Mixed-Media Art FAQ: Is It Finished?

Editor’s note: Jodi Ohl (author and instructor) is back with her wonderful, friend-to-friend advice for those of us who love to make mixed-media art. I’m honored to share with you her newest guest blog post, which is about deciding when a piece of art is finished. Read on to see what Jodi and some of your peers have to say. Also, the Interweave store has a special Overstock Sale happening right now, so make sure you take a moment to browse it and check off some of the items on your mixed-media art wish list. 🙂 ~Cherie

Mixed-media art advice | Jodi Ohl, ClothPaperScissors.com
Three stages of a drawing by Jodi Ohl (PIN this article!)

Mixed-Media Art: When Am I Finished? by Jodi Ohl

Today’s post stems from a top question students ask during workshops: “Is this piece finished?” Another version of the question is, “I don’t know how to finish this piece, what would you suggest?”

I thought it might be interesting to have some of my followers and friends on Facebook chime in on what prevents them from finishing their work or how they know when their work is finished. No matter what stage you’re in your art practice (beginner, intermediate, advanced), or what genre of art you do, this is a dilemma that perplexes many of us at times. Read on for some enlightening and often humorous responses from artists all over, and then I’ll close with some of my own thoughts:

Amy K. S.: My theory with my work is that it’s never really “finished.” It can come to a resting place or an intermission in the story, and I choose to leave it there or push it further along the storyline. Sometimes I know I need to push something further, but I don’t know where to go with it. I’ll set a piece aside for a while until I get an idea or an impulse about where to go, and then I just do it, even if it scares me. When I do have a hard time following through on a painting, it’s usually because I’m not trusting my instincts, or I’m spending too much time looking at other people’s work and making comparisons.

Miriam M. H.: For me, there’s always an “uglies” stage. I step back and ask what isn’t working. Often it’s a feeling of being off, but just as frequently it’s structural, compositional or “just not done.” I let the painting sit for a bit (I work on several things at once to avoid obsessing or ruining a painting) and come back. A lot of the time, I just need to take a leap of faith and push through the uglies by adding a very different element or color. And then I have to make that work, and it drives me to completion. That all sounds so elusive, but the more I paint and study, the more I’m planning my work. I think it through and ask if I am following my plan. How do I know it’s done, and if I feel right about it. But there’s always the temptation to try one more little thing…just in case!

Edie M.: Whether it’s painting or metalwork, my obstacle is usually the same: “Should I?” If I can keep from asking myself that question and just work until I’m done, then it would be fine…and done. But I always second-guess myself. Should I add more color, more balance, more white space? Sometimes when it feels done, it somehow doesn’t feel complete, as if there was something left out. If there’s an inherent problem I step away from the piece for a while. Inevitably some fix will just pop into my mind, sometimes in dream form, and then I can continue working. I know when the piece is complete when my story is told and I have no fear of the dreaded “Should I?” That’s the best feeling!

Mixed-media art advice | Jodi Ohl, ClothPaperScissors.com

Connie B.: My biggest obstacle is myself when it comes to finishing work. My frame of mind is always what makes me complete a work or not. When in a good frame of mind, I’ll sit and play for hours each day until I feel intuitively the work is finished. On the other side of the coin is when I paint to reach a goal, follow a schedule, etc…in other words, when I THINK rather than FEEL. The feel is what happens when I know it’s done–I just feel good all over and smile really big when I look at it–my eyes don’t want to stop taking in all the magic I just created. I never get in a hurry to finish. If I’m having any problems with what I’m seeing overall, I always step away from it, sometimes for weeks or even years, but I always hang or prop it up so I can see it. Sometimes, when I least expect it, something will jump out at me as I pass by and that will usually spur me on to continue working on it, and it could be in an entirely different direction than I planned or expected. That’s what I look for–the element of surprise.

Judy K. M.: I know it’s done when I text you a picture and you say it’s done!!

Stacey M.l: When I’m wondering if a piece is done (or if something just isn’t working but I can’t put my finger on it), I’ll put it in front of a mirror. This is an easy way to spot bad composition or any other imbalance. If it looks right, even in reverse, it is most likely done. Alternatively, walking away and coming back later with a fresh eye works, too. That said, I’ve reworked ancient pieces that I thought were done ages ago but looked like they need to evolve, and I’ve sent “unfinished” art into the world in order to make deadline.

Rebekah K.: My problem is that I just don’t know what it needs next. I love doing abstract backgrounds; then I walk away and never add a focal point or never have enough contrast, just tons of great backgrounds. When I’ve taken classes (such as yours) I take pictures of every step, and one thing I’ve learned is to not worry so much about wasting product (I always feel like I’m using too much of something). The other thing is to add layers. But when I get to a ‘top layer’ or focal point, then I feel like what I had originally intended is so far removed. I’d like to learn to somehow let my creativity evolve with a painting instead of being so planned.

Laura S.: I’m going to ask my 17-year-old son, who inspires me. He’s so prolific he averages several finished 11×14 pieces a week, and has a backlog of commissions. I told him I want to be like him when I grow up. If I had to venture a guess, I would say he is fearless and doesn’t mind taking chances.


Weren’t these answers amazing? I could so relate to many of the points the readers shared. It helps to know that you’re not alone in your feelings when it comes living a creative life!

I think my confidence in knowing when a painting is finished has come from doing what I do over and over again. The more I do something, the surer I am about what it is that I’m trying to accomplish. It doesn’t necessarily mean it comes out exactly how I planned, but I know when I have worked a piece to completion because it’s pleasing to me. I’m really the only one I ask now if a work is finished. After all, I’m its creator, so who should know better than I?

The FEAR of finishing a work is a totally different ball of wax, in my opinion. I think that comes from wanting to be perfect and not wanting to be in a vulnerable position if someone else doesn’t like what we do. Here’s the thing, friends: None of us are perfect, and hopefully we never will be. Perfection is a myth. Secondly, there are always going to be people who love what we do, and there are going to be people who are not really into it or don’t really get it. If you create for yourself first and foremost, you’ll always be happy and can learn to tune out those who don’t make you feel good about what you do.

If you waste your time chasing perfection or comparing yourself to others, you’ll lose valuable time creating art that fills the world with beauty and grace. I’m not saying to just create shoddy work…but maybe I am. I’m saying, keep practicing and keep competing with YOURSELF to be better and better each and every time you show up to do the job. You’ll find yourself finishing a lot more pieces of art and knowing what that work needs to have before calling it complete.

It’s a lot like cooking. There are some dishes you start with a recipe, but the more you make that dish, the more you rely on your senses to know what it needs, and when that dish is complete. Nobody’s signature dish taste like another’s. We all have our own special ingredients to make it our own.

Look around your studio today. I challenge you to go back to some of your UFOs (unfinished objects) and put in those ingredients that only you know it needs to call it complete. The more you create, the more confidence you’ll feel.

Trust me. ~Jodi


Jodi Ohl

About Jodi Ohl

i'm a mixed media artist, writer and instructor who loves the adventure of art making and meeting like minded individuals! I'm from Aberdeen, NC and the mother of two young men (no longer boys ) ages, 15 and 21


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