A Very Interesting Place

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post about the tricky business of knowing when a painting is finished. It was inspired by the quote, ‘A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places‘ by Paul Gardner. Although I love the quote and it is, in my experience, inspiringly accurate, I rather balk at the word ‘simply’. For it is anything but simple to know when a painting is at ‘an interesting place’, this being, for me, the point where it meets my intention and vision.

This is, of course, the art in any art form. When is it finished? When does it say what you intend? When does it meet all your artistic demands? When is it ready to go out into the world independently conveying your message?

This is how the painting in question looked a year ago:

Little did I know it was going to take me a year to complete. Some paintings take a matter of days. It is a curious thing. With this one it was the problem of visually connecting the sea portion of the painting with the fabulous patterns created by the variegated leaf. (Variegated leaf is imitation leaf which has been heated to create the patterning.) It wasn’t until after I had finished a few other leaf and sea paintings, that I saw a way to do it.

And this is it, finished, or should I say, stopped at a place I consider to be interesting.

I now cannot stop painting leaf and sea paintings. They bring me such joy. Here are some others:

Oh, this artist life, this demanding, mercurial, mysterious, siren-like artist life. I know why I do it, why I submit to its mystery. Because it allows me to swim in colour, to escape into colour, to live in colour and sometimes it is the only place that makes sense.

So, tell me, my inspirational artist compadres. Why do you do it?


  1. You’re so right about the ‘simply’ – I usually use it to denote its opposite – simply make yourself invisible, etc. And you’ve pinpointed why I and I’m sure others do what we do – because we love the journey, the way we feel, the thoughts we have in the process, the whole world of exploration, and we love the result and feel proud of it, for a moment at least. It’s interesting how time plays a role – how what we thought was done often rears up again and demands our attention. I am learning, though, that it is much more freeing to move on to new things rather than tinker endlessly with the same project. There is, as you so beautifully show, an infinite sea out there.

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  2. I often wonder! I’ve just reread To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and one of the main characters is an artist Lily Briscoe and there’s a moment at the end of the book when she’s been struggling with how to finish the painting and she leans forwards and does one stroke of the brush and the final line of the book is ‘Yes, she thought laying down her brush with extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.’ And I have to say I felt bloody jealous! But the extreme fatigue ran true and the struggle to bring something to an end. Sometimes I find it’s a question of just having to move onto something else for my own sanity.

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  3. Oh, what wonderful words! Thank you so much.
    Yes, endless tinkering … One of the things I endeavour to achieve with my paintings is a lightness of touch (sounds like a contradiction in terms, I know), that they are not overworked and I can tell when I have lost a painting and won’t be getting it back. As you say, we learn as we muddle through this creative life.
    How difficult/easy is it to know when you have reached an interesting place with writing?

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  4. What a wonderful last line of a book! And I have to say that it is remarkably accurate. It can take six months of wondering and then it just needs one mark and suddenly it is done. And there is that feeling of relief. That somehow you can let it go. I imagine the extreme fatigue is in part clinging on to this elusive vision in order to be able to realise it.
    I also tend to have several paintings on the go for exactly that reason. I find that if I only have one I become too obsessed with it and it gets overworked.
    How amazing to have that as a last line. Are last lines the plagues that I think they might be?!

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  5. Sometimes I’m happy that something has ended – I know that the ending is strong. But there are other times when I think I’ve ended a story just because I’ve thought about it too much and can’t come up with something better – that’s when it takes a long time, when I come back to it months later and hopefully find that interesting place. These paintings have certainly stopped at interesting places – the first has so much more texture now. They’re all beautifully vibrant.

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  6. Oh, Andrea, that is so kind of you. Thank you.
    It is so strange this art thing, isn’t it? It’s like there is no formula. No rhyme or reason. I think that is the wonderment of art, but also the excitement. We never know where it is going to lead us. And it is the art leading us …

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