Many visual artists have no particular trouble starting pieces but lots of trouble finishing them. Why is finishing a work of art problematic for so many artists? In this series we’ll look at twelve reasons. Here’s reason number eight:

Reason 8. Lack of a “completion checklist”

If you’re building a house and you’re approaching the end of the project, you create a punch list of last things that have to get done: spot painting, putting in a last switch plate or light fixture, and so on. When you’ve completed everything on your punch list, you can be pretty certain that you are done. Yes, you still have to look around to see if you’ve missed anything: but you can feel pretty confident that, because you got everything checked off your punch list, you are probably really done or very close to done.

By contrast, a visual artist likely has no such checklist or punch list, would probably never dream of creating one, and, even if the concept popped into his head, would probably have no idea what to put on such a list. And yet it can prove helpful to consider this checklist idea and see if it might serve you.

Let’s say you’re a super-realist painter whose current painting is comprised of a tabletop, a bowl of apples, a vase of flowers, and a collection of tabletop mirrors filled with various reflections of the apples, the flowers, the other mirrors, and so on. You could conceivably make a list that included each apple, each flower, each mirror, and so on; and, as you completed each element of the painting, check that element off.

One painter might find such an approach too mechanical, analytical, or even nonsensical; but another painter might fight such an approach useful. Whether or not such an approach seems useful to you, the main idea remains a very important one: because visual artists typically do not have checklists or punch lists that help them complete projects, they must find their own ways of knowing when a painting is done. If a punch list might work for you, excellent! And if it makes no sense to you, then you are obliged to find other ways to know when your painting is done.

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