Thoughts on Finishing Part 2- Begin with Art Goals

My Best Tip for How to FINISH?  Set Some Art Goals

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” ~Leonardo da Vinci 

Paintings are never finished. In the quote above, Leonardo DaVinci described completion as abandoning a painting.  In some ways it can feel like that.   There is always more that could be done.  What’s the best way I know to get ‘er done and feel permission to quit?  Set some art goals!

OOPS! Did you already start without any pre-planning?  😅 It’s ok!

I frequently jump impulsively into painting. When that happens, I will often set art goals in the middle of the piece. Perhaps it’s as simple as giving the painting a title.  Sometimes I’ll narrow down on a particular technique I want to try.  Whatever it is, having a plan helps me stay focused on what I hope to achieve, and directs my choices along the way.


To keep track, I love to keep a journal nearby as I paint. In that journal I may test my colors, plan my palette, do a value study, document my steps and challenges, or store my reference photos.

You might want to try setting written goals for your next painting!  If you’re like me, you’ll find it helps you to stay on target toward the finish line.  My notes help me pick up where I left off when I return to a painting after leaving it for a while. Don’t have a sketchbook handy?  It’s ok! I’ve been known to write on the back of my watercolor paper.  That way, when I pick up the painting, my notes are right there ready to remind me what in the world I was thinking when I first began the painting…(sometimes it’s a burden to be blonde 😉)

You might want to try asking yourself some of these questions with your next painting in order to set some art goals…

  • What’s my main goal?
  • What kind of mood do I want to create?
  • What colors would I like to use to support that mood…
  • What kind of light do I want to show? Time of day?
  • Am I interested in exploring a concept or technique?
  • Will I be telling a story?  Is there a dominant theme?
  • What kind of composition will I use? How will shapes be arranged?

A page from my journal with goals for a commissioned painting


“Be anything you want to be, but don’t be dull”~ Frank Robinson


My generic art goal with every painting is to be anything but boring. Being raised a Catholic, there were certain sins that were REALLY bad, they were the “mortal sins.”

I consider being dull to be the mortal sin of art.

Be loud.

Be controversial.

Be emotional.

Be surreal.

Be quirky.

Be exaggerated.

Be moody,

but don’t be Dull!

Example:  Perhaps you want to paint a gray day.  You don’t need to get out Payne’s gray and paint everything that color.  Try creating a gray from complementary colors, pushing it to the warm side of gray in some areas, and to the cooler side of gray in others. This will almost always be a more interesting result.



Many good paintings tell stories. Make it part of your art goal setting.  Is it about showing the warmth of a sunset, or watching a peaceful wave break on the shore, or sharing a walk with figures in a garden?  Is it about a quirky little girl, or a contemplative young man? If you’re having difficulty finishing, perhaps you need to decide on your story!  Even if you’re well on your way to completion, sometimes this can be just the thing to make that fat lady sing!

This painting had trouble coming over the finish line.  I added figures when I decided the landscape felt empty without them.  Once the figures were in place, I  felt permission to stop. “Tuscan Stroll”- 22×15. Framed/matted original atomized watercolor on paper. $660



Finishing involves risk! Don’t let your painting get too “precious”…

It can feel like a huge risk to push it further and do more to a painting you already like.  This fear can cause you to stop prematurely and leave your paintings at a wimpy point in their development.  It’s a common fault I see in a lot of watercolor paintings. This same fear can even prevent you from finishing at all! Don’t let that happen to you.

Is this you? Hiding in the shadows with your “precious,” unwilling to show it to the world until it’s perfect?


“Risk everything until the last brushstroke.”  ~Eric Weigardt



Final Thoughts on Art Goals:

  • Think of yourself as an art adventurer!  You’re exploring possibilities in each painting.
  • **Hint**  Decide you’re going to do at least 2 of each painting you create.  This can make taking risks a little easier.
  • Are you afraid to risk the time you invested in drawing your composition or painting? Copy/trace that drawing…or take a photo so you can easily recreate it if and when everything goes south!
  • Remember, there are no failed paintings. You learn something from each one. Sometimes a painting teaches you what not to do and sometimes it flows so well you want to do it over and over.
  • Making notes in your journal (or on the back of your painting) can help you record the lessons you learn and the processes you use.  That way you can recall them later. (Can you relate? )
  • It’s painting a lot of paintings and putting all these lessons together that will make you a better artist.


✨MORE Tips and Tricks on the way… ✨

The next installment of this series of blogs is coming right up…Thoughts on Finishing Part 3: Tips to Evaluate Your Paintings.  I’ll explain some of my routines for finishing and share my favorite tricks for recognizing when to quit. I hope you’ll join me.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have on the subject.  Leave them here so we can continue the conversation…

With love and light ❤️🎨😊,


PS- if you enjoyed this blog about art goals, you might also enjoy these two previous posts on the topic of finishing:

PSS- Sharing these blogs is always a means of helping me to build our little tribe of artistes both here in Myrtle Beach, SC and around the globe.  If you enjoy these blogs, the ultimate compliment would be for you to share them either via social media or email. Thanks for reading!  🙏❤️


Author Rebecca Zdybel

Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor - Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art! Rebecca Z Artist (Rebecca Zdybel) is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC. She blogs and teaches locally and internationally. Sign up for her blog, classes, workshops, art travel tours, or see her work at

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