As unique as every artist is this question will always have many different answers. I can only speak for myself and my answer is ……. sometimes I don’t know and sometimes I do.
I struggled with this when I first started painting. I would force the work, feeling like I could only have one painting in progress and had to work on it from beginning until end and carried some imaginary schedule in my head that stated a set amount of time it was suitable to be working on one item.
I needed to let that go. I quickly learned in the process that it is just that….. a process! Each person is different and there are no rules. Painting is the one part of my life where I hold the control! I was putting unrealistic expectations on myself for what? To add another restriction or schedule to my already busy life? Through the last few years and several “stern” discussions with myself I have learned to break this bad habit. It is very true when people say we are our own worst critics because I know I certainly am.
I always feel I can add to a painting. I can feel completely done and if I stare at it long enough I will find some little thing that could have been altered just slightly or added or “it needs extra varnish” or “if only I made this just slightly sharper” or “if only I thought of this (insert some random idea)”. BLAH BLAH BLAH! It’s nothing but noise and not what I need to be feeding my creative brain with. I would notice myself leading my conversations with people about my art with these comments. Awful! I had to stop clouding my brain or the admirer/potential buyers brain with this self doubt or uncertainty.
Let people look at your work and enjoy it how they see it!
Don’t get me wrong I still have these type conversations with myself because I need to work through it to actually figure out if I am actually done but I have a better handle on when to stop. I now have no issue with walking away from a painting for a while or even a year if needed. I have dozens of works on the go at the same time. I sometimes take months to finish and other times can be done a piece in a few hours. Sometimes I need to take a step back and sometimes I can just feel it’s done. I often times will be working on a piece for hours/months and will just suddenly coat it with gesso and start from scratch. And all of that is okay. There are no mistakes or “mess ups” because I make the rules. When I sit, talk less and just do that work I am done when I am done and there is no question about it.
I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess.