As the deadline for delivering my work approaches, a question that I am often asked becomes more urgent. How do you know when is a painting finished? It's a tough question for sure. I often feel that I can keep working on a painting forever, pushing it, changing it...but will it be better in the end? Sometimes, but not always.
I have had the experience of just "neatening up" a painting I considered finished, only to add elements that I realize were crucial to the work. Other times there are areas that I mean to get back to that suddenly look fine in their brushed-in stage. I guess the best way I can tell is that if a painting I think is finished bugs me every time I look at it, it's back to the easel. If it seems to settle in, then I can move on to wrestle with the other monsters in the studio.
The painting above is inspired by two of my experiences in the Tongass National Forest as described in my journal...
"It's 11:30 by the time we launch and head across the flat waters of Holkham Bay, aiming for the buoys marking a break in Tracy Arm Bar, which stretches across the entrance to Tracy and Endicott Arms and was formed by terminal morraines of Sawyer and Dawes Glaciers. The sound of whales had been in the air all morning, and as we cross the bar we are surprised by a huge black surge from the water, the back of a humpback whale which is gone before I can fully realize what it is. Solan suggests we knock on our kayaks to alert the whale to our presence, and I bang on mine till he laughs and says "I think it heard you." Then I'm sorry, because the whale doesn’t appear again, most likely off to quieter depths."
• • •
"As we eat lunch and stretch our legs, walking over the smooth curves of the huge shoreline rocks, we suddenly hear a roar and look up to see that a house sized iceberg had just rolled, exposing striations of jewel-like colors of browns, purples and intense blues. Still wet, it glistens in the sun—an amazing sight. Since the wind is still picking up, we soon pack up and resume paddling. The break had been welcome but I am still tired and sorry that we have to paddle further out into the fiord to skirt the iceberg, but I'm glad that we can get a closer look. Only Chrissy manages to take a picture as we pass, since without constantly paddling, the wind and current drives the kayaks backwards. We paddle through the headwind and choppy waves called haystacks, then turn the kayaks into Ford’s Terror."
I think it's finished. I think. Maybe.