The Cure for Unfinished Projects

I am excited to share with you my “cure” for unfinished projects. After reading my story and tips on how to finish those projects piling up in your closet, I have a challenge for you. Dig out all of your unfinished projects, break them into manageable categories and set a deadline to get them done. Take a picture of your finished pieces and then post them to the Loew-Cornell Community Gallery or Facebook page and inspire others to do the same. I am looking forward to seeing what you can accomplish!

My Story

If you came to my studio, you would see that I have tables of projects that are in various stages. Some are prepped waiting for inspiration, others have patterns traced, and still others are waiting to be put into the computer.

Like most painters, I wish that I had the energy to attack my arsenal of unfinished projects with as much gusto as I exhibited when I started them. Many of my students have said that they want to start new projects but are overwhelmed by the ones that they have not finished yet. As this is not the first time the topic of unfinished projects has come up, I figured it was a great time to develop a “cure.”

Getting Started

First, let’s pull out all of the unfinished projects that you have stacked, hidden, stashed or buried in your painting area. Set them all out so that we can take a good look at what you have and divide them into categories.

When I dig into my own pile, I see that many of them have very little actual work left to finish them up. Some just need to be varnished, assembled or touched up. Let’s call them category 1 and set them all together in a section.

Other projects might be ones that I started that are partially complete but require some time and attention to finish. They are ones that I would like to keep to decorate my home or studio or that I plan to give as a gift or sell. We will call this section category 2.

There are projects that I began with the intent to learn a new technique or style, but they are not ones that I would have a place for in my home or plan to keep. Mark this section category 3.

The hardest part of this whole process is being honest with yourself. Take a minute and re-evaluate the pieces that you had a hard time categorizing. Was it because you were emotionally attached to the piece, teacher, color or style, or do you really love it enough to finish it? If not, move it to category 3.

Divide and Conquer

Now we can take a look at the categories and break them up further. This will make it even easier to complete what we have set out to do.

Category 1

Divide this category into the pieces that just need a little touch up, or need to have the backs or frames painted. Create another section of pieces that only need varnishing, and another with pieces that will be complete with some assembly.

Category 2

Match the pieces with the directions from the class/pattern/book that you used to paint the project. Divide this category into estimated completion times. Any project that might take under an hour to finish will be in one place, over 2 hours another place, and those that will require longer than 2 hours in a final pile. If you don’ t have the pattern or the paints to complete the projects, and you don’t think you will finish them, move them to category 3.

I become emotionally attached to a lot of the pieces that I paint and have a hard time categorizing them at this point, but have given new life to many a surface by the way I approach this next category.

Category 3

Category 3 is probably the hardest pile to evaluate, but the easiest to fix because you have already distanced yourself from them. In this category, I have projects that I call “over it!” I have learned what I needed to learn from this project and am ready to move on. I take a hard look at not only the painting and style in this category, but at the surfaces themselves.

I divide this category into surfaces that I really love and others that I learned from and then moved on. Take the instructions, class sheets or books and put them all together. Use your digital camera to take a picture of your project and file it with the instructions in a clear sleeve. If you decide at a later time that you want to tackle the technique or style again, you will have all of the information you need to begin again. Next, picture the surface without all of the painting and how it would look painted in a solid color and decide if you like it enough to recycle it into your surface stash. Put them into a pile called “recycle.”

Now it’s time to ask yourself – how many of the pieces that were haunting you have gotten you excited again? These pieces should have been set-aside in the first two categories and will be easy to finish.

Decision Making

At one time, I had so many pieces that needed finishing that I had to break them down and decide whether I really wanted to take the time to finish them. I thought that I could not part with any of them, so I sanded off or added a new basecoat to many of the pieces in my category 3. Once I did this, I could easily decide whether the piece was one that I would ever paint again. It was a win-win situation because I later sold several of them at a garage sale so that I could buy new “treasures.”

Make a Deadline

The other thing that I did was promise myself that I would take one piece from each category and finish it by the end of each month until they were done. I cannot tell you how many months I was painting on the 30th just to honor that commitment and how wonderful it felt to get through them all. It is amazing how a 12-minute varnish session can finish a piece and lift your spirits! Some months, I would get 3 or 4 projects done early in the month and then reward myself by starting on a couple new ones!

The New Year is just around the corner, and I bet that some of the projects that you have sitting around would make wonderful presents, bring you some holiday cash, or would look wonderful decorating your home.


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