Tuesday, 2 March 2010

How do I Erase a Mistake from My Painting?

An otherwise effective oil painting could be spoiled by a garish tree, a black splodge or a grey expanse of water that is not in keeping with the vibrant colours of the painting. In an attempt to put the painting right, the artist may fiddle with the area, overworking the paint until it looks a muddy mess. How can the painting be put right?

Culprits to Making Mistakes in Oil Painting

Correct an Oil Painting
Rachel Shirley
Few things are more frustrating for the artist than completing a satisfactory oil painting, except for a particular area. The view holds true that an oil painting is only as good as its weakest point. No matter what the artist does, the offending area of oil paint will continue to draw the eye unintentionally. The undesirable option of scrapping the painting and starting again may seem to be the only option. The following may have brought the artist to this point:
  • Completing the painting in one go causing the final part to be rendered when tired or in a rush
  • Guesswork an area of painting by trying to paint it from memory, for instance by using green paint neat from the tube for grass or trees
  • Trying to work from a poor photograph
  • Fiddling too much with an area of the painting, causing the area to lose life and become muddy
  • Trying to erase a mistake by adding ever thicker layers of oil paint
  • Having insufficient colours within the palette to express the colours required, causing the artist to use substitute colours which are unsatisfactory
  • Using cheap brushes, which do not control the paint sufficiently
  • Not thinking through the composition properly until the paint has been applied when it is too late
How to Put an Oil Painting Right

Scrapping the painting need not always be the only option, unless the overall painting is unsatisfactory. If only one area is at fault, the following may be worth trying:

If the area is quite large, such as a lake painting or area of sky, for example, carefully wipe the paint off with a clean soft rag. Keep wiping the area with a clean area of cloth until most of the paint is removed.
With a little linseed oil on a clean rag, wipe the last remnants of the oil paint from the painting surface
Leave the area to dry for two days or so, or until the painting surface is dry

If the offending area of the oil painting has completely dried, the area can be lightly sanded down with fine glass paper to remove any impasto effects and paint ridges until smooth. Using a dust buster or vacuum will prevent the dust from lodging into another area of the painting.

Tonking an Oil Painting

If the offending area is close to an intricate area of detail, the artist may use a method known as “tonking,” named after sir Arthur Tonks, who came up with the idea. It is quite simple and is akin to blotting.
  • Cut or tear a piece of clean paper (newspaper will do) into roughly the size and shape of the offending area of the painting
  • Place the paper over the area and press down with the palms of the hands
  • Gently lift the paper off
  • Repeat with more clean paper
  • Lift off again
  • Repeat until no paint can be seen lifting off with the paper
  • The painting can be left to dry over a day or so and new paint can be reapplied over the area
Essential Art Materials for Successful Oil Painting

Mistakes are unavoidable and are part of learning how to oil paint. However, the following will help minimise mistakes from spoiling an otherwise effective oil painting:
  • Good quality artist’s resources, such as clear photographs or sketches
  • Including the primary colours for colour mixing
  • Having good quality sable brushes or bristles
  • Stick to recommended oil painting manufacturers such as Winsor & Newton or Daler Ronwey
  • Composing the picture properly before applying the paint
When tired or time is running short, don’t rush it, put the painting away. It can be completed the next day.

Links to Advice on Oil Painting

9 comments:

Brian Harder said...

That's some great info! Wish I'd have known that before I let it dry. Can I just paint over it and try and fix that way?

Brian Harder said...

That's some great info! Wish I'd have known that before I let it dry. Can I just paint over it and try and fix that way?

Rachel said...

Hello Brian
You can work over the offending area if the surface has been properly prepared. If the painting has been applied on panel and has thoroughly dried, you can gently sand out any ridges or paintbrush marks with very fine sandpaper and clean with a soft brush. Be careful not to apply excess pressure or damage the surface. Sanding cannot be used on an oil painting applied on canvas, or damage to the area could occur to the canvas. In such cases, apply a thin layer of paint on top.

You may have to blend the paint over the surrounding area to make it looks like it belongs. Take the time to get the colour mixture right before applying.

If the painting has been varnished, remove the varnish from the entire painting first with special varnish remover. Varnish can not be sanded off, as it has a gluey consistency. Allow the area to thoroughly dry before applying a new coat of varnish.

Hope this helps!

TimeMan said...

A couple of questions. First, if the painting is dry, and now I've noticed hairs and, or, clumps of dried paint, can I sand it off if the painting is done on linen? Some people say just leave it but I find it very distracting to the finished work. Second, recently I've been using Walnut Alkyd medium in my paintings and I've noticed it always remains sticky. When the rest of the painting is dry and smooth the portions where there is more medium mixed in with the paint shows up as a different color (it also attracts dust, hairs, etc.) Can I use varnish remover or some other solvent to remove it so I can repaint? I tried to sand it off but got nowhere.
Thans for any advice.
David

Rachel said...

Hi David. Thanks for your questions.

I agree, finding bits of hair or clumps that stick out of an oil painting can be distracting and I would be tempted to remove them. But if the painting has been completed on canvas, you have to take extra care. Bits of hair could be removed with tweezers, but don’t pull too hard. I would avoid using sandpaper. If the hair is very stubborn, you could simply trim the ends off with a pair of nail scissors as close to the surface as possible. The same treatment could be used for other bits that stick out.

I also don’t favour the sticky finish of some varnishes. I prefer varnishes that provide a hard finish that can easily be dusted. Never try to sand off varnish. Also painting over the varnish would leave a patchy finish to the painting and you will end up painting over the entire surface again to even it out. It would be better to remove the varnish with artists’ varnish remover. Look out for any pigment that lifts off with the varnish.

Allow to dry completely before applying a new coat of varnish. A mat or satin finish varnish is less likely to be sticky.
Good luck!

Sheera Betnag said...

David hai...,
if it is small time mistake then it can be corrected.But if it larger area, then suggest that whole canvas to be applied with a coat of acrylic white. then one can start the old painting again or a new one which ever the mood may dictate..

Anonymous said...

Some great advice here. I am relatively new to painting and I have an oil painting which I mostly am happy with. It is 30 inches by 40 inches and a section that is about 15 inches by 8 inches is not good and i have just gone over it a feww times with paint to try and improve it but it is now just letting the whole painting down. the underpainting is done with Acrylic paint. How can I just remove that section and start there again, without damaging the rest of the painting. the surface is touch dry, the last time I painted on this area was about 1 month ago. I hope you can help me.

yvie01 said...



Some great advice here. I am relatively new to painting and I have an oil painting which I mostly am happy with. It is 30 inches by 40 inches and a section that is about 15 inches by 8 inches is not good and i have just gone over it a feww times with paint to try and improve it but it is now just letting the whole painting down. the underpainting is done with Acrylic paint. How can I just remove that section and start there again, without damaging the rest of the painting. the surface is touch dry, the last time I painted on this area was about 1 month ago. I hope you can help me.

Rachel said...

Yvie Thanks for Q. I understand your frustration. Sometimes you have to get down to the bare bones and start the area again.

If the painting has been completed on board, you can wipe the paint off (if wet) with a cloth and add a little artist spirits if necessary. If the paint has dried, you can gently sand built-up paint with fine glass paper to get the area smooth again. Vacuum off the dust. You can paint over the area as though from scratch. If the painting has been completed on canvas, extra care will be needed not to damage the canvas. Use a little artist spirits on a cloth to remove as much paint as possible. Don't worry about getting down to the gesso. The aim is a smooth surface on which to start again. Care will be needed to match paint mixes so that the surrounding area will appear to belong. Good luck!