I feel when an artwork is finished, rather than know this because of some sort of exterior criteria.  There is a sensation of lifting off, both literally and figuratively.  I can find no other place to lean in and apply a mark.

This does not mean that the piece has arrived at perfection.  It is more like it has become “above complaint.” There are always places where I could have stopped sooner, or paid more attention, or not been so quick to change direction. So what do I notice when I feel finished?

There is a technical satisfaction. A sense that I have done the best I know how to do.  Even if I struggle a bit with the passing comment, “Are they frozen in ice?” Still, ice or water, this is where they are going to live.

 

There is a sense of effective surprise.  I fiddle about for days trying to figure how the sky and water meet, and then the two forces show me in that moment between what I just forgot and what I do not yet know.  I watch for this moment in lots of creative activities; this is where the most remarkable insights in a Journey Oracle card reading happen.

 

There is another, more intense level of effective surprise.  I often discover that the image is telling a story that I am not controlling, even though I am controlling the forms and colours that compose the story.  When I realize this I find myself sitting back, wanting to learn from the artwork rather than direct it.

 

Who are these people? And what are they dancing around?
Women, men, children, elders each with their hands out?

This series of paintings come from questions that came in dreams when I was creating the Journey Oracle divination deck.  I know I have finished one of these paintings when the image, and the questions that are its title, jump up–and I know something in a way I could not have imagined.

 

Do you want to go home?
Are you comfortable?

 

Some days before the artwork said it was finished, I read this quote in The Wild Places, by Robert Macfarlane.

We are, as a species, finding it increasingly hard to imagine that we are part of something which is larger than our own capacity.  We have come to accept a heresy of aloofness, a humanist belief in human difference, and we suppress wherever possible the checks and balances on us – the reminders that the world is greater than us or that we are contained within it. On almost every front, we have begun a turning away from a felt relationship with the natural world. 

Yes. May we all go home.