Sunday, February 20, 2011

When is a painting finished?

A few things were troubling me about this award winning watercolor from '04, as seen in the first image below. So, I decided to take it out of its frame and rework the areas that bothered me. I just finished it yesterday and I'm very happy with the result of the changes I made to it. Let's see if you agree.

"Dory", Watercolor, 19.5x29.5 in., 2004, Amee B. Davis Memorial Award for excellence in painting, Rockport Art Association
The image below is the painting as it now appears.
"Dory", Watercolor, 19.5x29.5 in., 2004-11

I'll let the words of a friend and fellow artist describe my changes. This is from an exchange of notes with my friend Margaret: "I think you changed the color of the hull that is in shadow to be slightly darker and warmer in tone - befitting the warm reflected light from the sandy/gravelly surface. It looks like you've made the shadow of the dory blend more with the surface and the rocks in the foreground. While the light conditions of your reference shot may indeed have made the shadow appear as stark as you initially painted it, in terms of composition, all the elements in the foreground are now more harmonious and pleasing to the eye."

She hit the nail on the head with her comments. All of the changes were made to the foreground and the dory itself. I thought the building, pilings and background were fine just the way they were and the changes to the dory and foreground made the entire painting more harmonious and unified. One small detail she missed, because she was looking at small images was that I also used a razor blade to scrape out the edge of the rope lines to better highlight them.

To answer the question posed in the title of this post "When is a painting finished?", perhaps it is only finished once a collector takes possession of it.


  1. Now that I see both, viewing the second makes the first seem incomplete. If one views the first alone, without anything to compare it to, it would seem complete at that point, to me, anyway. I didn't know it was unfinished. You did, in your mind's eye. IMHO, only the artist can finish a work he or she created, because the artist has seen the finished work in his or her mind's eye.

  2. Greg. My wife and I have collected quite a few artists over the years, and have a few of your friend Margarets too. One in particular is called "Green Door" and I will tell you (I have already shared this with her) that it is never finished as far as I am concerned. It left her nest and entered ours and then the changes started happening. Minor changes in position and lighting wholly change the mood and character of the women pictured. I never get tired of looking at her and wondering what her story is. And the beauty of Margaret's work is that it is always able to change just a bit more.
    So I think the answer is that they are never finished. Just paused. I like your work and look forward to seeing more. Woody Search and for Sally.

  3. So many layers into a piece of work! When is it done?
    Picasso used to say, it is the painting that tells me, not me!
    I guess one needs to listen.
    Gregory Dunham I love your artwork! The feeling, the craftmanship, and all its layering of refinement!