Open Wide and Finish Your Artwork

Is your art space filled with tons of unfinished work? Mine is.

Finishing projects is a common problem for many creative people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set aside a drawing or painting to focus on a shiny new idea. There are several large storage containers filled with unfinished work in my home. At times it’s a little overwhelming. What do I do with all of this stuff? I’ll save that question for a later blog post. For now I’ll focus on how to push past the unfinished artwork problem.

I haven’t completely solved the problem yet, and probably never will, but through experience I have managed to improve over the years. More projects are finished than ever before and my body of work is building. I want to share a few tips that have helped me push through and finish more projects. Hopefully they will help you too!

Limit your time with new ideas

You’re halfway through finishing a piece when a great new idea pops in your head. You try to move past it, but the idea is persistent. It won’t go away. Next thing you know, you’ve put down the brush and started sketching out the idea. The new idea has taken hold and the project you were working on seems a lot less exciting and proceeds to sit on the easel for months.

New ideas are great, but not if they stop you working on your current project. When inspiration strikes, try limiting how long you sketch the new idea. Set a timer for five minutes and sketch furiously while making notes. Get it out of your head as quickly as possible. When you’re done, hide the idea in a folder or sketchbook and move directly back to the project you were working on. I have found there is a happy medium between getting the idea out and becoming involved in the new project. It seems to be about five minutes for me, but you may need to adjust that time depending on how your brain works. The point is not to sit and stew on the new idea. The longer it’s floating around in your mind, the more likely it will take hold.

Set a timer while you’re working

This tip is also time based, but has a twist. I read this one from another artist’s blog years ago (I would link it, but I’ve forgotten where I saw it). The idea is to use a stopwatch while you work. When you sit down with pencil or brush in hand, you start the timer. The number one rule is while the stopwatch is running you are forbidden from doing anything else–no cellphone, no computer, no television, no distractions. You are allowed only to work on your project. I allow myself an old iPad to look up reference photos but otherwise I restrict all electronic devices. If you’re using a stopwatch app on your phone, that is ok too, but consider turning off notifications.

Set goals for yourself to see how long you can work uninterrupted. Gamify the process a bit. Create a timesheet in Excel or Google Sheets to keep track of your weekly times. Try to meet a weekly goal or outdo the previous week. In time, you’ll develop the skill to tune out distractions and be amazed at how much you can get done!

Waiting for perfection

One reason many artists will abandon a project is they don’t feel it’s perfect or good enough. It needs to be said, no project will ever be perfect. It’s a balancing trick between finishing a project and doing a good job. There comes a point when all artists have to accept a project will have imperfections. Accept it and get the project done, then move on to the next.

Work on several projects

Working on multiple pieces may seem contradictory to the theme of this article, but it’s a common trick used by artists. Artists may put down a piece if they hit a difficult part or it isn’t looking how they wanted. By working on several pieces at once, it takes the pressure off of each one needing to be perfect. When you come back to a difficult piece in the rotation, you have fresh eyes for troubleshooting and may feel renewed excitement to work on it.

Limit how many you have going at once. You can replace finished work with new pieces, but the number of pieces should stay relatively the same. Ten or more is probably pushing it. Have all the pieces visible in same area so you have to look at them as one ever-evolving project.

Celebrate your successes

As you become better at finishing projects, allow yourself to celebrate your success. Put finished artwork on the wall, post it on social media, create prints and sell them. It’s incredibly satisfying to finish a project, so indulge a little. With each success, you’ll add to your total body of work. Seeing your accomplishments helps to further encourage finishing work.
Thanks for reading and keep creating!

Thanks for reading and keep creating!


This article is mostly for visual artists, so I found a few links with similar themes for writers:

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