One of the most valuable lessons from my years of formal education came my last year in school during the studio visits from my thesis advisor, the illustrious Hess. Each time he arrived at the studio, he would carefully examine each of my portraits in silence. Finally he would turn to me and pronounce them “done!”
They usually weren’t finished (until, of course, the day that they were and he was right!), but his declaration forced me to think about how I know when I am done with a painting. Because of Hess, I can usually recognize the moment.
A painting is completed when I don’t feel any anxiety at the prospect of showing it to someone else, only excitement.
A first wash of color. I knew that I wanted the completed painting to have a lot of minty green in it, so I chose a deep warm red—the minty green’s complement—as the undercoat.
Blocking in highlights.
Starting to find the fleshiness.
More fleshiness. I remember being pretty happy with the painting at this point. I knew I wasn’t done, but I couldn’t touch it for a week or so because I liked something about this stage too much.
Smoothing over some areas with wide swathes of color, then picking out details with smaller brushes again.
Bored with the pastely quality of the painting, I introduced pure cadmium yellow.
The subject needed to be both boxed-in and un-boxed-in since she is so good at painting herself out of corners.
Ready to rediscover the minty green.
I didn’t want to lose the red of the undercoat either, so I put in some touches of it here.
Correcting some structural details.
Here I thought I was done. I documented the painting at this stage, but, as I lived with it for a few days, I realized I wasn’t completely satisfied with the lettering at the bottom and a few other elements.
Becca is a painter and a friend.
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