When a watercolor painting just can’t be salvaged

Well this does happen and not just to beginners, experts also create work that just doesn’t come together.  In fact I believe you have to be prepared to make such paintings from time to time if you want your art to progress. You have to be prepared to try new things and techniques to keep progressing; I know I certainly have to.

So what to do this non fixable painting? I usually refer to this technique as “always make you paintings pay for themselves”.

First step is not to get too fussed about it. What have you really lost? Well, probably a buck or two worth of paper, and much less of pigment along with some of your time.

Red Waratah flower watercolor painting

Red Waratah flower watercolor painting

But really the time you spend painting is never lost as the more you paint the better you will paint in time. This is what we call ‘brush mileage’ and everyone who wants to be a successful artist has to put in their time!

Second step is to look at your work and find what has worked. Depending on you current skill level this can be anything from noticing a nice clean wash in your painting, to who sections that work just fine.

Third step is where you look at what didn’t work. Is it a dirty wash, incorrect drawing, were you too hasty and overworked an area rather than letting it dry fully before moving onto the next step in your painting, objects in the wrong place, composition just completely wrong? If you can’t see what is wrong, but know it doesn’t look right, try turning the painting upside down or look at it in mirror; this often highlight design and tonal deficiencies. This is the most important step as by looking at what didn’t work you are learning and expanding as an artist.

The final step, after you have worked out what didn’t work, is to decide on a plan of action that would have corrected the problem with your painting (more learning and growing as an artist here) and then paint it again!! This is how you will develop you skills, not by wallowing in feelings of failure, you not trying to become brain surgeon, where mistakes can be a lot more costly (for the patient), you are an artist, deriving pleasure from the act of painting and working to improve one little step (or one painting) at a time.

Here are some other things you can do if your painting isn’t salvageable – after you have done the steps above:

One option is to wash the whole thing off under a tap with a sponge and repaint. This will work for some paintings and not others as you will not be able to get all the color off, at best it will leave a slight tint on the paper. It all depends what you want to do with your painting and if the tint will be in the wrong place. If you have damaged the paper surface this will probably not work either as that area will become very dark.

You can turn the sheet over and paint on the reverse side. In my early days as an artist I used to do this all the time. I still do sometimes. If you original painting is very dark you may want to wash it off under the tap with a sponge so that it does not show through which can happen with lighter weight papers like 180 gsm or lighter.

You can sometimes use pastels or acrylics to paint over you watercolor painting to create a beautiful multimedia piece of art. There are some watercolor artists that only paint this way. They use watercolor to create the under washes for their work and use other media like pastels to put in the detail and hightlights. You should always be open to new opportunities – the more I paint and learn about the rules of art the more I decide there really are no rules! Certainly you should never let some “now I am supposed to” rule someone gave you who really wasn’t a great artist to begin with, stop you from creating a beautiful piece of art!

I hope you have found this article of use to you.