Art theory Oil Painting Painting People Portrait

Quinceanera Party Boy and When to Stop Painting

Quinceanera Party Boy, oil on panel, 14x11"
Quinceanera Party Boy, oil on panel, 14x11"

When I saw the photo I’d taken of this boy at the Legion of Honor where he was posing for his sister’s Quinceanera party photos, I knew I had to paint him (see my original blog post about that day). He is such a beautiful boy.

When to Stop Painting
Lately I’ve been focusing all of my art time on oil painting, and discovered something that might be of interest to other painters.

One night I’d been painting into the wee hours, trying to “fix” a painting. I’d put on paint, step back, then scrape it off. When I realized I didn’t know why I was doing anything I was doing, I went to bed, frustrated that after hours of painting I’d accomplished very little and in fact, probably just made things worse.

The next day I was driving to a plein air paint-out using my GPS to get me to cross streets near the destination (a little park with no address). Once I passed those cross streets, my GPS began scrolling the words “Driving….driving….driving” on the screen because it no longer had any directions for me—I’d passed the target with no further plan.

That’s when it hit me: When I’m at the point with a painting where I am just driving….driving…driving (or dabbing, scraping, dabbing) I need to STOP.

Without a conscious and specific intention (make this area cooler, warmer, darker, lighter, bigger, smaller, sharper, softer, etc.) and an overall goal, it’s just like trying to reach a general idea of a destination by driving mindlessly and randomly, hoping I’ll get there. Not too likely.

22 replies on “Quinceanera Party Boy and When to Stop Painting”

Truer words were never spoken. How often have I just plowed on without any thought as to what I was doing?

I knew you were going to paint that little boy! He is just too wonderful and perfect looking.


I need one of those mental cops too! The way you put it is funny. I’ll try to keep those words in mind. Remember when car alarms used to say “Step away from the car…” (to keep up the car analogy). Jana


The “driving” analogy is so perfect, because just like in that instance, we often keep working on a painting because we just don’t recognize when we’ve reached a good destination. We need to feel that it’s okay to make changes and experiment when we aren’t sure what needs fixed…but until we have the ability to accurately see the success or failure of what we’ve tried, we can blow right past our stop. Then reach another good one, and blow right through that one too, because we still aren’t seeing it.

I try to remember to take photos as I go along, so that once I’ve gone to far, I can retrace my steps to see where I *should* have stopped. Sorta like postcards from the edge…of insanity. 🙂


Kathryn, Thanks so much. I love the way you put it “Blow right past our stop” – so true and exactly right. I like your idea of taking photos along the way. I did that tonight. I’ve done it before, but never with the idea that I could go back there if I wanted to. Postcards from the edge of insanity indeed! Jana


Jana, what a beautiful portrait of that haunting face.

And I agree with the rest, the GPS is a great analogy for what
seems to ail most of us.



Such valid advice – we just never know when to stop painting.
Kathryn, your suggestion about taking pics as you go along is a very good idea. I came across a photo of a landscape I’d done a while ago – then looked at the same painting hanging on the wall – I should have left it as it was!
Maybe I’ll go back an fix it….


Kathryn’s was such a good idea! My problem seems to be that when I keep reworking something for hours, when I’m done it looks the same as it did before but deader. I’m getting better at stopping I think. Jana


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