The Paint is Never Dry

I find there are 2 categories of images in my library: ones I am “done” with and ones I want to tweak each time I open the file. Furthermore, it seems the ones I want to do something to each time I see them are the ones I like best. I refer to this as the paint being never dry.

A significant advantage of digital image manipulation is that it is so easy to make changes. This can also be a problem.

Wet paint

Modern technology gives us great freedom to edit and express ourselves. It is so easy to make some changes every time we open the file. Oh, I didn’t see that little flaw. I really don’t like the relation of these tones now that I look at it again. Maybe it would have more punch if I pumped some of these colors some.

But this is a subtle trap. A trap of time, because this is a never ending treadmill of editing, and of lack of confidence. I will write about this confidence problem in the future. Basically, it has been hard to accept that, as an artist, no one can tell me what is “right” or when I am “done”. I am the only one who can decide.


I wrote once about prints being a frozen moment in time. This is one of the great things about prints. They are not changeable.

A print represents my interpretation of the image at one moment in time. It is very tempting for me to modify it a little every time I print it. But now that I do editions of prints, I have to discipline myself to create exact duplicates for each print in the edition. It would be dishonest and a disservice to the purchasers if each one was different.

Part of the process of growth is deciding that an image is “done” and is ready to be shown and purchased . And I have to be able to stand proudly and represent it as my art, that I am proud of, even if I see opportunities for improvement.

Creative vision

But my creative vision is evolving all the time. It is frustrating to be locked in to printing a series a certain way when I may see it different now. I am resolved, though, that that is the requirement. I will have to exercise my creativity on new images.

The images are my children, in a sense. But any parent finds out that after they grow up, you have to let them go. Send them on their way to be independent. I can no longer control them or manage them. Kind of the same with my images. When one is sold, the whole edition is frozen, out of my control.

Oh, but the new images, the ones that haven’t sold yet. They are free to be interpreted and re-interpreted at will. I love to do this, but I recognize the need to let the paint dry at some point.

As the artist, all my images are resources to me to use any way I wish. Even the editioned ones can be recycled by compositing, over-painting, or radical cropping. Anything that makes it into a whole new work of art. My creative vision can best be applied to new work rather than reworking old things.


I don’t believe doing a great image “uses me up”. I have to believe I have a boundless well of creativity. It is better to go out and create new work. Learn what I can from the best of what I have done and go on from there. Explore a theme and do variations. Discover new themes.

My curiosity will lead me to new subjects, new visions for old ones, new points of view. I will learn new techniques for shooting and processing.

It would be devastating to feel that my best work is already done. I would have to quit if that were the case. I feel sorry for the old rock bands who still tour. No one wants to hear their new work. They only want to hear the hits of 40 years ago. They are trapped. I couldn’t do it.

So, yes, my tendency is to want to constantly rework and tweak everything. I often see things I would change in my work. But discipline has to be applied. Most old work should be left as a memory and a signpost along the way of my journey. Apply the creativity to the new images. Let the paint dry.

A confession: even after writing all this about letting the paint dry, I went back and did some minor edits on the image with this article. This is an old image, scanned from film. The quality is not up to today’s standards. But I really like the feeling of the image and the memories it brings back of Chartres Cathedral in France. So I indulged myself in one more little tweak. Do what I say, not what I do.

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