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Paint Over Bad Oil Paintings

I am getting some bad oil paintings lately :(- I paint on small 8 x 8 canvas using gamblin oils with solvent free gel as medium. My question is: instead of throwing away the bad paintings - Does anyone paint over oil paintings with a layer of a solid color in oil and start over not to waste the canvas. I do sell my work and would like advise to not compromise longevity of the painting for a buyer.

The Masters sure did :slight_smile:

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Many artists gesso over paintings they decide won’t work. If you don’t lay a ground there is the possibility of the old painting bleeding through. The word for this is Pentimento, an Italian word for repentance.

I ‘ve only done it on bigger, more expensive canvases, not small ones. I sand, clean well with thinner, and paint them a solid color first.

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I often do the same.Repaint over existing bad painting surfaces. Remember to only do with the same medium though. Do not paint over first with gesso if the gesso is acrylic and the painting was done in oil paint. In other words, never paint water based material over oil based material. It is fine if the gesso is oil based. You can paint oils over water based.

I do what Connie does and sand or smooth out the surface first, and clean it well, because I don’t like to see the previous paintings texture. This will resolve any issues with longevity although as a matter of practice I will only paint on new surfaces for work I plan to sell. I use the painted over ones for experimenting.

Yes, these days Pentimento is used to refer to the previous painting either bleeding/showing through or evidence of its texture but technically that term, as far as historians are concerned, only applies to changes or slight alterations in the original composition by the original artist and not a surface reused for an entirely different painting.


Re-reading your original question If the gel medium you are using means you have thickly painted impasto or textural areas and are repainting over without knocking down that texture it could pose a problem.
Always follow the rule ‘Fat over Lean’ which means early layers of paint have very little if any mediums in them, later layers having more, like copal, linseed oil, safflower oil, stand oils, liquin etc.
Painting lean over fat can result in cracking of the new/top layers of painting.

I use very little mediums, if any, and paint thin so is usually not an issue for me. If in doubt do not sell paintings painted over old ones.


I regularly rework oil paintings. Some are mediocre, others have been around too long. I sometimes turn it upside down and often let the underpainting peep through.

I use cold wax medium sometimes mixed with the oils and this makes it easy to ‘sculpt’ the paint with a brush or scraper.

Many landscapes/seascapes become abstracted. It is always fun and nothing to fear.

Good wishes and give it a try. Anne.

Hello Heather,

I shall try to post a ‘painted over’ piece to show you what I have done. If I can get the image small enough!

Regards, Anne

I’ve repainted over old oil paintings that didn’t turn out well many times. I simply paint over the entire surface with a “neutral” color, which for me is usually burnt sienna mixed with white, to cover the old painting. Then I paint over that surface, following fat-over-lean procedures. When I’m all through with the new painting, you can’t tell any difference from painting on a new canvas except for additional texture.

For me it would be a bad idea to paint over, a painting with impasto like surface is an unreliable ground and so much more on a strectched canvas - What kind of canvas do you use and the dimensions ?
I would remove the paint and reprime.

If I were to to do a larger work on stretched canvas or linen I would first use a real good heavy quaily then there are two possibilities acrylic ground that makes it more easy.

To remove the paint from here I would use a mix of sodiumhydroxide solution and a dishwash soap and brush it over and cover with a plast film, let it sit for hours maybe night over, brush through with a synthetic brush and maybe repeat it or just go on with more of the mix, add some water and remove with kitchen paper. no need to say use gloves and glasses.

with oil priming it is a bit tricky business, the old oil priming will be spoiled by the mix
and I am not all sure exactly what is the right thing to do, I get away with applying the mix and soon begin to soften the layer and use a knife, I dont think in this way the glue in the canvas is damaged, I did not try yet, I should think an acrylic varnish could be fine to isolate with.

In both case go over with water and kitchen paper a lot to be sure to have removed the mix.

I usually work on masonite and work allaprima so I see soon if it is a wiper, should I regret a work I remove all paint and reprime.

Easy Off Oven Cleaner! DO OUTSIDE!! Spray on the “bad” painting. Let sit 20 mins. Hose off. Let dry. New coat of gesso. Presto change-o!! New canvas!! Works great!!!

Interesting tip, maybe only for panels. Not sure how much the caustic chemicals in oven cleaner might weaken canvas if they contact it.


If it the painting is in oil, then you can’t use regular acrylic gesso over it. Instead you need an oil ground. Both Winsor-Newton and Gamblin sell them. I have used the Winsor Newton brand and like it fairly well. It is easy to do, but don’t plan on using the “new” canvas right away. It takes several days for it to dry. Then to tone it, make sure you use a thin wash of oil paint, not acrylic. I think both of these brands have videos demonstrating how to do it.

Much easier to put an oil ground over the bad painting and then paint right on top of that. It will make it a bit slicker but you can knock that down a bit by toning. I posted about this earlier. Winsor-Newton brand of oil ground is good. Haven’t used Gamblin’s but I suppose it’s good too.

I’ve learned this trick from a few PAFA painters (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts): turn the bad oil painting upside down, maybe scrape some off or not, and just paint the new one right on top of it. Turning it upside down removes the visual distraction of the content. When you paint the new image, the old underpainting can create interesting and exciting reveals under transparent color or scrapes. It’s fun to try!

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I’m an acrylic/mixed media painter. I’ve used collage pieces to transform old paintings. One transformed/redone painting sold in a gallery show and another one was pinned by someone on Pinterest.

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Same thing in my case. :wink: I’m not the biggest expert on this, but I don’t see anything wrong with re-using the canvas after an unsuccessful drawing. Especially if we’re talking about expensive materials and canvas.

I’ve actually had a lot of fun letting some of the old painting (everything being oil) show through. I don’t do anything special to the old canvas because I like the occasional impasto mark as long as it’s not too 3 dimensional._

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Elizabeth Pollie paints over paintings a lot. You can see little flashes of interesting colors-It’s interesting and gives the painting a little sense of mystery.