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  • Michelle Sirois Silver

to rework or not to rework

A few weeks ago, I reworked the background on a piece that had been exhibited last year. It got me thinking about a question that I’ve been asked several times, “how do I know when a piece is finished”?

I started writing the first draft for this blog post yesterday.

Coincidentally, earlier this morning while my new work was being photographed by Ted Clarke for an upcoming exhibition, a studio visitor asked if the work was finished. I paused before responding because I was taken aback by her question and for a split second my insecure inside voice popped up, “does it look unfinished”? Fortunately, my outside voice kicked in instead and I replied, “the curator’s August 1st deadline for images made the work finished”. Truth be told there was a good reason why she asked. We are exhibiting in the same show titled, “WOMEN’S WORK” and she was picking up her artwork and which had been photographed the day before. And like me she had been working to the deadline to finish her work.

Which brings me back to the question, “how do I know when a work is finished”? However, this is not a stand-alone question. I’ve also been asked, “is a work ever really finished”? Which is then followed by “do you ever rework a piece once it’s finished”?


I’m always slightly surprised when I’m asked these questions. In part because I don’t really think about them. But here’s the thing, there are times when I complete a work, exhibit it and then rework it. I don’t do it often.

My work is labour intensive. I may work on a piece for three months, usually much longer, and when I finish the work I am so close to it, that I often feel somewhat ambivalent about it. I can look at it technically and let the principles of design kick in – I can determine if it’s been well executed but when I’m introducing a new technique and materials for the first time my ambivalence really kicks in. I can’t always discern whether I’m feeling my ‘normal’ ambivalence or if I’m feeling ambivalent because I’m using a new technique and materials and I don’t have anything to compare it to. There is an uncertainty.

Reworking a piece is not about perfectionism or the inability to let go. Usually there is a design flaw of some kind. And yes, I have reworked a piece and felt that the first interpretation was in fact the right one for the piece. More about that later.

Wandering (original) 5ft x 4ft

Photo: Ted Clarke

I was commissioned to create a work titled, “Wandering” (5ft x 4ft). I delivered and hung it in the client’s stairwell. A few weeks later I received a phone call asking if I could make one small change. What had happened was that each time the client walked up the staircase her eye automatically was drawn to the white square in the bottom left hand corner.

Wandering (reworked white square/hand) 5ft x 4ft

Photo: M. Sirois Silver

I was able to ‘calm’ the white square using marks and I introduced a piece of pastel green organza in the bottom right corner to soften the white.

I’m known for my experimentation with the hand hooked surface. Several years ago, I replaced the entire background for the piece titled, “Decay 1”. At the time I felt that the block print and shibori dyed silk background was overwhelming the foreground design element. The design element is hand hooked and cut from the linen backing then hand stitched onto the silk. It was the first time I integrated materials in this way.

Repair 1 (original)

Photo: Ted Clarke

I switched out the background and replaced it with a hand dyed wool background embellished with hand stitch.

Repair 1 (reworked)

Photo: Ted Clarke

Although the rework felt ‘calm’ and the foreground was more prominent, when I compare the before and after images, I feel that the initial background was the right one. It had been bolder, more energized, but I wasn’t comfortable with it for some reason. It didn’t feel like a work that I would create – I know this sounds odd and I still don’t quite understand it. Perhaps it’s because we sometimes create work that draws from a part of ourselves that we don’t realize is there, the subconscious.


My recent rework is “Adapting to Change”. Last year it was exhibited at the CityScape Gallery in North Vancouver. I love this piece for many reasons. It was the first time I introduced zippers into the work. I also used hand stitch as a key design element. However, there was something not right with the finished work. And like Decay 1 it fell into the new technique and new material category where there was no previous work for me to refer to.

Adapting to Change (original)

Photo: Ted Clarke

I use the phrase ‘holding the space’. This is my way of gauging a work – does it have a presence in the space or is it disappearing into the background?

To test this theory, I take the work out of the studio and put it in my home to see if it can hold the space. If my heart skips a beat that is a good sign, I’m either heading in the right direction or the work is complete. If the work is blending into the background, it needs to be reworked.

“Adapting to Change” went straight from the studio to the gallery. In the studio it was working but once in the gallery, to my eye it was evident that the piece was not holding the space. This is a large work – 5ft x 8ft. The problem was that the background’s value range was too broad, it ranged from white to navy blue. It was energized and was competing with the key design element which was the hand stitched face and the surrounding halo.

Adapting to Change (reworked)

Photo: Ted Clarke

I’ve since reworked the background and removed the white, saturated colours, and many of the light/medium values. The background is now primarily medium to dark values and the result is that the face is more prominent. The work feels balanced.


To rework or not to rework – I suppose that is the question. I think it’s an individual choice. I know that if I can I will.

Some artists will not touch a work once it leaves the studio. Others will rework a piece for years. At the end of the day it’s whatever works for you.


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