First thing I think, is to take a break so that you can come back with a (slightly!) more objective approach. Sometimes it’s helpful to work on some thing else for a while, another similar piece, or something completely different – maybe even a completely different medium.
You want to clear your head from all the backward looking thoughts that are actually irrelevant to the issue so that you can clearly see what you have actually got that it’s front of you. You want to be able to lose all the connotations – as in “I really like this bit”, “this was the fabric I bought for this piece”, “I spent hours putting this section together therefore I have to keep it” or “I gave up a lot to reach this situation”.
Then I think it’s helpful to go back to your original goals. What was it you really wanted to say, portray, achieve? Which parts fit with that? And which don’t? Separate them out - don't be afraid to remove large chunks!
Have you got two conflicting ideas going on? Maybe what you have should be divided into two.
I can't get them to line up right - but if you do it mentally (!), you can see there was way too much going on.
Or have you strayed away completely from your original idea? This is fine – if you know where you’re going!! But not if you don’t…if you are losing direction, the piece will show it – because it will lack unity.
Check your value patterns – the deepest darks should create an interesting shape overall as should the brightest lights. It’s often easiest to see this by either squinting, or by taking a photograph, putting it into Photoshop and desaturating the colour. When it’s in black and white the value pattern becomes quite evident.
Having checked the values and other obvious design principles, the next thing I do is to take long narrow lengths of batting (wadding), white cotton or even strips of white paper (this is what Emily Richardson does), and I use them as crop tools to find the sections of the piece that are unified, satisfying and clearly on the message. One time I had to crop a piece down to about 1/3 of its original width!! As a whole wall, a piece that was about light coming though a window was way too big…when I cropped it down to window size – the original intent was much clearer.
Sometimes when you’ve tried everything, you just have to scrap it! Don’t think that many many brilliant artists havn't had to do this! They’re always finding other works on the back of museum canvases….If, with a clear head and the best will in the world, you havn’t been able to make it work maybe it’s just because the whole idea was flawed in the first place. Take it down to the thrift store!!! Begin again anew!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!