Embrace Your Unfinished Art: The Creative Power of Multiple Projects

I am curious: do you complete one project at a time or have multiple works in progress at the same time? When I polled community members 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.”

“I have ONE big painting that I work on almost every day… I am exhausted but I won’t give up.”

“I started 2 paintings about 6 years ago and still haven’t finished them. I need to be in the right mood to spend 4 hours on it.”

“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.”

In fact, many people shared they struggle to finish their art. It’s as if having multiple works in progress is not a sign of a successful, thriving artist but instead represents a creative person 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, are instead a normal, regular part of the creative process?

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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: a series of drawings inspired by collage work, my Women Who Tattoo series, and my Primary Caregiver art project are some of the things I’m currently working on.

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? I am not limited to one artwork or project; I can still work on other things, but I’m deciding to prioritize one work or series over other projects. It allows me variety to keep me captivated and allows me to see greater progress, which fuels my motivation and interest.

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 it 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. 

When you decide to take a break, make it measurable and concrete: “I will take 7 days from looking at or actively working on this painting.”I think a lot of people with creative blocks intended to (or needed to) take a break but didn’t decide for how long. If we wait until we feel like something that is challenging us, well, we could wait for a long time. Discomfort is part of growth and something we like to avoid.

Leonardo da Vinci would regularly take breaks from his work. He’d turn a piece around to face the wall of his studio and not look at it for months.

Honor the Process

There are times when 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 its 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.

How Do You Know When an Artwork Is Finished?

Perhaps you struggle and procrastinate finishing because you don’t know how to finish the work? 

So, how do you know when your artwork is finished?

Specificity can help. Do you know what you want the finished work to look like? If you have a clear vision and goal for the artwork, it’s easier to know how to get there AND know what it will look like when you’re done. 

Or, perhaps you start with a glimmer of an idea and let the painting come to you. This may sound silly to you, but I talk to my work to understand it better.

When I was working on Barbara in my Anonymous Woman series I realized I had left a LOT of negative space in the background. 

I sat in front of the piece and in my mind asked myself/the work: “What do you want next?”

I got really curious and sat in the quiet looking at the work, waiting for an answer.

That let me think about color palettes from the 1940s, the embellishing with craft materials I’ve wanted to explore, and ultimately to her hand embroidered background that took over 200 hours to complete.

I didn’t mind the time it took. I love that piece.

This is a question that plagues many artists. Here are some things to consider:

Confidence: Do you feel confident in the work you’ve done? How is the confidence in your skill and decision making as an artist impacting your ability to decide what’s next?

Skill: Have you applied your skills to the best of your ability? Are there new skills you want to develop or skills you wish to improve to achieve a certain effect in the work?

Critique: Have you sought feedback from trusted sources? It’s especially important to do this while the work is in progress so you have a chance to use that feedback to inform the current work. Times you might ask for feedback include: your initial composition, when the piece is half-way finished, and when you think you’re close to complete.

The only time I don’t love engaging in critique is when an artwork is finished. This can be valuable and worthy for developed artists who have a series of artworks and seek to push through to new levels. 

I find this especially difficult for newer artists who are proud and happy to share their work only to feel like they are now being told everything is wrong with it.

Curiosity: Are you still curious about the piece or ready to move on? If you find you’re dragging your feet and feel like you have to finish the work, ask yourself, “why?” Sometimes we need a little push and sometimes, we just don’t want to finish a piece and that’s okay.

Maybe you shouldn’t finish it all. Learning and discovery took place, and you needed that for the next new idea.

Ask It: Sometimes, simply asking the artwork if it’s done can provide an intuitive answer, like I did with my Barbara work.

Will another mark help or hurt? This is crucial. Sometimes, adding more can detract from the work. Keeping it as simple as this can often help you find the answer. 

Remember the words attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

>>> So how do you know when your artwork is finished? Tell us in the comments below.

Do you “overwork” or “underwork” your art?

I had a professor in college tell me, “You murder your paintings.”


What she meant was I had these beautiful marks in my initial layers of paint that I would then entirely cover up trying to refine and tighten the work.

It was tight all right…

Another piece of the puzzle here is knowing your nature around the work you do finish and using that to inform the work you have yet to complete.

Knowing that I overwork my paintings, I try to step back and take breaks WAY before I think I’m done to ask myself that very question. And I have realized my work is usually stronger when I stop working on it well before I think I should be done.

If you are like me, take some time and break up the making so you can really ask yourself if you’re starting to overwork the drawing or painting.

If that’s not you, but instead you often want to walk away from work before you’ve fully refined the piece, well, you have your answer: it’s time to stick it out a wee bit longer.

I have a video that goes into this topic in more detail linked below and available here.

>>> Do you identify more as an overworker or underworker? Tell me more in the comments below!

Some days all I want to do is listen endlessly to podcasts and stitch #createeveryday #textiles #artiststrong

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The response was unanimous: you all have multiple projects you work on. That's not the problem... its how you perceive the multiple works as a sign of failure.

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Community Insights

Here are some insights from our community that could resonate with you:

“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’. It all goes in a cycle.”

“I always have multiple projects. Many of them only allow me to do so much before it has to sit and wait 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…’.”

“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 have like 10 unfinished paintings and they really stress me out.”

“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…”

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.

>>> Today’s video is brought to you by Self-Taught to Self-Confident, and it will help you move from feeling stuck, wondering what’s next to confidently creating a series of artworks that you can share with loved ones (and even sell).

Choose a time from my calendar here so we can discuss where you are at with your art, where you want to be, and see if I’m a good fit to help.

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I am thankful for my mandala drawings I started years ago 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. 

ALL of that work led me to my Anonymous Woman series, Women Who Tattoo, and Primary Caregiver Art. 

What can you do with your unfinished art?

When you decide that some work is ready to be retired, I have ideas for those, too. Check out my article 50 Ways To Use Your Unfinished Art, which includes suggestions like: swap it with a friend, cut it up, or simply paint over it.

I’ve donated my canvases to schools, painted over work, cut it up, and more… it’s afforded me some real freedom to experiment, play, and make room for more art in my mind (and studio!).

Who knows what new work and ideas you might uncover by playing around with your unfinished work?.

>>> What’s one thing you could do with the unfinished piece you’ve decided to let go? Tell me about it in the comments and then, go do it!

Embracing multiple unfinished art projects is not a sign of failure but a testament to your creativity and ongoing growth as an artist. 

By chunking your time, trusting your gut, and honoring the creative process, you can manage and benefit from having several works in progress. 

Remember, every piece of art, finished or unfinished, contributes to your artistic journey. 

>>> Share your experiences with unfinished art in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and subscribe to Artist Strong for more insights and inspiration.

Thank you so much for watching and remember:

Proudly call yourself an artist.

Together we are Artist Strong.