My friend Val saw one of my paintings the other day and noticed that I had signed it. “So it must be done?” she asked me. Well, usually when I sign a painting it does mean that it’s finished. In this case, though, I decided it wasn’t really, really done. This caused my friend Val to ask me how I do know when a painting is done? I’m not sure how to answer this question except in this case, there was something about it that was bugging me. It just wasn’t quite right. And yet I couldn’t articulate what the problem was.

Water reflection painting, signed but not finished

Signed but not finished???

The danger of continuing on is the possibility of totally wrecking the painting or overworking it so that it looses its’ vitality. Of course, the danger of not trying to “fix” it is to be forever unhappy with what I’ve done. The only solution I’ve found is to take a deep breath and plunge back into the painting. So I did. After many more layers of paint added and scraped off and added yet again, I decided that I had achieved what I was after.

The next step is to add a finish to the painting. I like the effect of having a combination of both glossy and matte surfaces on my paintings. I use Golden Self-Leveling Gel for the glossy finish. The self-level gel is thin enough to be poured, so the panel needs to be laid down flat on a table. Next I check to make sure it’s level.

I tape off the part of the painting that will have a matte surface in order to protect it from the self-leveling gel. Then I place tape around the area where I’ll do the pour. I use plain old painter’s tape, leaving about a 1/2″ edge above the surface of the painting. If the painting is on a wood panel, I don’t need to worry about it sagging in the middle. If the painting is on canvas, I tape a piece cardboard underneath the canvas to make sure the surface is flat. Sagging will cause the medium to pool unevenly and we don’t want that!

Next I take Golden Heavy Gel and apply a thin layer between the tape and the painting with a palette knife. This will keep the gel from running down the sides or into the upper right area.

Taped and ready to add Golden Self Leveling Gel

Taped and ready to go.

I usually add about 20% water in order to facilitate pouring. The mixture should be about the consistency of heavy cream. It’s important to let the gel sit for a few hours after stirring in order to allow bubbles to settle.

Finally, I take a deep breath and pour. I use a large palette knife for spreading and also tilt the painting back and forth to make sure the gel is evenly distributed. Then I spritz isopropyl alcohol over the surface to get rid of bubbles.

The self leveling gel has been poured.

The self-leveling gel has been poured.

It’s always unnerving to see the painting obliterated by this milky opaque goop. I’ve learned from experience that the best thing I can do at this point is to leave the studio and not return for at least a few hours, preferably overnight. Not even to peek. Invariably if I stick around, I start poking at the stuff and believe me, that’s never a good thing.

Am I done now?

After the self-leveling gel pour

Reentry into the studio is somewhat anxiety producing. I’m never fully convinced that the gel will really become crystal clear. Which it does when dry. Of course drying time varies, depending on the thickness of the layer and on the humidity. If I return and there are still some milky looking spots, I have to remind myself not to panic and NOT TO POKE. The milky areas just need more time to dry.

If I feel like the painting needs more work after the self-leveling gel dries, I can still go back into it again. In this case, I think it’s done. Really, really.

An additional answer to Val’s question about how I know whether a painting is finished is once I’ve asked Jim to photograph the work and he’s taken the hours to set up the lighting, take the shots of the painting, and adjust the image in the computer for a perfect color match, that’s when I know I’d really better be done. So that’s my next step, to ask Jim nicely to photograph the painting. Then it goes onto my gallery on this very website and is ready to be sold.