Monday, August 15, 2011

Project Completion: Knowing When to Stop

"…letting well enough alone – which is the rule for grown artists only." -Winslow Homer

One of the most trying obstacles of art and design is knowing when to stop. Creative people, by nature, are often unimpressed by their own efforts. We can paint, sculpt, and tweak away until something is completely ruined. In order to grow as artists and designers, we must learn to step enough is enough.

When you're working on a personal project or make your money as a fine artist, it's oftentimes more difficult to put your signature on something and call it done. Doing something for yourself intimates a personal attachment and we all want personal things to be perfect. When you're collaborating, a project can be difficult to finish due to the principle of 'too many cooks in the kitchen'. When more than one decision-maker is involved, there are different ideas of 'complete'. How do we combat these roadblocks to success?

Where personal projects are concerned, the path to completion lies in understanding your expectations at the outset. What do you want your piece to accomplish? Do you have plans for the work when it's finished? What's your audience and what does this audience expect? It's also helpful to have a good set of sketches and references handy. As they say in carpentry: measure twice; cut once. This can be applied to art and design. Planning will save you time and help you create a more cohesive final product. When you know where you're going, you know when to stop.

Sometimes, all the planning in the world won't save you from feeling like something isn't quite right with your piece. If this occurs, step away. Speaking from experience, I attest to the difficulty of walking away, but it can really help you gain some perspective. Setting something aside for a while can allow you to revisit it later with fresh eyes.

If you're working collaboratively on a project—for an employer, freelance client, or volunteer project—planning, again, is a great way to avoid a lot of rough patches. Gather as much information as you can. Ask about audience again, be clear on expectations, and involve everyone in discussions about style, colors, and emotions. When everyone has input from the beginning, sticky confrontation down the road will be less prevalent. (I will add, confrontation is usually unavoidable, but the frequency can be lessened.)

Collaborative projects demand a high competency and confidence. Without being pushy or overbearing, speak your mind on technical matters. If someone suggests a typeface or color that just won't work, try to explain to them exactly why. Take your listener's experience into account. If they aren't creative, understand that some of your terms may not make sense. When all the cards are on the table, it will be easier to agree when a project reaches completion.

As with anything, it's possible to ruin a project by going only an inch too far. Planning for completion can really help you know when to step back, add your signature, and move on. Remember, even the masters had to put down their brushes and chisels at some point. Imagine if daVinci had put just one more swath of paint on the Mona Lisa. She may not be the enigmatic treasure she is today.

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