Checklist: How To Find The Finished Painting

Advanced, Beginner, Blog Post, Finishing, How To, Intermediate, Painting

Do you ever look at an artwork you’ve finished and feel like you’ve failed? Or have you ever been stuck partway through your painting and feel like you can’t go on?

Here is a super helpful guide that I use when I feel like that. I call it: The Treasure Map to Find the Finished Painting. Remember that there is no such thing as a failed painting; it’s just not finished yet.

Do you find that hard to believe? No matter the medium, I promise you can do something with your artwork to bring it to completion. The key is to understand what’s wrong.

How Do I Figure Out What’s Wrong?

To understand what’s wrong, look at your finished painting with fresh eyes. The magical painting fairies, who improve your artwork when you’re not looking at it, will come. Sometimes this might mean leaving it for a day, or even a week, so when you look at it fresh, new things will pop out at you. You’ll be able to easily see what you have to fix and you can say: “Thank you, magical painting fairies!”

Sometimes you will end up with a list of 10 problems for one painting. But, don’t try and fix them all at once! You want to figure out which problem is the biggest and ugliest one that’s bothering you. Fix that, and I’ve found that the other ones sometimes vanish. They just run away afraid. It’s happened to me all the time!

To find the biggest problem, you can pretend to have a conversation with your painting. You can say, “Hi there, painting. How you doing? There’s something that’s wrong, and I can’t work it out. Can you help me?”.

Just be a real nutcase. Talk out loud and say, “Well, I really like all the color that I’ve got around your edges there. And I think the shapes are all beautiful. I’m wondering about the focus point. Where’s my eye going when I lead into the painting? Why are my eyes flicking between those two places?”. Then you can say, “Ah, it seems to be that there’s a little bit of an issue over here. I think that you need to be a bit darker over here.”

Have this conversation with your painting to find out what is the loudest and most annoying thing. Be really specific! What is the one thing about this painting that is annoying you? Because the next question is, how do I fix that?

How Do I Fix My Big Problem?

Once you realise what your paintings biggest problem is, you may or may not know how to fix it. If you do, then you’re off and running again. If you don’t, then run through a checklist of what you’ve learned.

Your Checklist

Here’s a simple checklist that I always run through:

  1. Are the shapes okay?
  2. Are the tones okay?
  3. Are the colors okay?
  4. Have I got warm and cool colors?
  5. Have I got soft and hard edges?
  6. Am I following my composition rules?
  7. Is the rule of thirds being followed?
  8. Have I got things in the middles, horizontals, or verticals?
  9. Are any subjects kissing in the foreground and background?

Just run through this systematic checklist and it will tell you how to fix it. You can even add more things to your checklist as you learn. If you are an art student with us, I’m always here as a backup if you can’t work out what the answer is yourself.

It’s the exact process that I use with every painting, and some of the hardest paintings that I do are portraits. To get likeness in portraits, your checklist has to be spot on to the millimeter. I run through this whole process when I can see that the portrait of someone doesn’t look like them yet. But whether it’s a face, a cat, a tree, a pot, or an apple, it doesn’t matter. You just run through your checklist, and you’ll find the answer.

A full checklist is coming in my Zen and the Art of Art Book Three. If you haven’t got a copy of the first book yet, you can check it out here! And if you want to join our in-person or Anytime Recorded classes, visit

Happy painting! 💜


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