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10 Things to know before reworking a painting.

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

I often have students bring me works they started long ago and they want my help in directing them to finish them. I tell them more often than not, it’s SO much easier to start over than to try to fix an old painting. Most of the problem is that if the painting is older than a year most likely you have (or should have) changed as an artist and the new skills you have learned will not work with your older set of skills and you end up repainting the whole thing anyway. Another problem is that quite often the drawing or perspective is off or the first set of values are up the creek. 90% of the time any errors that are in your painting have occurred in the first 5 minutes. It’s If the initial laying is off then it behooves one to just start all over. Another obstacle that rears its head is the fact that you are probably not in the same headspace as you were when you began the older work. I can pick a series of photos to paint for the next few days, paint one the first day then, the next day, go to look at what I had chosen from the day before and not know why I would have chosen that, to begin with. I am in a different frame of mind and want to try something different from what I choose the day before. That is just one day. Imagine how much stronger this effect will be if it has been over a year.


Before I go further I will reiterate here what I said in the beginning. It is way easier to start a new painting than to try to fix an old one. All that being said if you’re going to try to jump back win to an older work here is a list of questions that might help you jostle the old brain bucket and aid in solving some problems.


  • Is this scene worthy of a painting to begin with?

  • Would I be better off starting over?

  • What was I trying to say about this scene that was uplifting to the viewer?

  • Is the drawing accurate enough?

  • Do I have a solid value plan?

  • Do I have a dominant temperature throughout the piece?


  • Re-wet the surface before you begin. It is best to be working as close to the way you did when did it the first time around. Scrape off or sand any big bumps that might impede your reworking.

  • Do your reworking and overpainting with larger, not smaller, tools.

  • Make big bold decisions. You can’t paint the fleas on the dog till you have painted the dog.

  • Don’t putz the painting to death. In the end, it’s really up to you too.

In the end, it’s really up to you to assess whether the painting will benefit from a reworking or whether your best to just start again. I usually recommend just starting from scratch. The amount of things that the artist has learned is so significant that it really is more beneficial to start from scratch. Both for practice and for a better end result. That all being said I have had success from re-working an older work.


“I’ve always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labours it has cost me.” - Henri Matisse.


Here are a couple of paintings the received the reworking treatment.


The first is a figure painting that was well drawn and I liked the composition but the colour was duller than ditchwater. I glazed the piece with ultramarine blue then punched up the quinacridone rose colours. The result is much brighter and more vibrant.

 

The second is a landscape. I found the clouds to be a bit trite. and they need more movement. The sky colours we bland as well. The foreground was also in need of a tune-up. I repainted this paint completely. Not a rework on the piece but a completely new painting following along from the first. The second is a much better effort.

 

These next two paintings are re-worked by artist Susan (genius) Contini. (https://www.suecontini.com/)


The insipid greens have been replaced with lush lavenders making this a much more inviting work.

 

The second was glazed with a transparent coral colour to intensify the sky making for a way more dramatic piece.

Keep all this in mind and have fun.

Your friend in art,

Doug.

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