Don't Throw That Painting Away!

Nothing determines who we will become so much as those things we choose to ignore.

Sandor McNab


Taking Mark Mehaffey’s workshop reminded me of something that I told my high school art students: never throw a piece of artwork away. They wanted to toss anything that did not go well at the first try. Mark showed us how, on yupo, we could build and layer new ideas or erase things that we were not thrilled with and redo. Yupo is a very forgiving surface, but even on other surfaces there are many things that can be done to improve, change or completely refashion a painting that is not what we would like it to be. Sometimes it takes putting the painting aside for a time period (days, weeks, or months…maybe even years) and coming back to it with a new eye. Here are some ideas of things to do with a failed (or temporarily failing) painting:


  1. Redo it in sepia
  2. Collage over it and repaint
  3. Abstract it
  4. Add ink, pastels, colored pencils
  5. Add collage materials
  6. Gesso over and do a new painting
  7. Rework the failed parts
  8. Cut the painting up and use as collage material for another  painting
  9. Use a mat to find the area of the painting that does work and use that area to cut the painting down to…even if it is a miniature
  10. Cut the painting into parts and change the relationships to create a better composition
  11. Change the colors by painting over areas in contrasting colors
  12. Add neutrals, like black and white or gray, to tone down the colors
  13. Add patterns to some areas
  14. Add curvilinear lines if there are a lot of straight lines, or straight lines if there are a lot of curvilinear lines
  15. Paint another painting on the back
  16. Use acrylic to swipe paint across, leaving an abstract design to start from again
  17. Cover with watered down gesso then cover with plastic bag. Press your hands over the bag to remove all air bubbles. Before the gesso dries, remove plastic. Repaint the painting using the new lines formed by the plastic.
  18. Use gel mediums over the painting. Paint over the gel or use saran wrap or wax paper or parchment to affect the effect.

But, whatever you do, don’t throw the painting away. It could be your best piece ever.

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A Working Artist