Shop Talk

The Plight of Finishing What You Started

The Photoshop file said it hadn’t been opened since June 2012. Seems wrong, but computers don’t lie. I hadn’t thought of the file in a long time, at least two years ago as I had just learned, but I was sure I’d used a font for the design that I was trying to find the name of.

Opening that .psd file was a rough shock. The original ink drawing had been scanned and cleaned up and a few sloppy layers of color put down, but that was it. The design was a long way from being finished and in the same folder where it was saved were more files just like it. A steady stream of ideas started and abandoned, going all the way back to early 2004.

My “WRITING” folder wasn’t any better. Paragraphs. Notes. The slightest of Word documents. A lot of these files were even older. We’re talking late 1990s. Then I remembered the slabs of balsa wood in the garage I had cut and painted for the clocks I never made. The guitars and recording equipment in my closet dusty and unused.

I love projects. There are always new ideas to explore and according to the plans in my head each one is incredible. The problem is, I never see the final product in the real world. I get distracted. Discouraged. It’s not going how I imagined it would, so I drop it to do something different. Something new.

This is bad, I know. I hate only having a handful of finished pieces, especially when I’ve been at this creative game for awhile now. Even my finished work doesn’t live up to what I wanted it to be, but at least those ones are done.

I’ve never given much thought to my creative process, but if written out it looks something like this:

  1. Idea strikes!
  2. Think it over enough to know how to begin.
  3. Enthusiastic start!
  4. The reality isn’t as great as what I initially imagined. Oh, well.
  5. Pushing on.
  6. Ugh, this is the worst thing ever created by anyone ever.
  7. Abandon!

The smart thing to do would be to push on again. Finish what I started, but I’m not that smart.

For drawing projects I tend to get stuck on color. What palette to use? How much color? Too much? Too little? Is it best as black and white? Each time I sit down to draw I take a quick photo so anytime I want to mull over my next move I know where I left off. So armed with these photos, let’s take a walk down the path of a recent drawing I did finish and take a look at all the times I almost gave up.

"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 1 by Chris Jalufka

All I had in mind for this drawing was the woman’s face. The hair? No idea. Below the jaw? Dunno. I have a box or two of drawings that end right here. I sat on the drawing at this stage for a week or two, it could have easily found a place in the junk box.



"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 2 by Chris Jalufka

I decided instead of hair to do horns. You can make out the faint pencil lines for the circles I figured I could use to frame the figure. Starting to think of where to put all the black areas.

"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 3 by Chris Jalufka

I realized the composition looked lopsided, so I added a third horn. Three is better than two, right? I also sketched in some lower horns and a snake around her neck. At this point I still have no idea about color and any idea of trying to make a piece that “says something” is nowhere in my mind. I just wanted to finish. From this photo to the next was probably a few weeks.

"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 4 by Chris Jalufka

I was planning on the lower horns being all black like the upper horns, but that would be too much black, plus I wanted to goof off with various textures. I stole some of the shapes from some of various artworks hung around my house.

I used a photo I found on a zoo’s website as reference for the snake and used the same scales as the lower horns. That decision was based on my desire to get this drawing done and I knew if I went into crazy detail with those areas I would never finish it. I knew I’d have a problem with the snake blending too much into the lower horns because of using the same texture, but I was hoping I could fix that by using differing colors.

I haven’t touched the circles yet, but did start blocking in the black area with some ink. Starting to feel like I’m almost done.

"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 5 by Chris Jalufka

All black has been laid down but now I need to decide what to do with the circles and the figure’s chest. I could either crop the drawing at the chest or add more snakes.

"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 6 by Chris Jalufka

With no real idea I thought I’d start to lay down a grid on her chest and hope for the best. At this point I’m thinking the drawing is a lost cause. The horns are kind of lame and her eyes are wonky. If the grid doesn’t work out, this piece is going in the box of lost causes.

"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 7 by Chris Jalufka

I went through some old Victorian portraits to get ideas for lace patterns and found a pretty straightforward design to mimic. Since this drawing is a portrait and I’m a big fan of early paintings of Queen Elizabeth, that’s where I tried to find some mild inspiration. I kept the chest area simple and even then, screwed up the pattern beneath the snakehead, but I’m thinking I can fix it at the coloring stage.

"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 8 by Chris Jalufka

Scanned and opened in Photoshop. Going back to the Queen Victoria portraits, I tried to pull the color palette from a painting I’d found, but that didn’t quite work, but I did end up using the combination of yellows and purple.

Damn those horns. The lower horns have a lot of little areas and I’m torn – do I color and shade each area individually and realistically, or go for a more graphic approach and use blocks of solid color?

The drawing lends itself to a more realistic approach, but that would take forever and I for sure would abandon this piece, so I did both. Always a bad idea, but hey, satisfied both urges. The face is one solid color and each segment of horn is a different shade of solid yellow, but the pattern on the shirt and the snake are slightly shaded.

It didn’t really pop for me so I changed up the background color and called it a day.

"Priestess of the Low Country" Step 9 by Chris Jalufka

This piece is nothing special. It breaks no new ground and isn’t about anything. Those two facts alone are reasons why at each step I almost tossed it, but I was determined to finish something, if for no other reason than when I’m asked what I’ve been up to I can pull the image up on my phone as proof of activity.

I could argue that I only abandon my bad ideas, those ones that even if finished wouldn’t be interesting or worth the effort. These projects are better off started and left behind rather than thought of and ignored. I can always go back and finish them, use what works for another project. I would say I agree except I know better. This argument would be right if I only have a few abandoned works, but I have a ton.

Truth is I’m missing out on the hours and experience of trying new things and working through that wall I tend to hit. I’m missing out on maturing as an artist and getting better. I shouldn’t need the date on a file to tell me that, but sometimes a bonehead like myself needs that little nudge.

We all have moments of wanting to give up on a project. Toss it aside and start something new but the real question is, when do you know that it’s the right decision? Is it ever the right thing to do?

What stops you from finishing? Let us know in the comments.