual drawings. I do portraits for a different reason (and with different goals) than landscape drawings.

But I’ll share a few basic guidelines to help you better decide when your drawings are finished.

How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished

Your Drawing Matches Your Expectation

Every drawing starts with an expectation. You see a finished piece in your imagination, maybe. Or you see something you simply must draw.

You also prefer creating a certain type of art. Realism, for example, or impressionism. Perhaps your style leans more toward illustration than fine art. When you know the type of art you want to create, it’s easy to know when a drawing succeeds.

If you’re like me, you also start each drawing with a specific expectation, and you know when your drawing meets that expectation.

The drawing below is not the type of art I usually make, but I had a specific purpose for it. I wanted to use one or two colors of watercolor pencil to draw trees in fog. Even though I didn’t draw a ton of detail (which I usually do,) I knew what I wanted it to look like. I knew, in other words, when it was finished.

How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished by knowing how you want it to look before you start.

You Don’t Know What Else to Do With the Drawing

Even the most experienced artist reaches this point with some drawings. You have the feeling the drawing needs something more, but you don’t know what it is.

Or you know what’s needed, but you know how to do it.

In either case, I’ve discovered over the years that it’s best to consider such a drawing finished. I learn more by doing another drawing than by fiddling with the current drawing.

Or worse, setting that drawing aside until I have the skill to finish it. What usually happens is that I don’t work on the current drawing and I don’t work on a new drawing. Lose-lose!

Here’s a drawing I really like. But it has problems I didn’t know how to correct when I finished it years ago. The main problem is the color of the horse. The hair is way too orange. But back then, I had neither the knowledge nor the skills to correct the hair color.

If the drawing is for yourself, you can go back later and use newly acquired skills (or supplies) on it. If it’s a portrait, the best thing to do is finish it and send it out for customer approval.

Do you have to go back and correct old drawings? No. Keeping them as they are gives you a beautiful timeline of your art.

But there’s no reason you can’t redo it if you really want to.

You’re Satisfied with the Drawing

If you like what you’ve done, then it’s time to sign it and start a new drawing.

Here’s a drawing from decades ago. I loved the pony when it saw it at a sale, and I loved the reference photo. I loved the finished drawing, too.

Years later, it still looks complete, but I now see problem areas. That’s not bad; it’s a sign of progress in skill level.

Ignore potential technical problem when a drawing satisfies you. No matter how skilled you become with colored pencils, there’s always room for improvement. So take those successes as they come, then move on to the next drawing.

Does that mean you ignore technical problems all the time? Not at all.

But it does mean that if a drawing meets expectation overall, work on technical problems in the next drawing. Don’t fuss over them in this drawing.

Those are Three Ways to Decide When a Drawing is Finished.

There are other ways, as well. Time limitations, for example. Work on a drawing for fifteen minutes, an hour, a day, or a week. The drawing is finished when the time is up. Timed drawing is great for sketching, practicing, or just having fun with art.

Every artist has their own guidelines. Those of us who have been drawing a while know almost by instinct when a drawing is finished and when we might be able to push a bit further.

If you’re new to colored pencils, or haven’t been drawing very long, I hope the three guidelines I shared above help you finish more drawings.

Would you like more in-depth information on this topic? Read How to Know When a Drawing is Finished here for tips on analyzing specific drawings.

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