I recently taught an advanced printmaking workshop at Central Art Space. The idea of the workshop was to give participants tools that they can then use in their printmaking to add detail or colour. It was a fun workshop, a small group of participants enthusiastic about their printmaking.
In the lead up to the workshop I did a lot of pondering about when do you know that you have done enough in any creative endeavour. To me, with printmaking, a good analogy is coffee - if you want a double shot, decaffeinated, oat milk, cappuccino, served in a bowl with cinnamon on top - then that is like an oil painting or a photograph - layers on layers. Printmaking, and in particular relief printing like linocutting, is about distilling an image or idea to just the important parts - it is the espresso. In a similar way, abstract photography often removes the clutter in an image and leaves the viewer with the essence of ‘what was there’.
When we start to add layers to our espresso (if we keep that analogy going) we run the risk of changing it to the point where it is not easily recognised. Sometimes, this is the effect that we are looking for.
Back to the question, how much is too much. I don’t think that there are hard and fast rules - except, and this is entirely my opinion, when the original message or image have been lost. We create to evoke emotion, to tell stories, to make others think. If we hide our work behind clutter then the viewer may be too distracted to “get” what you are trying to say.
There is a constant battle in most creative forms - when are you finished, when is enough, enough? While there is no one answer I have find the following three strategies useful:
I take a photograph of my work (on my phone) and look at it away from the studio. The image, shown in a different format and context will often ‘show’ you what needs to be corrected, or tell you ‘it’s ready for the world’
With both printmaking and photography I do a test print. I put that test print on my drying rack and I don’t look at it again for a few days. I then pin it up on the wall and see how I feel - is there anything I need to change?
I ask myself - would I be proud if I walked into a friend’s house and this was on the wall? If I wouldn’t be it is a great indicator that it’s not finished.
I think the easiest mistake that you can make is to put something on social media and listen to people’s comments (or lack of them). Anything we post has been altered - by the social platform (in terms of resolution) and by the device it is being viewed on.
Art is never finished, only abandoned. Leonardo da Vinci