#CreativeHabit 12: How to know when to stop tinkering

#CreativeHabit no 12: How to know when to stop tinkering

I think we all can agree on that it is easy to get started on a creative project – but it is much harder to know when to stop. However, knowing when to stop is as important as knowing how to start.

It helps of course when you have deadlines as the project has to be finished by a specific date – but it is much harder when you work for yourself on your own terms.
The more I stare at a piece the more faults I find that need to be fixed. Tweaking and refining is fine to a point – but at times I have ended up ruining pieces because I did not stop on time.

So how do you know when to stop tinkering and declare that the project is finished?

When you are finished there is no loose ends and problems keeping you up at night related to your creative project. You are ready to let go and move onto next project.

However, there are two sides of the story – if you do not work on a piece enough it can look incomplete and if you overwork a piece it can look tedious and tired.

The more experience you become you will establish a strong balance between what looks ‘simple and spontaneous’, and at the same time like it has substance and no need for further tweaks.

So how can you learn to establish this balance?

Clara Lieu, Visual Artist and adjunct professor at Rhode Island School of Design writes in Huffington Post’s “Ask the Art Professor”:

“One of the classic problems that I see in the beginning of my freshman drawing classes is students not pushing their pieces far enough, and therefore never fulfilling their piece’s potential. To learn how to truly bring a piece to a full finish, I encourage my students in my classes to experiment with intentionally overworking their drawings to the point that the drawing is ruined. This way, when they have the experience of pushing their drawings too far, they develop an awareness of the entire process, and will know in the future when to pull back. You’ll never know how far to go until you’ve gone too far.”

I absolutely loved hearing this! I had no idea that all those times when I overworked drawings or knit samples that I actually was teaching myself to know when to stop tinkering. So my advice to all of you is to allow yourself time to just experiment and don’t beat yourself up if you overdo it. Remember: You are one step closer to develop the skill of knowing when enough is enough.

Expect just allowing time for mistakes and ruining work I would love to share some other tools that can help you knowing when to stop tinkering.

  1. When you start a project – try to work fast in the beginning and slow down the pace later on in the process. Pay attention to how to if you start to pick at a piece and make minor adjustments that really do not have an impact on the overall look itself. When you do that it is time to stop. So you have now stopped working, but you are still not sure – is it finished yet or does it need more work?
  2. Step back, look at the work from distance and/or in a mirror.
  3. Put the work aside and look at it later – then you can then make better informed decisions.
  4. Only attempt corrections if you are absolutely certain they are needed. If overworking is a regular problem for you – try to take photos of your work during various stages. Then go back and look at the photos to see if you can notice when you started to over do it.
  5. Ask for someone you trust for their opinon!
  6. Once you made your decision that your piece is finished – name it!

A poem is never finished - only abandoned - Paul Valery

Always remember throughout the process: Perfection is a wonderful goal – but you will always reach a point when you need to let your creation go! It is incredibly rare to be 100% happy with your work and therefor it shouldn’t be goal you even strive for.

Do not be too precious about your work – instead maintain a high level of productivity so that you do not invest too much into a single piece of work. In my experience it is usually a better use of your time to create work, learn from it, and then know when to move on.

I really hope this helps! At least I wished I knew all of this when I was younger as it would have helped me so much in the creative process.

I would love to hear if this is or has been a regular problem for you, and if you found another way to overcome this than I mentioned above. Also let me know if any of my suggestions did help you I would love to hear!

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