Most of us start projects. We start drawings and sketches with visions of canvases we will paint, clothes we will sew, products we will design, characters we will animate and sculptures we will carve. We purchase supplies, prime surfaces and prepare our materials. And if you are like me, you will start way more projects than you complete and your studio may already be cluttered with half finished paintings and numerous assorted projects that we claim we will finish ‘one day.’ But that day never comes. Why is it so difficult sometimes to finish things?
I think that part of the challenge in completing something is that it is a process of closing the gap between the work as we envisioned it and the reality of what we have created. Stating that we are done somehow implies that we are content to let the work stand as it is – and that can be scary. Sometimes if the work falls short of our expectations we don’t want to admit that we are unworthy or unable to make the piece everything that it could be.
“The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Another reason that finishing a project is challenging is that we can run out of inspiration, motivation or enthusiasm for the work. When the rush of the new thing is over, it can be challenging to maintain and intensify our interest or passion for the concept or the work itself. The ability to stick with an idea and dig deeper, pushing ourselves to explore and produce is challenging. Responsibility and commitment can be subtle but powerful themes that emerge from our work, showing our ability to carry through an idea from “spark” to finish.
Some of the other reasons students have told me that they didn’t complete things include:
- They lost interest along the way
- They were too stressed to work due to their procrastination
- They had too many time and commitment pressures
- They let obstacles break their determination
- They had no idea what to do next or how to finish the work
- They didn’t make their creative time a priority
- They gave up because they didn’t feel they had the ability to ‘pull-it-off ’
- They felt overwhelmed by too many desires and interests
- They had no pressing reason to complete the work – no deadline or exhibition
- They had fear around calling a project complete or done because they were worrying about sharing their work and were already fearing rejection or negativity.
I think that one of the most powerful antidotes to not completing things is to shift our focus from the project itself, to what we have learned and how we have grown through the process of creating it. Regardless of the success of the piece, there is always learning that has taken place. By focusing our attention on experimentation, growth, learning and risk-taking we can immediately re-engage with the process of creating, moving quickly to our next piece. The key is to focus on progress, not perfection!
Here are a few ideas you might try:
- Choose one piece of work that you currently have underway, and brainstorm 3 different ways that you could resolve or finish the work.
- Draft up a quick list in your sketchbook that includes some of the reasons why you have left things unfinished in the past. Are there any works that you need to go back and complete?
- In addition to new works that you are creating, jot down a list of all your unfinished works and what you need to do to complete them. Target one piece a week to fully resolve. This will feel great, and is a real self-confidence booster.
- Perhaps you could set up a “Completion Party” with some of your artist friends where each person brings along a few works in progress to further develop. Another strategy is go give yourself a “Completion Challenge” like I am about to do!
To give you some idea of the extent of my problem with completing things I decided to count up the encaustic works that I have started but remain unfinished in my studio. I broke them into 2 categories – works larger than 12” x 12” and studies (works smaller than 12” x 12”). When all was said and done there were 28 works 12” x 12” or larger and 73 studies. Oh my! What a shocking number of works! One of the strategies that I’m going to use to complete these pieces is sharing this embarrassment with you here, and committing to completing all of these works before the end of 2015. I also photographed the works in their current state and then I will post the completed works when I am done with them. Who knows – some works may end up in the garbage…it’s not out of the question. By sharing this goal with you I have increased my accountability to follow through. And more importantly I vow that I will never let myself get in this position again. Wish me luck!
Here is my first set of completed works. I started with 16 – 5” x 5” x 2” blocks that were covered with an abstracted quote written in India ink. They also had 2 layers of encaustic medium on them. To finish them off I dyed them with Indigo dye and then did some further wax work and embellishing with silver leaf and an indigo oil stick.
I’d like to hear about any strategies you have for completing your works…so please send in any suggestions.