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This episode is about how to know when a piece of art is finished and also about diagnosing any issues your art might have. Sometimes when you’re painting you have a clear finish line — you put the last color on and you step back and go “WOW” it’s complete. Frequently, however, the finish line is less clear when you make artwork. Perhaps you just feel like your art is missing something, but you’re not sure what the missing piece is. Let’s dive into how to diagnose and fix any issues so you can complete your artwork with confidence.

Episode Transcript

Hello, I’m Lauren, Kristine, host of the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I’m so happy to have you back with me again this week. Let’s kick things off with the Review Of The Week. It comes to us from Apple podcasts from Geoquest. They say, “Very informative. It’s a nice podcast that gives a real perspective of issues and questions facing new artists like myself. Thanks for the info.” Thank you so much, Geoquest. I really appreciate you leaving that kind review. To everyone out there listening, I’d love to feature your review of the Self Taught Artist Podcast next week, head to Apple Podcasts to leave me a review.

This week in my art studio. Well, it has actually been a pretty quiet week, because I got a new puppy that is demanding a lot of my time and attention. Her name is Fiji, named after my favorite place in the entire world. And I have waited a really long time for her. She makes me really happy and she is just the absolute cutest. I’m sure you’ll see her pop up on my Instagram feed very soon. Take a look at LaurenKristineArt on Instagram. Other than that, I have a small commission I’m working on and I’m painting some florals to send out as part of an art swap with some artists friends. But mostly, they’re all pretty small works and just little paintings here and there. But it’s been fun to work on those and push them along.

Today’s episode is about how to know when a piece of art is finished. Also, it’s about diagnosing any issues your art might have. Sometimes, when you’re painting or making art, you have a really clear finish line. You put that last color on and you step back, and you just go “wow, it’s done!” And you know that the painting or the piece of art is done. Sometimes the finish line is a lot less clear. Sometimes I just feel like my painting is missing something. But I’m not quite sure what that something is. And yes, you can keep working on it. But you do run the risk of possibly overworking it. And you want to figure out what action to take next, so that you can get that piece of art over the finish line. Sometimes there’s just something that you maybe feel is wrong with your painting, or there’s some small issue that it has, but maybe you can’t put your finger on it. Today we’re going to dive into how to figure out what that issue might be.

Without further ado, here are five ways to evaluate your art and diagnose any issues that your art might have. First, let’s review a few of the main issues that can derail any piece of art: value and contrast. The first question I’ll ask you is, do you have enough values showcased in your piece? And by values I mean, lights and darks in your painting. This is really important visually in any piece of art. The eye loves having both light and dark values intermingled in a pleasing way. Oftentimes, having the values of colors on your canvas are what really makes a painting pop out to the viewer. If all of your colors are in the same value, it tends to blend together no matter what the different colors are, and you lose a big piece of visual interest. In addition, if you’re looking for your art to have a hint of reality to it, then light and shadow is a big part of that. Just having a little bit of shadow to balance out the light in your painting helps to give that hint of reality to the viewer. And that lets the brain just connect the dots.

One easy way to check the values of your paintings or pieces of art is to take a photo of your art and then put it through a black and white filter on your phone. You can do this on your phone’s photo app. Or even inside of Instagram you can apply a black and white filter. However you can get a black and white photo of your art is fine. There’s a lot of different ways to do it and a lot of different apps that can do that for you. But once you have that black and white photo of your piece of art, take a look at the photo and analyze, do you have both light and dark parts on that photo? And can you see where the light parts are? And where the dark parts are? Are they spread out? Or are they concentrated? Is that your intention? Once you do this, and you look at your photo of black and white, you can add shadows where you need them or highlights where they’re lacking. Or you can just play with your values a bit more if needed.

When I paint, I tend to not have enough shadows, if I’m left to my own devices, like if I’m just free painting. Usually the thing that’s going to be lacking at the end is enough dark value and enough shadow. As a result, I always try to add the shadow pretty early on in my painting process, just to make sure that they’re not left out. I leave highlights until the very end of my painting process. Pure White is usually the very last paint color that I add. But you’ll find when you take a photo of your art in black and white, the values become so much more clear to you. And you just see your painting in a new way. And it’s so helpful to get that new perspective. All right. So that’s enough talk about value.

Next, let’s talk about contrast. Do you have sufficient contrast among colors, patterns, shapes, lines in the elements of your painting? When you think about contrast, it means more than just color contrast. Although color contrast is obviously a part of it. Color Contrast has to do with the color wheel and the fact that there are certain colors that really pop when they’re put right next to each other. Those are called complementary colors. Examples of complementary color combinations are things like red and green, yellow and purple, orange, and blue, or green and magenta.

Other dimensions of contrast in a painting are things like hard edges versus soft edges, rough texture versus smooth textures, large shapes versus small shapes, vivid colors, versus dull or muted colors. All of these aspects are things that add contrast to your work. These are elements that you can choose to bring into your painting for added visual interest. If your piece of art is lacking in either value or contrast, you may find that addressing these design elements is the best place to start.

These are two common villains that can derail a painting: Value and Contrast. The challenge of being an artist is choosing the right elements to add to your work, and the right elements to subtract from your art. You don’t want to have all of these elements in one piece, of course, you want to choose a few that will really make an impact. So don’t feel like you have to do all of these things. They are just options on the menu, and you get to choose.

The second thing you should do when diagnosing your art is to take a step back and look at the composition and balance. Is your painting balanced or imbalanced? Is it symmetrical? Or is it asymmetrical? Is that what you intended? If not, you can change sections of your art to get it to where you envisioned it. Be flexible and trust your instincts. Sometimes very subtle changes to the composition can make a big difference. Like for me when I’m painting a floral painting, for example. Sometimes they become too rounded or too perfect. And adding just one extra flower on one side of the vase makes it feel more balanced. Take a look at your art and see if there’s anything you can do in the composition to maybe add balance or make it look visually how you want it to be.

Okay, moving on to the third thing on our list. Physically turn your painting around several times as you work to get a new perspective on your piece of art. I mean physically pick up your canvas or your piece of paper or your sketchbook and turn it upside down or turn it 90 degrees. By gaining a new perspective and viewing your work from a different angle, you may find areas in your art that can be enhanced. Painting upside down is a popular tactic for loosening up in your painting, or in your art. But it can also be a way to objectively critique your work. And to see where the energy flows, where the contrast is, and where you need to tweak. When you see an image right side up, your brain can connect the dots for you. And sometimes you don’t see it 100% as it actually is, because your brain is filling in the dots. But when you put your art upside down, your brain and your eyes see your work differently, because it’s a bit jumbled up. And it doesn’t really look like anything in particular, you’re more likely to see it as it is not as your brain wants it to be. When you see it as it is, you can more easily diagnose different elements of your work and take an objective look at it.

Fourth, is a deceptively simple tactic that I use a lot. Take a photo of your work and look at it on your phone. I do this all the time, just to see what stands out to me when I look at it in a photo. Where is there a lot of energy? Where is there less energy? How does the composition look? How does the balance look? Do all of the elements in the painting play together the way that I want them to? Sometimes the simple act of looking at your painting smaller on your phone can help you to see it in a new light. Looking at it small simplifies the composition for you. You can analyze your work in a new way when you see it in a photo. This is such an easy trick. And I recommend it anytime you’re thinking that a painting or a piece of art is done or about to be done. Just taking a photo it takes two seconds. And it really helps you to view your work objectively in a smaller frame, when different things will pop out to your eye.

Finally, the fifth thing on the list. The fifth way to diagnose some issues in your artwork, or to figure out if your piece of art is done is to put a white frame around your painting. If you happen to have a framing white mat sitting around in your art studio, go ahead and pop that over your painting. But it can be as easy as simply grabbing some white printer paper and putting it around the edges of your painting or your piece of paper or your sketchbook to make a visual frame of white around your art. You just take different pieces, piece them together and put your art in the middle. The white paper or the white frame acts much like a matte would in a frame. It brings your colors out and it helps to frame up the composition. When you do this, what do you see? What do you see differently? What would you like more of or what would you like less of in your art? Sometimes I find just putting a white frame around it makes it look done and finished to me. So that’s all it needs to be complete is a nice framing job with a white matte or a white frame.

It goes without saying that if you’re not loving one of your art pieces, or you’re having trouble getting to the finish line, just take a break and walk away for a little bit. Don’t rush to paint over it completely. Making art is like solving a puzzle. And trying different ways of fixing a piece of art can provide a lot of learning opportunities for you to learn about different elements of composition, color and contrast in your artwork.

I hope that you love your work every single time. But I know from experience that sometimes there are pieces that just need a little bit of extra love before they get to the finish line. I sincerely hope that today’s episode is one that you can refer to in the future when you feel that same way.

Alright, that’s the end of today’s episode. I want to remind everyone to please leave me a rating and review on your podcast app. That would mean a lot to me. You can reach out to me at or on Instagram at LaurenKristineArt. I also want to remind you that as a part of last week’s episode on the best value painting supplies, I made two really helpful guides. One is a list of all my fear repainting supplies, and the other is a guide on how to understand the symbols on a paint tube. You can access both of those below. Until next time, Happy Creating!

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