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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Is it Finished? Thoughts on Finishing a Painting

'Silver Ribbons'           8x10       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
It was a great question. I had a discussion with an artist last evening about finishing a painting. She wondered if it was OK to leave areas at the edges of a painting unfinished. She told me she is a very detailed oriented artist and feels compelled to finish everything....meaning she likes to add the detail all over including up to the edges of the painting.  Leaving areas vague and unfinished just doesn't feel right. But is it OK?

Edgar Degas weighed in on the idea of leaving a little mystery and vagueness in our paintings when he said the following:

“A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.”

The plan and the painting before the finishing touches

I started this marsh painting as a quick demo and decided to add some finishing touches. As you can see in the above photo it is quite 'unfinished' at the bottom edges especially in the corners. I could easily continue painting the grasses and even go as far as have a more photo realistic finish. But I reminded myself of the Degas quote and asked myself what was important to the painting.

It was about the ribbon of water leading into the distance. It wasn't about the foreground grasses. I didn't need to finish and paint every stalk and blade of grass. I had permission to leave it mysterious and even a bit vague. A few carefully placed pieces of grass would invite the viewer to participate and fill in the rest of the details. The mystery in the foreground invites the viewer into the scene. They are not stopped by a wall of grass!

The Magic Frame
When the painting is placed into a frame it is even more clear that leaving the foreground a bit unfinished does not take away from the message of the painting. I was able to see where I needed to put the detail and more clarity....and it wasn't at the bottom corners!

Tip: I recommend keeping an empty plein air style frame in the studio and using it to evaluate paintings after they are completely blocked in. It will help you decide just how far you need to go and how much 'finish' you really need.

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