When is a Painting finished?

Occasionally I’ll read an article about some old Masters painting that was x-rayed to reveal another painting underneath. The writer will seem amazed and surprised by this. Oh, if those writers only knew how common this is for painters!

22″ x 22″ Acrylic on Canvas. Painting by Flora Doehler, 2011.


These past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to discipline myself to finish up some of the unfinished canvases I have accumulated in the studio.

These paintings are under the finished piece. I still like the first one. It was fresh and spontaneous. However, I prefer my latest version of this.

I found some paintings that I don’t like anymore. Either they don’t intrigue me or they just don’t have the movements and/or color that I like to achieve.

When I’m not happy with the outcome of the painting I like to use it as a background for a new one. So rather than paint the whole thing out in one colour and start ‘fresh’, I like to incorporate aspects of that old painting into the new.

Pushing the paint away to reveal the colours underneath.

This painting morphed several times. In its last three incarnations it hung in my studio like a reproach saying “are you reallysatisfied with me?” I would stare back at it and try to imagine what it could be. I’d pick out the parts that I really liked and visualize how I could retain them and change the rest. I’d think about what colors to obliterate and then every 6 months I’d take it off the wall and work on it some more.

Tulips lift my heart!
Still inspired by yet more tulips that I found in Digby at the grocery store, I decided to turn this back into a tulip painting. I wanted to calm down the yellow and red while retaining glimpses of those exciting colours.

I squirted matte medium over the entire canvas and then brushed first blue paint, then green over the canvas in strategic places. I used my rubber tipped color shaper to pull away some of the blue and green pants to reveal the tulips underneath.

Adding matt medium slows down the drying time so there is time to shape and scrape the surface.

Finally, I brushed some red and yellow on top of the painting to suggest the tulips.I am happy with the outcome of this painting. I like the colours now. The green and blue create a movement in the painting that I think expresses the energy those flowers transmit. The tulips explode to the surface.

However, that could change in another 6 months. When is a painting finished? That can be a very tricky question.

I paint on a flat surface so that the matt medium and fluid acrylics don’t run.
What do you do with your abandoned paintings? And how do you know when a piece is finished?
I’m loving that green that I bought in Vancouver and flew out here to the east coast last November.


8 thoughts on “When is a Painting finished?

  1. This one is finished. Leave it alone now! It's perfect. But I love your thinking. It's so true. I just worked on one that has at least three others underneath. I sometimes let the old one come through, and sometimes don't. Some things tell you they're finished and then you breathe a sigh of relief and move the the next thing.XOBarbara

  2. Beautiful paintings and wonderful technique. As for me the answer to the question how do i know when my painting is done is all to simple. I don't know when my painting is finsihed. That's the problem. I continue workig on paintings until the are overworked then i crop them or pile into the corner of my art space. Oh and there is always the fire pit in the backyard. Seriously the process of paint and water takes control and mesmerizes me ….

  3. I think it's a beautiful painting and I think it's finished although I also like the paintings beneath the surface! Don't touch this one. Leave it. In six months if you get the urge to fiddle with it, start another one instead.I personally veer towards the unfinished because it's so easy to overwork something.Hope you are well, Larry and Flora!Marcia

  4. I love this painting and the very bold colors , it could be tulips or it could be an abstract, , but gorgeous. As to your question…the answer is similar to Cathy's , but sometimes I realise after some days , that i have to work it some more, but the question IS tricky.

  5. Barbara and Marcia I haven't touched this painting at all! lol! I am on to new work now. I hope you are both pianting up a storm!Flora xo

  6. That looks beautifully and WELL finished to me! Don't tickle it to death. I have a friend who hears her first grade teacher's voice say, "That's enough now; put down your pencil (only it's a brush now)." She obeys the little voice of Blanche Beach inside that tells her when to stop. I've invited Blanche Beach to help me, and often she does. Looking at something while talking on the telephone is another way to decide if something is finished; somehow my mind is going into the phone, and my eyes are free to receive messages from the painting.

  7. Helen, that gorgeous green is a fluid acrylic paint I bought at Woolfitts in Toronto last fall. I use mostly Golden Fluid acrylics, but at Woolfitts I saw two colours in the Mantegna brand that I HAD TO HAVE!!! The name of the green is Fresh Green and I'm almost out of it…a bottle that was 500 ml.

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