know when a piece is finished

Posted In: Art | Creativity

All creatives have been through this. You have an artwork, song, article or blueprint that you can keep working on indefinitely. Something that could be continually improved upon. The challenge to that desire to create good work or to be seen as skilled or gifted is that it sometimes gets in the way of being able to finish, get paid, be profitable and progress to the next piece.

In a world where all basic needs are met and we don’t need to earn money or build a name and a career for ourselves, continuing to improve upon one piece would be considered mastery and noble pursuit. However, our current world model requires that we produce effectively and timeously in order for that piece to give us a profitable formula in our business.

Mostly when I paint, I know a piece is finished because my energetic connection to it switches off. The painting communicates with me by disengagement, allowing me to feel that it is ready and now has a life of its own. It wants to leave the nest. At other times, I know I could continue on, maybe for a day or a year, but I make a decision to stop when I know I have run out of time and feel the piece is ‘good enough’. It does the job, communicates the aesthetic or is realistic enough to be a good piece to send out into the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t promote creating substandard work. I must impress upon you that I believe my standards of creation are high, and so ‘good enough’ is still excellent, but it does have room to be more than that if I continued to work on it. Pieces with this narrative of assessment are usually commissioned, not self-instigated. That is the difference. There is a client waiting at the end of the deadline -a birthday, a print run, a graduation gift.

If you are like me, you know deep down inside you will NEVER release substandard work. You may have that one piece you ‘let go’ that was fine and did the job but you know it could have been spectacular (in your perfectionist terms) if you just had a few more days. But it was fine. The client loves it and you got paid and moved on to the next project chasing you. At the back of your mind, you might not feel pure and vast pride when you think of that piece. Perhaps you feel slight guilt and maybe even slightly disappointed. This is the mark of someone who will never send out bad work. But sometimes you have to make the decision to send out good work that could have been great. We make these decisions based on finances and the need to be a successful, continuing business owner. If you have a finite budget, you have to realise that if you work at this piece two more hours it will no longer be profitable. Figuring that boundary out will help you remain productive and profitable while not sacrificing your good name and reputation for delivery good work.

Set two deadlines. One of those deadlines is time-based, the other is the creative acceptability of the product – the result. Once your work has gotten past a certain stage where you find it realistic or colourful or communicative enough to let it go, you need to start psyching yourself up to actually let it go. Look for the exit, not the imperfections that need more work. It is a fine line.

Do not misinterpret my advice as saying that you can ‘get away’ with pushing out masses of ok work for money. I am saying that if you find yourself spending too much time on a piece and then finding your work is not profitable, you need to find a solution.

Providing your premise is that you know you will never send out bad work, you need to recognise where the edge is so that you can deliver your commission. Sometimes only YOU will see the three extra hours you spent fiddling with a piece and by that time you have thrown your profits away. Learn to judge through the art of observation to navigate the changing balance between producing great work and the profitability of it, in order to be able to keep on producing more work.

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    Hey frustrated Creatives! I’m talking to you…