In class couple weeks ago, one of my students asked a question that has stuck with me: "How do we know when a painting is done?" My reply, at the time, was something general like... when nothing bothers you about the piece and you can't see where to take it further then it's done. Temperment also plays a part, when you find that you are no longer enjoying the painting (of course everyone goes through creative trials) but when you just look at the piece on your easel and dread picking up a paintbrush to work on it? Then it's time to call it quits, discard it as a work in progress and move onto something else that you can pour yourself into. Of course this is fine to tell students who are just exploring the process. For a professional artist who, for example works on commission and cannot merely abandon a painting, completion must be achieved through a rigorous criteria in aesthetic and intention.
When I approached the final layer on the commission, I evaluated EVERYTHING: perspective, color balance and rhythm, value relationships, drawing proportions, light sources, the balance of detail and non specific passages, and the overall "feel" of the piece.
My first step was to rectify the "collage" issue. Since I had used two separate images for the background and figure, the painting didn't have an accurate sense of space. Immediately I saw that if the girl were to be truly seated in a field of flowers then the flowers directly beside her (on the same plane) would need to be treated with the same amount of detail as her dress. But something else was bothering me about the isolated figure and background... and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. So I started an online hunt for inspiration, looking for more detailed images of lupine and how fields of flowers behave....
As luck (or perhaps tenacity) would have it, I stumbled upon fields that struck the resonant chord. The addition of California poppies was exactly what this painting needed. It not only made the entire field pop in a diversity that is much more natural, but it successfully united the figure within the scene. The burnt oranges and golds of the petals perfectly matched Nicole's dress so the colors became balanced and rhythmical throughout the entire painting. I purposefully painted many of the poppies closed, still in the beginning of their bloom, to symbolize the beginning of this young girls path to womanhood. And of course the poppies had a sweet resonance with me, personally, as I'm a 5th generation Californian and these vibrant little flowers proliferate the memory of my childhood.
As much as the field began to feel like a natural background setting, the light source was still an issue. Nicole was obviously lit with a bright, directional studio light. The dark shadows that cut her neck, nose, and right eye shriek of artifice. Lightening the shadows created subtle transitions and gave the painting its final diffused glow.