Tools and Writings for Oil Painters, Draftsmen and Artists

One of the possible things you might have encountered as a learning artist is deciding how far to push a piece of work. Whether it was intended as a finished painting or a training exercise, there seems to be always a point where things slow down and we don’t know why or how to continue. These experiences can become very frustrating as works stay for days or weeks on the easel before getting finally put away out of weariness.

In this post, I’d like to give you some insights about these situations and possible ways to deal with them.

Let’s be more concrete by taking two examples of my own work that have fallen into the same pattern. A sight-size cast drawing I made of one of my sculptures “La Vierge de Moissac” and a sight-size reproduction of a nude photo.

Here are the following drawings at their current stage.

Sight-size drawing of my cast “La vierge de Moissac”

Nude pose taken in a model book
Sight-size reproduction before

Sight-size reproduction after deciding to go on

You can see from these two examples that I was far from being finished.

Like me, you might have ended up asking yourself these questions :

  • Is it worth continuing ?
  • Should I move on to another drawing ?
  • What needs working ?
  • How much time will it take ?
  • What kind of skills am I trying to improve ?
  • To what level of finish do I really want to bring this drawing ?

The most important thing that I want you to know is these are usually very difficult questions. It is ok if you fail to answer them. Because they are more difficult than you might think. And if you are like me, working mainly on your own, it is even harder. That’s when a teacher or some advice from a fellow painter can be very useful.

If you don’t have access to a teacher, then here are some insights I gathered from these two works and that I’d like to share with you.

  • Be mindful of the level of difficulty you’re tackling. I thought I could manage a cast drawing up to a finished state but my skills aren’t there yet. Many of the assumptions I had turned out false when put under high-level scrutiny and evidence gathering : my setting wasn’t appropriate, I didn’t balance the natural light correctly, I didn’t follow Darren Rousar’s procedure correctly, my drawing is still off, I haven’t even begun treating edges, my value transitions are off, I’m very far from a finished state … That is to say a lot of things that just can’t be handled all at once.
  • Gathering evidence about what went wrong can be time-consuming and nerve-racking, the problem being that we don’t know in advance how much we’re going to get out of it. However, I can guarantee you that it will always prove useful to take a small amount of time for reflection.
  • Always ask yourself what your real purpose is and how much effort you want to invest. I noticed that I usually choose to finish what motivates me the most. In the second example, I intended to sell the drawing and I just couldn’t let it go. I struggled and ended up with a fairly satisfactory result (here below).

I learnt a lot from both cases even if they didn’y end up the same way.

What have I done since I took the first snapshots?

Concerning the cast, I have decided to separate each problem and treat them individually before coming back to another statue : I will do some Bargue drawing, I will draw more simplified objects like cups, I will change my setup to a north light, …

Concerning the nude, here above is a picture of how it is looking after I decided to continue. It is much more cleaner than it used to be. I am confident that I can take it to a level of finish that is acceptable as a selling piece.

In closing, whatever one does, one should keep on moving!


  • I really like how you took a common problem and broke it down into possible solutions. It definitely gave me something to think about!

  • Hi Pejmann, great post! Your three points are really useful. I would add a couple of things. For me it’s instructive to complete the process, even if the result isn’t satisfactory. That way I get experience with the finish, which is the part I find the most difficult. And as to tackling something audacious, like a very large painting in my case, sometimes it helps not to know how difficult it’s going to be, and just struggle through. If I knew how difficult it was going to be, I might not start at all. Thanks and looking forward to more of your blogposts!

    • Hello Bobbi. Thanks! These are very good points and I totally agree. And sometimes we should struggle through as you say. And get as we become more and more experienced a feeling of what kind of work we are about to tackle.

  • I think in order to talk about the end, the finishing, its useful to look at the steps that lead there. If each one is satisfactorily resolved, that is to say, looks in balance and thrilling, then the work answers your question.

    I guess towards completion one needs to go slowly before launching another ‘campaign’. To disengage ones critical faculties for a while – days or longer – to return to the dialogue with a really fresh eye and a respect for the paintings own identity and ones own earlier endeavours.

    • Hello Marylin. That’s very true. One fascinating thing I discovered is that there are, at least for me, two ways of looking at my work at any given time. The first perspective is about the process : have I followed the steps, is there anything that I haven’t done correctly? The second perspective : what are the biggest mistakes that I see when comparing model and subject and how can I fix them? I guess the two are highly linked and complementary. But sometimes I get lost in the process and can’t find out what went wrong. That’s when a teacher is really useful for checking one’s process. For instance, in my cast drawing the main problem came with an incorrect balance of daylight making my high values very unreliable.
      Slow down before completion, I totally agree too and as you say a fresh eye is an excellent solution.

  • Hello Pejmann, can I suggest that you may be too involved in the detail. We all do it – it is usually an indication that you need to step back and make a new appraisal.

    In your working method try thinking in steps – then there are tasks to do at each stage and it is those tasks that need to be satisfactory.

    One really does not want to have to go back to a fundamental stage when you have worked hard up to the final, detailed finish.

    There will always been things we are not happy with – often they have to be addressed in the next work.

    • Hello Marylin.
      Thank you for your comment. It’s interesting you mention detail because I think it more likely that there’s a problem with the light setup. I’ll plan to do a post on that because I think it is a critical factor in drawing the cast. If I may ask you, what kind of light did Angel Academy use for it’s cast drawings and paintings?

  • At Angel there were large square light housings fixed to the ceilings. They each had three,or 4 fluorescent tubes a mix of warm and cool colour temperature. They were suspended quite close to the work stations at an angle. I’ll look out a photo for you in the next few days. After Angel, when I returned to my own studio I invested in three photographic lights that I have on tripods as I like that flexibility. I’ll send you details and images of these too. First and foremost that need to be Full Spectrum lights to keep true colour. I’m away right now and have only just seen you question. Do email me if you have other question. Best wishes.

    • Thanks a lot Marylin. This is very very useful information for everyone. Also, can I ask you these other questions : did they use artificial light in order to simplify the student’s task? Did they ever use natural light and if they did, do you remember how they set it up? (North facing window and veils to keep light from bouncing on the wall?)


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