When Art Turns Out Bad How to Complete Unfinished Art

The Art of Non-Finito

the art of turning unfinished art into success 

WHEN ART TURNS OUT BAD - How to complete unfinished art

I can’t even begin to count up the amount of times I have abandoned a piece of art because I’m not happy with the results. Even as a digital artist, sometimes the undo button is never enough.

It happened again last week. I finally picked up a good idea I had back in 2012, and what I mean by a good idea is I opened a file last opened in 2012. I don’t know why I gave up on it at the time, maybe something else caught my interest or I might have hit a creative block. 

Given that I sometimes struggle with remembering where I put the car keys, there’s no way I am going to remember why I left a piece of art unfinished over four years ago. Perhaps it was just rubbish? 

Unlike the famous unfinished artworks of times past, I don’t think I died either.

I took a look through my now ageing hard discs from the past. Some as ancient as SCSI, some USB 1, and even a couple of IEEE 1394. I own one of the largest collections of useless stuff ever including a Casio Electronic Organiser and a Palm Pilot.

I managed to get some of the older drives working after a trip to the local Maplin store where they must have thought I had gone old school mad. I need to get an old drive working, only to be met with the reply, heck, I never heard of that one but try one of these.

About a hundred British pounds later, I found folders and then sub-folders in the sub-folders. One thing’s for sure I did like to create an awesome file structure back in the day. I had a unique naming convention for each file with titles such as ‘nearly done’, ‘half done’ and ‘ready’.

Nearly_done_0010684 was the title of this particular work, but it wasn’t as good as ready_0010948 because for the life of me I couldn’t even work out what ready_0010948 was even supposed to be. I rotated it, flipped it, mirrored it, then I deleted it.

I looked at another set of images in my folder entitled, ‘one_day’ which was in a sub-folder of a sub-folder and zipped using an ancient zip program, and I can categorically say that one day will never be released.

On the four drives I perused I found more than 2,000 files containing art in various stages of non-completion. I found art I had created in Windows 95 with some freeware. It was like a trip down memory lane but a memory I couldn’t remember. Sometimes it’s better to let go, so although I didn’t delete anything, they are now in the special storage area.

When I returned said drives to a specialist storage facility (the attic), I noticed that in the corner there were at least a dozen or so unfinished canvases too. These were at least half fathomable, one was of Barrack Obama and I remember starting this one whilst watching his first inauguration on TV, and another was of a Devonshire landscape after holidaying there for a week in 2010.  Others were abstracts, one actually looked like it was finished but I can’t be certain when I started it.

I also found a drive which has some of my earliest digital works on board. This particular drive holds creations from every computer I owned as a child and into my teens. Getting the work off a Sinclair ZX81 and on to a disk drive was a complex process which only happened once I had figured out how to do it. The files are visible on a modern PC, but the resolutions are extremely low. That’s a shame because some of the early ZX Spectrum and Amiga creations I would be proud to publish today.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I have probably produced more unfinished artwork than I have ever finished. I even found what must have been 200 or so Post-It notes, each depicting a piece of a larger picture of an office. I have no idea why I started that one, must have been something to do with how offices have changed and become a nest of Post-It notes and computers. The idea was to arrange them all in different positions on a cork notice board to build up the finished picture. I at least remember that bit.

There was one piece I found and I remember abandoning it on a temporary basis, I started it one Sunday night and on the Monday morning I ended up in the emergency department wailing like a banshee with a kidney stone. I definitely remember that piece, it was in the style of a Mondrian.

Nowadays I am much better at finishing artwork. Sometimes it is so tempting to leave something for a while and return to it later, but at the moment I have only got three or four pieces that are on the must finish list.

One is a Chinese Dragon which I placed on pause because Chinese Dragons aren’t the easiest of subjects and I can’t quite think what is needed in the centre, I am sure I had an idea at the time but I’m getting older and you know, memory. I have a feeling it will become a collection of Chinese Dragons. I’ve invested around 30-hours into it so far, so it definitely needs to be completed.

how to turn unfinished art into a success 


But this got me thinking about the great artists of the past and I wondered just how much work they had abandoned or just didn’t get around to completing. There’s a saying that artists never finish any work, they merely abandon it and move on, but some pieces literally have been abandoned.

Unfinished Portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sprang immediately to mind. Elizabeth Shoumatoff was the artist who was fashionable at the time for her portrait work.

The work was unfinished not because it was merely abandoned, but because Roosevelt experienced a severe pain in the back of his head and collapsed, and just three hours later he passed away leaving Harry S. Truman to succeed him.

The Entombment was another artwork unfinished, depicting the burial of Jesus and is hotly contested. Some major art historians believe this was the piece commissioned to Michelangelo in 1500 to paint an altarpiece for the chapel at Sant'Agostino in Rome, but others say that work was never even started. It now hangs in The National Gallery in London.

Gilbert Stuart created the painting of George Washington found on the one-dollar bill, but actually the painting itself was never completed. Known as ‘The Athenaeum’ was left intentionally left incomplete so that he could hold on to it and draw copies which he would then sell.

It’s thought that around seventy reproductions were created but the original was left unfinished by the time of his death in 1828. Some historians believe that George Washington was so annoyed by the actions of Stuart that he travelled to the artist’s studio demanding to be given his portrait.


There are times when paintings are left deliberately unfinished too. This style of work is called non finito, meaning that the artist left it as it was to create an unfinished effect. Apparently I'm really good at this according to the work in my attic. 

Donatello and Michelangelo often left rough-carved surfaces in their works. Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas and his later works are other examples of Renaissance works left non-finito.

Non finito was a romantic idea, the nineteenth-century Romantics were in love with partial paintings and the style became popular. For some the untouched, unpolished, and dappled surface was far more aesthetic than veneered and polished surfaces when the artwork had been completed.

One of the earliest non finito examples was Jacques-Louis David’s painting of Marat, one of the martyrs of the French Revolution.  

Cézanne’s paintings are perhaps some of the more complex examples of non-finito. Whereas in non finito works by Parmigianino and Jacques-Louis David, the viewer is easily able to imagine how the finished paintings would look had they have been completed.

In Cézanne’s non finito works such as his late landscapes and even after a century of study, it is pretty much impossible to exactly know what the paintings of Mont St. Victoire would look like if Cézanne had completely finished them.


There are as I said earlier, many reasons why work is left unfinished. Sometimes it is the death of the artist, sometimes it can be to hold on to something, sometimes artists just abandon the work mid-way through, and sometimes they are unfinished on purpose. 

Other reasons why I often leave a work non-finito are that I try out an idea and either don’t like how it is turning out or have to move onto other projects and commissions. This year I've been creating book covers for what seems to be an eternity, seventeen in total and we're just about in June. Oh, I'll be talking about the art of the book cover very soon!

Occasionally like in the case of my Chinese Dragon, I get a little stuck but still feel it is worth finishing. When this happens I walk away and I will either return to it later, or sometimes never at all.

It also depends on the medium as to if another artist is able to complete the work after an artist’s death, but I think for anything that was left unfinished often hundreds of years ago it should be left alone because it is part of the artworks history.

Some artists completed the paintings of their mentors, Giulio Romano is believed to have done so on Raphael's Transfiguration, and Titian on Giorgione's Sleeping Venus.

Some unfinished works continue to inspire others to recreate the original piece and finish it off and this to me seems a much more sensible way to deal with aged unfinished art. Whilst preserving the integrity of the original, many more artists can offer their views on how the completed work might have looked and the original unfinished work is preserved in history.

20 ways to turn unfinished art into a success  


How To Turn Abandoned art Into Success!

I am sure I am not alone in having half completed works hanging around, so I thought about this for a while wondering what we could do with half completed works and I came up with a bit of a list, so here it is.

  1. Figure out why you abandoned it or didn’t finish it and see if there is any way that you can find the inspiration to complete it. If there’s not, just walk away but consider the following options first.
  2. Look at all of your unfinished works and decide which ones are calling you. If you are getting re-energised from looking at a piece, those are the ones you need to complete. Listen to them!
  3. Write down half a dozen things that you learned whilst creating the work
  4. Write down the things that you feel went wrong with the work, if indeed anything did go wrong with it.
  5. Try making the work smaller so that there isn’t quite as much to finish off. Your collectors who cannot afford your larger pieces might be interested in a lower cost original.
  6. Consider publishing it as a non-finito work and explain the reasons behind it. It could be a trendy thing to do, or that the rest of it is really good and adding more to it would detract from what you have already done.
  7. Engage your social-media followers and ask them to come up with suggestions
  8. Post the unfinished work online and ask others to have a go at replicating it and finishing it off. Community arts projects like this really do engage people and you will find some people even competing to produce the best work.
  9. Cut it up into smaller pieces which could either be hung or used as coasters
  10. Close your eyes, grab a brush and paint on it.
  11. Donate it to a school for the students to have input into finishing the work off, it would make an interesting project.
  12. Take it along to your local arts group and ask for feedback, or make it a group activity and donate the finished work to a charity.
  13. Turn it around, upside down, portrait rather than landscape and see if there is something different about it that is more appealing.
  14. Consider using mixed-media to add interest to the painting which can be used as a base.
  15. Add an element a day for thirty-days spending a short period of time only on each part.
  16. Re-prime the support and reuse it for another new piece of art
  17. Create something entirely new but take away elements from your unfinished work to add into your new work.
  18. Create a new work entirely and cut up your unfinished work and add it into the new work.
  19. Add in a quote and use the blank space to create a beautiful piece of typography
  20. Set yourself a deadline to complete the work if you feel that it needs to be completed at all.

So hopefully this post will have inspired you to go through your older work and excite you into either finishing it or moving on.

It would be great to know if you have much unfinished work hanging around, so if you have please leave a comment and let us all know what you have lingering around. 

If you want me to display any unfinished work so that people can leave some comments on to give you fresh ideas, please do let me know by using the get in touch form at the bottom of the page!


Mark Taylor is a British artist who lives in Staffordshire. His work is created in the main using digital technology, something he has been doing for the past 30-years! He also works on more traditional materials too.

You can purchase Marks work here or visit any one of more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada, such as The Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, and Deck the Walls.

If you are interested in licensing Mark’s work or commission a piece of art to be used in film and TV production, please contact him directly by completing the contact form on this site. 


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