Artists have all sorts of strategies for determining whether a painting is finished, for example looking at its reflection in a mirror, turning it upside down, or looking at it through the wrong end of a binoculars so that it appears smaller and much further away (didn't Stanley Spencer famously take a ride on a big wheel just so that he could look down from a sufficient distance through his studio window to be able to assess a particularly large composition that he was trying to finish?). Taking a photograph and looking at the reduced version on the camera screen has a similar effect to the standard imperative to stand well back from your easel.
In an ideal artist's world paintings finish themselves - you come into the studio one morning and something just looks complete, finished. Sometimes other people finish paintings for you - they come into the studio, enthuse about an unfinished work, afford it the status of being finished and you realise it is. For Auden, a poem was never finished, 'only abandoned' and sometimes deadlines mean you have to abandon 'finishing' a troublesome picture. Phantom deadlines can be helpful if they mean you get something almost there, but still have the luxury of a few days to look and possibly make refinements.
So, how do I know if my 30-odd drawings and paintings are finished? First, I move them around my small studio so that I see them in different places and can be surprised by them; I also find putting paintings of different palettes beside each other can help suggest ways of resolving issues with colour. Then I spread them out in the large teaching space outside my studio and pop out to visit them every hour or so, hoping to be surprised by some insight or other. Eventually I start putting them into temporary frames to see if they look like they really deserve to be all-dressed-up-and-ready-to-hang. Finally the deadline arrives and I have to make some snap decisions - yes, you can go to the ball...no, you're staying at home.
Damian Callan's Solo Exhibition 'Moving Pictures' opens at The UNION gallery, Drumsheugh Place, EH3 7PT on 21st March www.uniongallery.co.uk/exhibitions/97-damian-callan-solo-exhibition