How to know when to stop: a 3 point guide

Do you ever wonder how to tell when your painting is finished and you should stop?

You’re not alone.

I know students are often wary of ‘overworking’ their painting – fearing they will wreck what they’ve managed to create if they carry on too much.

Watercolour techniques that favour a wet-on-wet approach can lead to paint mixing too much on the paper and going ‘muddy’ (meaning they lose vibrancy and clarity) – which is a real reason to stop painting early.

But, if you’re interested in painting in a realistic way, you need to flip this thinking on it’s head.

You need to make sure you capture ALL the detail you can see. And you also need to make sure you take your subject as dark in tone as it needs to be (check out my previous blog post: “Know when to carry on” for more on this).

And with my wet-on-dry painting technique there is no danger of muddiness so you can keep adding detail for as long as you need to.

Here’s my 3 point video guide to the details you need to work on so you can feel confident you are ready to stop:

If you’ve struggled with knowing when to stop in the past, please tell me about it in the comments below ! I’d love to hear if it’s happened to you.

Happy painting

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  1. Gwen Viney on October 18, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you Anna
    Your advice is truly helpful

  2. Margaret Orchard on February 26, 2018 at 6:52 am

    How invaluable your advice is Anna, that such small alterations/ additions to a painting can make such a difference.

  3. Smudger on May 31, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    This advice is just what I needed. The final stages of a painting are so important to the overall finished look.

  4. Linda Coffey on June 18, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Good tips! I will try to apply these to my next painting. Learning a lot from you & your tutorials!
    Thank You!
    Linda Coffey

  5. Kerry Mole on June 19, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you so very much Anna, I am learning so much from your art school already and do appreciate your fab advice as it is extremely helpful to me throughout the whole process of learning how to paint with “wow!”
    Kerry x

  6. Lynda on July 20, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    I struggle with knowing when I’m done with a painting almost EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. !! I am learning to see so much more detail using the techniques from your tutorials. There are times I go back and add what I think are obviously needed details and nobody but me ends up noticing the difference. I suppose it’s good enough at that point, but my eye picks out the places in each painting where I’m not quite satisfied with the results. That being said, I do see a marked improvement in my work since I started the school and that is really exciting and makes me want to keep going! Yay! Thanks, Anna.

  7. Daniel C. Fender on September 25, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    Hello Anna

    This is Dan.

    I just read your suggestion that I look at you guide to figure-out when “enough is …… enough”. And stop painting. And…… well, you gide is exactly what drives me to yet another fix-up or repair or…… whatever. This “more to do” attribute was particurally trying with the your Owl project. Because I kept seeing more and more fine detail and more and more tonal changes. Which after too many repeating cycles and too many hours, I finally, and perhape reluctantly, gave up .Still, friend, I learned massively, to See such details. And intend to eventually repeat the Owl pqinting to better incorperate all this detail. and edcuation.

    May we smile this day, Anna. And may we share our smiles this day.

    Thank You;

  8. Judi Hendricks on September 1, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    I find in not knowing when to stop I end up with a much darker painting than it should be.

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