When is an Artwork Finished? – How to Know

So you’ve been working days, weeks or even a month or more on a painting or art piece. You’ve been on the journey awhile and may be asking yourself, “When do I stop?”

When can you an artwork is finished? The simple answer is when you say it is! And this article will help you make that decision to “call it done.”

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Accomplishing What You Set Out to Do?

When you do an art project, obviously there are distinct stages you go through on your journey to completion. You may go through something close to this:

  • Initial sketch for composition creation
  • Underdrawing or painting
  • Blocking out the picture
  • Building layers, blending
  • Adding necessary details
  • Shadows and highlights
  • Final touches

Theoretically, if you have gone through all the stages to completion, you should know when you have accomplished these goals. Still, you may not be sure if there’s something you missed, if you have fully developed it, detailed it enough, etc.


Critique from a Distance

When I’m feeling like I’m nearing completion, critiquing is something I like to do that helps me in the end to know I’ve done everything I needed to do:

1. Prop the piece up on something that will allow you to view it from distance. How long of a distance depends on the size of the piece.

The distance should be close enough to view details but far enough away to “take in the big picture” (pun intended).  And probably, this would be the distance a viewer would be when looking at your piece.

2. Take notes on anything and everything that comes to mind— adjusting a line, adding more tone to this or that area, work more detail, etc. This would serve as a “to do” list to finish off the piece.

3. When you’re finished with doing all the items on the list, repeat steps one and two till you are satisfied.

Clear Your Head and Come Back

Leaving the piece and coming back later is very helpful. This will be a test for your gut reaction.

You just need to step away from the piece for a time and do other things. In other words, forget about it! Go do something totally unrelated—preferably something that relaxes you.

This will allow you to clear your mind of it and come back with fresh eyes. How long should the break be? That depends on how much time you have to complete the piece and how much time it takes to clear your mind of it.

So when you return to it, it’s critical to go with your first reaction to the picture as you lay eyes on it again. Were you pleasantly surprised? Did you have a ho-hum reaction? Did your eye go directly to something it wasn’t necessarily supposed to go to?

If you were pleasantly surprised, chances are you have finished it. If you had a general ho-hum reaction, you have may more work overall to do. Or maybe your reaction is vague, something seems not quite right. Then you will need to determine what that something is.

If your eye went directly to something, then you definitely have an adjustment to make. You will need to study the flaw, and determine and take the best corrective action.

Take a Picture

Yes, really! Take a photo of your work. I really like doing this (and also cringe a little, afraid of what it may reveal haha).

Believe it or not, it will make you see things you literally would miss looking at your work directly. It is a tried-and-true practice I use in every project.

This has one caveat, though.  Before you make a correction, make sure to look at your work directly to see if you notice the same thing that’s showing up on the photo.  Nine times out of ten, it will be there, but just confirm, just to be safe.

Added Value

If after doing the above suggestions, and you find something else you didn’t think of or want to do, you need to determine if it’s really necessary.

A good question to ask is if that idea will add value or quality to your piece. Also ask yourself if it would be a superfluous detail. Would it clutter anything in the piece?

So if it will add value, then by all means add that detail or element. If it would not add value, then you’re done!


This kind of goes along with the added value idea. If you have done the other above suggestions, and you still find yourself dabbing the pencil, paintbrush, etc. at your piece (I call this “fussing” with it), you’re probably done.

If you continue to fuss with it, you do run the risk of making a mistake—possibly a non-fixable one—and there goes all your hard work!

The reason you may keep puttering at your piece, is because you are procrastinating at making the final decision to call it completed. My advice? Stop fussing with it, it’s done!

Good Enough is Good Enough

It’s hard to write an article like this without addressing the fact that we artists are very detailed, we must be to be an artist. And many of us are perfectionists (me included although I like to think of myself as “reformed” in that area lol).

It’s critical for our own sanity to realize, though, that no matter how much we try, it will never be perfect! You can work and

work and work to get to perfection but never attain it. Why? This is because we are human. I believe there will always be a flaw (or two).

I also believe that if you’ve done your due diligence with a painting, tried your best and did the tests suggested above, that chances are the flaw (or flaws) are very tiny and unimportant. If your eye doesn’t go right to the flaw, my guess is a viewer’s eye won’t either.

Having said that, that’s not to say you couldn’t fix the flaw. The point is not to drive yourself crazy fixing and fussing to avoid making the “it’s done” decision.

Strive to have your piece be good (OK, really good) but not perfect. Relax and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. Good enough is good enough!

For additional perspectives on when an artwork is finished, watch this video here, where 3 artists discuss this topic.

Commissioned Artwork

Of course, the stakes are higher and we feel more pressure when doing a commission, am I right? A customer has hired you to create a piece that needs to look like the they expect. Having done many commissions, I can tell you, the “am I done?” question becomes even harder to answer.

Hopefully you worked out the details of the picture initially with the customer—what should be left in, what to take out, etc.—so at least you don’t need to make those decisions. You may disagree or suggest to the customer what would look good, or not look good, but ultimately, it’s all about what the customer wants.

One good thing that helps us be sure we are doing all we need to do for a commission is to ask the customer. I usually provide WIP (work-in-progress) pictures to them along the way to be sure I’m meeting their expectations.

And it’s way better to ask them while you can still correct or adjust things. Otherwise, if you don’t show them WIP pics and wait till the end when you present it to them, you run the risk of them not liking some aspect, which can translate into their dissatisfaction and negative comments to their friends. 🙁

So asking the customer can actually help us make the decision to say when it’s done. However, I would still use the “tests” I mentioned above to be sure you have “turned over every stone.”

Make that Decision!

Hopefully this article helped you understand better how to decide when you have finished your artwork. It definitely is difficult, which is why I devised these ways to help me determine that.

I would love to hear your ways of determining when your artwork is done. Please share in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading.

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If you found this article helpful and believe others may benefit as well, please share!

Have an artful day!


Here are links to other posts you may enjoy reading:

Best Tips for How to Find Inspiration for Art

Oil Painting without a Solvent

How to Create Backgrounds in Drawings


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