A Lesson in Over-Working

Sometimes an unfinished painting is more successful than the original concept…

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a break from a painting I was working on for an upcoming art show and I posted a work in progress photo on social media. Within a few hours, on of my regular patrons commented on the photo to ask how much I wanted for it.

I was simultaneously excited and panicked. I was working on this painting for an upcoming show after all, but the prospect of selling it and making a second painting was well worth consideration. I responded with an explanation of how I planned to finish the piece and asked if he wanted me to continue working on it.

At that point in the painting, I wasn’t particularly excited about the way it was looking, so I was shocked when he told me to sign it and deliver it to his office. It was unfinished! How could he possibly want it like that?

Needless to say, I signed it and hung it in the den to dry, and got to work on a slightly smaller replacement for the show. The funny thing is, every time I walked past the painting in the den, I came to like it more. The rawness of it – the thing that my patron most liked about it – was growing on me. It was fitting for the quote that I used as part of the underpainting: “The people who were trying to make the world worse are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness” – Bob Marley

Given some of the things that have been happening recently, this quote and the raw nature of the painting have been resonating with many people who follow my social media pages.

I’m sorry to say that the replacement painting, though progressing more quickly, is not going the way I had hoped. I have actually been talking over the concept of overworking a painting on an online art forum as I try to examine my need to make a piece of art turn out exactly the way I envision it, rather than how it progresses naturally. My husband has been telling me for years that I overwork my paintings, but of course I don’t want to listen to him. I want to be stubborn and assert my authority over the art.

That’s not really how it works, and I am working on the idea that I need to make some changes to my process. I need to make more time for drawing and working out the ideas in my art journals before starting a painting. Both of these tasks help me focus and develop concepts more effectively. Looking back on my portfolio and art journals, I can see a correlation between the time spent in the journals and on drawing and the successfulness of the finished art and accuracy of the subjects/concepts illustrated.

As an artist, it can be difficult to know how much to work on a piece of art. Stepping away can be even more difficult. I am hoping that, in working on these habits, I will be more prolific and successful as an artist.


Frances is a stay-at-home mom, community volunteer, and artist who loves all things old, living in the country and keeping chickens.


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