Phew! Where has the time gone? The lead up to Christmas was one almighty rush and straight afterwards it was all steam ahead for a family wedding. Before I knew it, it was time to go back to work!

Needless to say, there hasn’t been a lot of time spent in the art studio. And, to tell you the truth, when I have shown up I’ve found myself battling some of the old perfectionist tendencies. And, as I’m sure you know, that only ever results in dissatisfaction.

The problem is that you tend to start fussing with your work. You start looking at it hyper-critically and noticing all the so-called ‘faults’. Then you start fixing stuff and in no time at all, the painting starts looking overworked.

Which brings me to a common issue for artists – knowing when to stop.

It’s an age-old question and there really is no definitive answer. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your work, and when you personally deem it to be ‘finished’. I know, for me, I like my paintings to retain some vitality and energy; to allow for the rawness of hasty, scribbled daubs of paint, or the syrupy drips that snake their way slowly down the canvas when I’ not looking. I do my best to  let those elements stay as evidence of my having ‘been there’. As a very wise mentor once said to me, ‘Why bother painting if you’re not showing up in it?”

Conversely, I always know I’ve gone too far when I start trying to correct things or, at the very least, ‘tidy’ them up; when I try to blend an errant swipe of paint, or disguise a drip that’s strayed off it’s vertical path. It’s okay to do these things when necessary, of course, but once you start it can be awfully hard to stop.

How else can you tell when you’re going too far? I can almost always tell by how I’m feeling. I’m usually breathing more shallowly than usual and I start feeling irritated. Woe betide if someone should interrupt me in the studio at that point, coz it ain’t gonna be pretty!

I encourage anyone who paints to figure out what ‘finished’ means for them, as well as the signs to watch out for when they’re starting to fuss. I always have a rule that as soon as I start sensing that perfectionism is starting to get a grip, and/or I’m no longer enjoying the process, I stop for the day. Or at least have a jolly good break. Experience has shown me that if I ignore that rule and keep pushing forward, I almost always end up regretting it. And then I REALLY feel like crap!

Meanwhile, I did manage to complete the above painting (acrylics on a 36 x 40 inch stretched canvas) over the Christmas break. It’s a little ‘chocolate-box’ for my liking, but I’m allowing it to live… for now. LOL. Until next time…

“I am learning that perfection isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s the very thing that can destroy you if you let it.”
Emily Giffin