October 19, 2020
Mike Jr

How to Save a Ruined Painting: Top Beginner & Intermediate Painting Rescue Tips

Don’t let a single error erase hours of work. You spent time and supplies painting your piece. You worked hard to get your piece to where it is right now – and a small, fixable error shouldn’t destroy your piece.

So you ruined a painting. Fortunately, there are ways to salvage even the worst mistakes.

Don’t let a single error erase hours of work. You spent time and supplies painting your piece. You worked hard to get your piece to where it is right now – and a small, fixable error shouldn’t destroy your piece.  

Today, we’re highlighting some of the tips beginner and intermediate artists can use to save a ruined painting.

Rework your Piece as a Mixed Media Item

Art purists might sneer at mixed media pieces. They might insist you use exclusively oil, pastel, or watercolor. However, if you’re trying to rescue a piece, consider reworking it as a mixed media item.

By mixing and combining wet and dry media, you can rework your piece into something special. You can turn the worst mistakes into a unique item. You can transform your painting disaster into a painting masterpiece.

Mixed media pieces allow you to use new textures and effects that you wouldn’t achieve with one media alone. It also gives you new ways to rework or fix a piece, allowing you to easily correct mistakes to achieve your final vision.

Increase Color and Vibrancy

Brightening up a painting can distract from your mistakes. The right splash of color adds zest and vibrancy to a painting.

Use a thin, transcalent wash to glaze over the existing paint. It adds color and luminosity to your work, livening up your painting and covering your mistakes (or at least distracting from your mistakes).

Simplify It

If your painting is starting to look too busy, then it might be time to simplify. Take a step back and assess the piece.

Beginner painters may try to do too many things at once in a single painting. Intermediate painters, similarly, may be overconfident in their skills.

Consider the balance of the piece, paint out some of the elements to create a more balanced and simpler piece. Eliminate certain elements or cover them up.

Add Texture

If you don’t want to add color, then add texture to your piece. You can add texture by using impasto techniques, paper, plaster, or other items.

As pointed out by artist Karen Longden, some painters even salvage watercolor paintings by adhering an overlay of a sheet of rice paper and painting in areas in a delicate wash. Or, they tear the rice paper off around the edges or in select spots to give a watercolor painting a unique, ethereal appearance.

Other painters add texture to oil and acrylic works to cover unsightly areas, then paint over the texture when it’s dry.

Big Brushes Fix Big Mistakes

Not sure how to start fixing your painting? Try using a big brush. Take the largest brush you can find (even a household painting brush) and use that brush to glaze over your work, focusing on loose and bold brushstrokes.

Some painters also use a palette knife or even a spatula. You may be surprised how effective this technique is for covering mistakes.

Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

Art is a tough hobby for perfectionists. Many artists feel they’re never truly done with a painting.

That’s why many experts recommend not being too hard on yourself. Don’t stress about making your painting perfect. A small mistake shouldn’t destroy your entire work. Your painting probably looks fine.

Stop being too hard on yourself. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. In many cases, there’s nothing wrong with your painting – you just need to adjust your attitude and acknowledge paintings aren’t always perfect.

Mess Around with Fluid Acrylics

Fluid acrylics are highly transparent and have a consistency similar to ink. Try glazing with fluid acrylics, and you might find they dry with vibrant colors after swatching. If you try to apply the fluid paint directly from the bottle to the paper, you might find that it soaks in and leaves hard edges. By diluting the paint and keeping it watery (like the consistency of watercolor), you allow the paint to spread with softer edges.

Mess Around with Pastels

Pastels give your piece a vibrant appearance. Pastel is opaque enough to cover mistakes, yet translucent enough to not overpower your painting.

Pastels give your piece a bold, pure, and vibrant color. And, because the space between pastel particles allows the under layer to shine through and reflect light, pastel gives enough of a transparent appearance – but it’s still opaque enough to mask your painting problems. .

Take the Opportunity to Experiment with Other Media

If you really made a mistake with your piece, then it’s an opportunity – not a loss. Take the opportunity to experiment with new media. As a beginner to intermediate artist, you might have limited experience with unique media.

Try using colored pencil, pastel, charcoal, gesso, pencils, collage, and other media. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each media. In many cases, you’ll discover a media you knew nothing about – but now prefer.

Pastels, as mentioned above, are ideal for being vibrant and translucent – yet opaque enough to cover mistakes.  

Black and white acrylic gesso, meanwhile, is ideal for a grisaille underpainting. Add a layer of diluted fluid acrylics to fix a mistake, or use color pencils for little accents and to neaten the edges.

By mixing and experimenting with different media, you can rescue a painting and give any piece a unique appearance.

Final Word

Before ripping up the canvas and starting all over again, consider the tips listed above. A few simple steps can turn a bad painting into a masterpiece.

Even if you cannot salvage your painting and flip it into a masterpiece, you can at least learn something new about media and how they work.