When I posted this question on our Facebook page I didn’t quite expect the dialogue that ensued. I was curious: do you complete one project at a time or have multiple works in progress at the same time?
The response was unanimous: you all have multiple projects you work on. That wasn’t the problem. What appears to be a problem is how you perceive those multiple works as a sign of success… or failure. Some of you said things like:
“yes!! : too many interests, [sad face] too much going on and not enough time. “
“my perfectionist personality struggles with the “unfinished” work but I know that I’m unlikely to make the necessary changes, so the easy going personality lives with it and my creative personality just produces something else to replace it. “
It’s as if having multiple works in progress in not a sign of a successful, thriving artist but instead represents a creative who can’t manage their time, is lazy, or easily distracted/bored. But what if that’s not the case? What if multiple works in progress and in fact, some unfinished artwork, is instead a normal, regular part of creative process?
I’m a multi-passionate person with multiple interests. It means I have not only multiple works in progress, but they are usually long term projects in multiple media. For example: comic and illustration work (3 ideas in progress), my acrylic women strong series, and my recent obsession with embroidered mandalas. Well, how can I possibly finish it all? And even worse: what if I don’t?!
Here’s how I do it:
Chunk your time
Time can be your ally or your enemy. What about trying to focus on one project or medium for a 2, 4 or 6 week time span? This is a new experiment for me. I am not limited to one artwork or project, I can still work on other things, but I’m deciding to prioritize my embroidery right now for 6 weeks over other projects. Next? Probably my comic work. It allows me variety to keep me captivated but I predict I’ll have more results than my previously laissez-faire ways.
Trust your gut
Sometimes you want to work on something, sometimes you don’t. Have faith: there is a reason (read this) and accept that may mean putting something else on pause. Pause means there is always a chance to resume the work! But maybe it’s time for a break.
Honor the process
There are times where you can pause on a project for months, return to it super excited and complete it! Other times you would rather just paint over it. And why not? Perhaps that work taught you about color, or composition and those lessons will inform your next work. In fact, you could never be where you are right now without the work that came before… so celebrate and honor it’s influence: give yourself permission to keep moving forward. Because that’s what you are doing: growing, learning and making more art.
Our notions of good art, cultural expectations of perfectionism, and our own self-critical nature can all get in the way of our art. Shaming ourselves about our unfinished art is a symptom of this scarcity mindset. Remember: you can make the art you do today because of all the art (“finished” and “unfinished”) behind you. And guess what? The art you really believe in? You’ll finish.
The next time you hear that inner dialogue telling you what’s wrong with your pile of unfinished works catch yourself. Stop. Take a deep cleansing breath. And THANK ALL of your artwork (yes all of it, even the stuff you hate) for letting you create the art you are capable of creating today.
I am thankful for my mandala drawings because they led not only to my coloring book but to a wonderful new textile series of mandalas. I’m thankful for my lantern paintings, finished and incomplete, for celebrating color, light, and my life in the Middle East for nearly 10 years. I’m thankful for all of my portraits and self-portraits for leading me to my work like Frida Strong. And all of this, has led me to here and now, with you.
“Unfinished art does NOT make you a bad artist. It makes you a NORMAL artist.” (Click to Tweet)
Be Creatively Courageous: Now it’s your turn. Tell me: what can you be grateful for because of your past creations?
Forget about all the art to do, I never have the time to get into the darkroom to do
it due to other things like competitve swimming!
Not to mention working on acreage and getting ready for winter when art can be done in relative peace.
There is always much to do, in everyone’s lives! We only have so much time in a day and must choose what we love to spend our time on. If competitive swimming is something you love, and requires lots of time, this could easily mean less time for your art. And it could take longer to reach different art goals. So what? As long as you make time, and are doing things you love, it sounds like the right place to be <3
I usually have several projects on the go or in my head. While one is being finished another one pops up in my brain and I start to approach it with, “what if’s”. I can stall on a few. I generally have an art project on the go…a craft one for the TV..and one that is in the planning stages festering in my brain. That does not count for trying a new recipe out, painting the garbage bin, gardening, family and friends. It’s a busy life and sometimes art goes by the way side…then I gear up and dive in with several projects I want to start. It all goes in a cycle.
Hi Mitzi! Part of me feel that is the natural ebb and flow of art: that we create in cycles. Sometimes it’s all about starting and the new ideas we have, other times it’s about refining, and finishing works. Sometimes it’s about letting go of old ideas and starting on something new. I love your attitude and approach 🙂
I always have multiple projects. Many of them only allow me to do so much before it has to sit and wait (sometimes up to a week) for the next step so I need to do something in the meantime. I enjoy doing different things as each project expands my mind with “what if I…” usually creating a new concept using more than one technique. I cannot think of a better way to spend my time then jumping all over the place, exploring, experimenting, and learning. Glad you touched on this as I know some do see me as being unaccomplished, but in my opinion that is only a thought based on their expectations and not mine :).
Cheryl this piece is so important and I hope more artists key in on this: “some do see me as being unaccomplished, but that is a thought based on their expectations and not mine.”
I have family, who are not artists, who sometimes have this perception of me and offer me unasked for advice on how to improve, how to make more art, etc. And sometimes it still bothers me. But then I remember they don’t make art, and I do. And that we share different values and life goals. I feel some release when I reflect on this. I hope others feel that reading your comment today. <3
Thank you all for your comments, which have reassured me that I’m not useless. I always have several projects on the go, and some wait for months to be finished. I think because we are creative people, and can’t stop thinking of new concepts and techniques we want to explore, it is inevitable that this will happen. Something that has had an enormous positive impact on my art and how I view myself as an artist is art journalling. It allows me to do a double page spread relatively quickly, sometimes 2 hours, and it’s finished, so I can be grateful and happy that I’ve finished a piece of art. And it gives me a platform to experiment with all sorts of techniques that I want to try out, which I can later translate to a larger piece of art. I have found it enormously fulfilling and beneficial to my art, my creativity, and my soul. One thing I have learnt is that an artwork will determine when you will finish it, not the other way around.
“that an artwork will determine when you will finish it” there is journey and patience when it comes to making art. Sometimes we are so goal oriented – all about products and results – we forget about the magic and beauty of the journey that brings us to those finished results.
I have ONE big painting that I work on almost everyday..and I have worked on it for two years!! With small pauses inbetween ..
Everytime I get to a “almost finished destination ”
I self-sabotage and have to start over again…
I am exhausted but I wont give up..
What does finished look and feel like to you? You can do it!
I started 2 paintings about 6 years ago and still haven’t finished them. I am an art lover, do many projects and finish it but these 2 unfinished pieces are taking forever. I don’t know what’s wrong, I need to be in the right mood to spend 4 hours on it. I work on them maybe 2 days back to back and then something else distract me again. Usually home errands. What should I do?
Oh Marisol. I feel you. It can be so frustrating to not finish work or understand WHY we don’t finish it. A couple of thoughts:
(1) Some work isn’t meant for us to finish. The lesson was in the starting it, or in working on part of it.
(2) If you REALLY want to finish it, you may need to consider what you could do to keep yourself accountable. I’ve got an article here I think could help: https://www.artiststrong.com/top-takeaways-from-better-than-before/
Thank you for reading, and for being so willing to share <3
Hi! I have like 10(I know, TEN?!) unfinished paintings and they really stress me out. With school, dance, and lots of other priorities, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to finish them. and worse, I get new ideas ALL THE TIME. I’m not that good of an artist, so I don’t want to go really fast and mess them all up, but I can get impatient while doing them. Any tips? btw, I love your blog post! Have a great day!
It’s a great problem to have – having lots of work in progress and more ideas on the way. I’d say: trust the journey.
Not ALL works are meant to be finished. Do you know of an artist in ALL of history that was noted for finishing all of their art?! It’s just not how art works.
Trust that with the time and energy you have, you’ll know which one to focus on and finish, and which new idea to start. You’ll also know which paintings to gesso over and start new work on, too (I do this all of the time!).
I hope this gives you permission to consider not all works are meant to be finished, and perhaps our culture of perfectionism and achievement has us fooled into thinking otherwise.
P.S. I probably have 10 or more unfinished works, too. <3
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.
—Leonard da Vinci”
Such a great quote.
I guess that sometimes (or most times) art isn’t supposed to be finished.
It might even be unhealthy for us to obsess over finishing something (or most things).
A better thing to do perhaps is to trust the process and to let go of what we have for a while by starting something new.
If you think about it, art is meant to be an expression of ourselves and I fear that when to attempt to finish something (at least consciously) we’re turning it into something else.
Maybe sometimes things are not supposed to be finished.
And I feel that when something is meant to be finished, it will eventually be finished on its own by itself.
Hi Ricardo, I believe our consumerist, predominantly capitalist culture encourages us all to feel “less than” when we don’t finish everything we start. But that just isn’t how creative process works, is it?
Also – da Vinci is a perfect example of someone who struggled to finish his art. He had something like 30 artworks for his entire lifetime and historians closer to the era claimed he said on his deathbed he wished he finished more art. Some of his contracts had a finish clause that ensured bonuses for finishing while others said he would have to pay them back if he didn’t finish by a certain date. Sometimes, deadlines (with real consequences) are the thing we need!
The thing is, even though i’m still at the learning stage, I start on a painting because it wants to come out of my mind so badly, and the mindset of ‘when i’m good enough i’ll finish this’’ always gets in the way, i think i am good enough to finish them now, but I just dont have the will to do so, even though I definitely enjoy painting, I just can’t fall in love with my work yet to dwell in finishing and perfecting it because i lack, I don’t know, maybe it’s the insecurity or just being a self taught artist with no support is hard.
How can you possible improve enough to be “good enough” if you don’t finish art?
This is a pesky perfectionist inner critic who is holding you back from the opportunity to create your best art, and that can ONLY come if you make a lot of art, including art you may think is bad.
Why do you have to be in love with the work to finish it? Why does finishing mean you have to dwell on the work?
I encourage you to look at your definitions of being good, what finishing an artwork has to look like, etc.
Knowing those definitions can not only help you see what you really want from your art experience, but can help you overcome some of the behaviors that could be as a result of being nervous about being bad, for example.
Knowing how you define being good enough can also help you take steps to get there. I encourage my students in Self-Taught to Self-Confident to do a bunch of exercises rather than work on “real” artworks so they don’t have to worry about finishing, or making an art for showcase or display. There is a lot of practice, like musical scales for artists, we can do to help be more confident in the art we make.
I hope you find that inner confidence to take risks, and make a whole lot of bad art… that’s the only path I know to making art we feel proud of, too. <3 <3