Painting Over Old Paintings


I’m really unsure what to do with this painting. I started painting it probably 5 years ago and really struggled with it before giving up. It was overly ambitious. I didn’t have the skill to finish it when I started it. I think I’ve improved enough that I can tackle it now. I’m just not sure where to start.

I don’t have much experience painting over old paintings. Although, it looks like I’ve already painted over something blue. Can I gesso over it or just start painting directly on the old painting? Should I just scrap it? I plan on using roughly the same composition.

Tiny Fisher Towers Update


I’m not good at painting rocks, which probably20151116-IMG_0710
means I should paint a lot more of them. Maybe that’ll be the subject of my next series. I was informed that palette knives make quick work of rocks. I’m interesting in getting some and experimenting with them, but haven’t had the chance to yet. I’ve barely had the time to paint since summer started and I’m only going to have less time as the weeks go by. I’m crossing my fingers I’ll have more time eventually.

Here is the reference photo for this painting. It’s from a Fisher Towers hike I did with my husband last November. I can tell that I went too dark with the highest cliffs on the left. The first rough in was better. I’ll keep working on trying to capture the red rocks. My efforts tend to be either too yellow or too pink.

I would have a few other paintings started by now but I haven’t had the time to finish prepping new canvas. I got 4 frames built last week, but wasn’t able to get the canvas on them. I’m going to try to work on some older paintings in the meantime.


22 thoughts on “Painting Over Old Paintings”

  • I was reading about this on wet canvas and it sounds like a real pain. I did find this link that sounds easier than some of the other things I was reading, but still seems like a big pain.

    Due to the nature of oil paint, one cannot simply apply acrylic Gesso over the surface. It will not adhere properly and, over time, will peel away.

    Resurface Old Oil Paintings the Right Way – then Re-use for New Oil Paintings

    We checked with Gamblin Oil Colors, Inc., (a high end manufacturer of professional artists’ oil pigment) with regard to using their Oil Painting Ground and they have replied as follows:

    “Our Oil Painting Ground will work very well to cover an old oil painting, provided that a good bond can form between the ground and the dry paint. This bond can be unstable if a lot of painting medium was used in the old paint layers, resulting in a closed surface of the top paint layers.

    We recommend that old paintings be sanded to insure a good bond between the dry paint layer and ground.”

    Artist Michele Hausman has a great new video of this process – check it out here -“How to Repurpose Old Oil Canvas”.

    We have applied the Gamblin Oil Painting Ground product to old plein air painting canvas/panels after sanding them down as recommended above.

    Health & Safety Note: Use a mask while sanding, and do it outside if you can – you don’t want to breath in the dust – it may be toxic.

    We used a large palette knife to apply a good layer to the panel surface – then feathered the product with a brush to smooth it out. It takes about 3 or 4 days to dry or longer in colder weather. So far so good.

    We now have a fresh new supply of oil painting canvas/wood panels covered with a white oil painting surface to work on. To get more information about this product go to: Gamblin Oil Colors Inc.

    • Thank you for this information. I suspect I probably used a lot of liquin since it’s an older painting so I’m not sure I’ll be able to resurface it.

  • Wet canvas has a few threads on it too. Here was a comment I thought was helpful.

    A few people recommended sanding before using gesso, and said you can use a power sander, but you have to be careful you don’t destroy the canvas.

    Several people recommended removing the old painting by spraying it with oven cleaner:
    After approximately 20 minutes remove the oven cleaner with paper towels. Then go over it with dampened paper towels. After the canvas is dry coat it with white gesso.

    Others recommended using using turpentine or paint thinner:
    Do this outside away from any sources of flame, EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE FUMES.
    Either fill a spray bottle with turpentine/paint thinner, or use an old brush. Lay the canvas flat and cover the paint heavily with the thinner. -If doing more than one canvas stack them criss cross.
    Cover loosely with plastic.
    After most of the thinner is absorbed, reapply until the paint gets soft enough to wipe off with a cloth.
    You can scrape the paint off using a putty knife or wipe it off with many rags.
    Dry the rags (if used) outdoors and then dispose of them. Do not throw them away wet, as they might spontaneously combust.

      • Loblolly the spontaneous combustion warning made me giggle…careful, don’t spontaneously combust! I thought, wow…such a health hazard to be economical! Toxic fumes, bursting into flames, lungs full of whatever from sanding. Good grief!

  • This is a loaded post question Amber! No one agrees on how to do it. I like this guys answer the best from the wet canvas link above…

    One of the members of the art gallery that I am a member of just loves to paint over old oil paintings. He paints directly on them – even lets parts of them poke through. Hey, he swears by it.

    • I just wasn’t sure I could do that. I plan on painting the same painting, but better so any poke through will already work. Do I still need to sand it a little to get good adhesion?

      • That last commenter I read said the guy just paints over paint and allows for the poke through…seemed to me no sanding.

      • Okay, I found another comment where the person only sanded down areas that had too much texture for their liking but left the rest alone and painted directly over it.

  • You would at least clean it with mineral spirits or something right? You know, I painted over a 15 year old painting because I just wanted to have some brighter colors and it did fine. All I did was clean it first. It has only been about 7 months so I don’t know if it will be around in 5000 years or so, but I won’t care by then I don’t think.

  • Hi, I love how you revisit works. Check out John Wilson Australian Artist face book page. He is a master artist, look at his rock paintings. He uses a cool red eg.rose madder, mixed with other cools for backgrounds and warm reds in foreground, eg.Cadiums. He travels the world teaching. Make one section of your foreground the focal point, this should be the warmest in Color and perhaps have more detail.

    • Thank you for your help. I will look at his Facebook page. I really should try some new colors. Rose madder sounds like it would be a good addition. For the most part I’ve been able to make every color I need with what I have but the red rock color had mostly eluded me.

  • Hi Mulambo28,
    Here’s what I do with those old paintings that are just to awful to keep, even for reference on a tiny part of them.
    I use the left over paints from my palettes (plein air and studio) and paint over the old ones. I keep both those palettes in airtight containers in the freezer so the paint stays pretty fresh for a long time. When I have big blobs of mixed color, I just take all the pools of it and make a usually ugly grey. Although sometimes its nice. I paint over the old canvases – they are usually RayMar art panels – either thick or thin, depending on if the underpainting has a lot of texture or not.
    I rarely use anything other than OMS (Gamsol) but if I do, its walnut oil. I think I’ve used 1/4 teaspoon in a year.
    After a while, the canvas is dry and ready for re-use. Its toned to that is nice, too.
    Best of luck in finding a way that works for you.
    btw, I was near Fisher Towers last weekend as we were visiting friends in Castle Valley.
    -Cedar Keshet

    • Thank you for sharing your method. I’ll work on keeping my leftover blobs of mixed colors more consistently. I already keep my palette in the freezer so keeping the leftovers is simple. Castle Valley is a beautiful area. I hope you enjoyed.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: