When a Collage is Finished … or Not

I’ve been trying to document my collage process as I work.  Some pieces work better than others.  Often when the collage is nearly finished I may work for days making a great number of changes so minor that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was changed except that the end result is simply ‘better.’  Each time I leave it again, it hardly seems worthwhile to photograph the the minuscule difference … and before I know it all the short sessions have combined to produce fairly drastic changes in the appearance of a collage.

Octopus’s Garden is a good example of this.  I worked at it for weeks, decided there were a few parts I didn’t like and changed them, brushed up a few other parts, and finally declared it ‘done.’  Only it wasn’t.  I brought it to a group critique where it received a very lukewarm reception, telling me that there was still work to be done.  Over the next few months I worked on it almost every day — adding a highlight or a shadow, softening and sharpening edges — usually making almost imperceptible changes with as few as 2-3 small snips of paper.

I knew that my changes were having an effect when visitors to my studio began to notice the piece and comment on it, even though it had been in the same place all along. I knew that it was done when I reached a point where the imperfections I still saw no longer drew my attention away from the rest of the work.  I learned this technique from John Sevcik at Fleisher Art Memorial: Block a troubling area with your thumb as you stand back from the work.  If blocking it out makes a noticeable improvement, change it; if not, let it be.  When there is nothing left to meet the change criterion, you’re done.

Deep Calling Unto Deep (previously titled Three Waves) followed a similar progression on a smaller scale.  I wrote about this piece previously, when it was a work in progress.  It’s not in the same league as Octopus’s Garden, but work on it followed the same pattern.  At one point I truly thought it was done — I even signed and glazed it — but after a few days there were still a few things about it that troubled me.  So it went back into the studio.  Here it is when it was “finished” and then a few days later:

Deep Calling Unto Deep © 2016 D. Eater

Deep Calling Unto Deep © 2016 Deborah Eater


The exposure on the second image was much better, but even beyond that you can find a number of slight differences when you look closely.  There are still a few tiny bits that irk me, but there is nothing left that absolutely has to go.  I didn’t like this piece for a long time, but incrementally (through this revision process) I came to feel that it was actually living up to its potential.


3 thoughts on “When a Collage is Finished … or Not

  1. Well explained. Something similar happens with me when composing music, in that a piece is never really “finished” but merely “done.” For every piece of mine there seems to come a point of dramatically diminishing returns.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Challenge: Find the Differences | Cricketswool

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