How to Finish What You Start (The Artists’ Edition)

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > Motivation

Starting something is easy.

Finishing? Not so much.

It’s difficult enough to finish things when they go relatively swiftly, but it’s infinitely harder when you’re working on something that takes as long to complete as. . . well, as a colored pencil drawing! (Yes, I speak from experience.)

Maybe you’re stuck in the same boat. After all, creating art isn’t usually a quick process, no matter what medium you use. If so, here a few tricks and tips that have helped me stay ahead of the game when it comes to finishing what I start.

1. Keep it small

If you’re new to colored pencils (or any medium) or have limited time available to create, make sure to keep your work small.

Colored pencils are especially good for small format and miniature work, so don’t be afraid to try your hand at little or even tiny works. Depending on your method of working and your preferred style, you might be able to finish a small drawing in a few hours or a few days.

Read more about why colored pencils are perfect for small or miniature art.

2. Find your best creative time

For some of us, our most creative hours are early in the morning. For others, it’s in the evenings. A few of us can sit down with paper and pencil and create amazing work at almost any time of day.

Find your most productive time for creating and dedicate that hour (or two, or three) to creating art. It’s a simple thing, but it can be key to finishing your work in a timely fashion.

3. Find your best working place

You don’t have to make art inside a special studio or standing in front of an easel, even though a lot of people do. If it’s easier for you to work sitting in a comfortable chair with back support, do it. If the couch is better, then that’s where you should work.

Put simply, it’s a lot easier to keep working on a drawing if you’re not dealing with a sore back, aching feet, or general physical fatigue into the bargain. So don’t worry about what everyone else does—instead, figure out what works for you!

4. Establish a schedule

I know, this sounds awfully business-like. But setting aside time each day or each week for artwork teaches your mind to expect drawing time. It may take a while, but you’ll eventually find that when the time comes to draw, you’re not only ready to draw, but able to quickly jump right into the process.

Not only that, but you’ll probably start looking forward to your drawing time each day, or each week (and nothing improves productivity like anticipation!)

5. Work in small chunks of time

Discover how productive you can be in small chunks of time. Promise yourself to draw for five minutes. Or ten, or fifteen, or twenty. The amount of time isn’t important. What is important is giving yourself permission to take a break afterward. Knowing you have permission to stop after fifteen or twenty minutes may be all it takes to get started.

This method works best if you give yourself incentive by setting up a reward.

Spend five minutes on the drawing you need to work on, then you can move on to something fun. Or you get to eat a piece of chocolate or pet the cat. Find the thing that provides motivation and reward yourself when you’ve met the goal for the day.

Read more about using small chunks of time effectively in 7 Lessons Learned from a Simple Drawing.

6. Learn to step back

You probably won’t be able to complete every single drawing before you start another. Sometimes you’ll get stuck in a drawing and won’t know what to do next. Or, you may just get tired of a particular drawing or subject matter.

That’s when it’s time to take a step back from your current project.

Either work on something else or take a break from art altogether. Spending a little time away will restore your creativity and allow your subconscious to work on whatever problem you might be facing with your current piece.

7. Work on certain pieces at certain times (or places)

My husband used to play in a community band, and I always went to their rehearsals because I enjoyed them. But they also provided a couple of hours of dedicated work time, so I always had a project to take along. Normally it was something small, and typically it was the only time during the week that I worked on that project.

I also led a colored pencil group locally and had larger colored pencil drawings that I used as demonstration pieces for the class. The only time I worked on those drawings was during class.

By setting aside specific times to work on specific drawings, I didn’t have to think about them during the rest of the week. It also allowed me to take a break from whatever major artworks I was working on in the studio.

8. Change it up

If you get so stuck on a drawing that you can’t make any headway at all, try working in a different way or in a different place. If you usually work sitting in a chair in the living room, try the couch in the back room or the porch swing. If you usually work on the entire piece at once, select a small area and work on that instead.

Sometimes, all you need to finish a drawing is one little change in routine. That little change will spark an idea or solution and the next thing you know, you’ll have a finished drawing and can move on to the next one. (Or get that piece of chocolate you promised yourself!)

9. Establish the habit of discipline

If you take only one thing away from this article, it should be the idea of establishing a habit of discipline. One of the worst problems I face when it comes to finishing artwork is losing enthusiasm. I simply get tired of whatever I’m working on. Starting new things is fun and exciting. The next drawing always carries the promise of being a masterpiece.

Learning to push forward on a drawing no matter how I feel about it has improved my completion rate more than any of the previous eight tips combined. Granted, I make use of all those tips to accomplish discipline, but without the discipline to sit down and draw, a thousand other tips would be temporary fixes and nothing more.

I’ll bet you can find some unfinished drawings or paintings that you’ve set aside for the same reason. I encourage you to pick them up and give them another go. Use any—or all—of these tips and see if you can push through the doldrums!

Good luck!


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