Thoughts on Over-painting (oil)

I just didn’t have a passion for the project anymore. The inspiration did not work out and I was not stubborn enough to invest more time in making it work. So wasteful to abandon high quality* canvases in this time of thoughtful consumption, so I repainted them with fresh inspiration.

Of course there are considerations for overpainting canvases: Is the original completely dry? If you’re considering immediately repainting a painting you will have to worry about the dry rates of the underlying layers, oil and solvent contents of those layers and how it will effect the new painting. Is the painting fresh enough that you could just scrape the whole thing back? If not I would strongly suggest waiting until the painting is completely dry so at least you know what you have to deal with. These canvases were about 6 or 7 months dry, with only the initial layers done. I was concerned that since those layers had quite a lot of solvent they might unevenly draw down the oils from the new painting to make sunken patches that didn’t match well, so I started by wiping down and oiling them out with a mixture of oil and an earth colour to simultaneously tone down the existing painting without completely eradicating it. Then I left them to dry another 3 or 4 months before working on them, once I was satisfied that the oil/earth mixture had an even finish.

Why didn’t I just use a solid colour base after oiling to make a clean slate? I can’t give you a good answer to that. Options? Challenge? I wanted to give myself the option of incorporating some of the initial painting into this one if it seemed like an interesting effect once I was into the painting. I liked the challenge of visualizing the new painting while dealing with the interference of the old one. You may want to use a more solid base colour after oiling out so you can visualize your image without interference. In the finished paintings you can barely see evidence of the originals anyway, so while it was challenging to work this way, pushing me to work with thicker more opaque layers, and therefore allowing for fewer new layers – if we are following Fat over Lean and all that – there was no end result aesthetic justification for doing it that way.

Speaking of thickness, these canvases were originally thinly painted as only the initial layers were completed prior to repainting, but you’ll also want to consider the texture of the existing painting. A highly textured surface means you’ll be seeing outlines beneath the new painting, I have not found sanding to be practical in eliminating anything more than the most minor bumps, drips or traces of stray brush hairs, so you will want to think creatively about how those textural elements can be incorporated in the new composition. A portrait may not be a good candidate for repainting as a landscape, as the shape of the head neck and shoulders may still be evident, but on the other hand, it could force some creative acknowledgement of that element into the landscape. I have had some good effects with textured surfaces, but the painting has to pretty much be designed for or respond to the surface in terms not only of composition, but materials used in the original painting; will new paint absorb or adhere unevenly to the old paint, how dry is the existing painting, and is the support stable (*generally speaking, don’t bother trying to rescue a cheap canvas, use it for a craft or experiment but nothing you are serious about)?

So how about you, what are your experiences and concerns with over-painting canvases?

Author: DebbieleeMiszaniec

Canadian visual artist.