Painting Over a Painting: An Easy How-To Guide

painting over a painting

Art Ignition is supported by its audience. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More.

Are you feeling frustrated and discouraged by that old painting on your canvas?

Do you want to correct something in a painting that’s already dried?

If so, then you’re in the right place.

With the techniques and tips in this guide, you can breathe new life into your artwork and unleash your full creative potential as you paint over an old artwork.

What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial

Before starting this tutorial, you’ll need a few items. Here’s a quick list of what you’ll need:

All of these items can be found at your local art supply store or online.

Once you have everything, you’re ready to begin!

what you will to follow this tutorial

5 Steps to Painting Over an Oil or Acrylic Painting

Step 1: Prepare Your Painted Canvas

Depending on whether you want a flat, clean paint surface to rework or don’t mind the leftover texture from your previous painting, you’ll want to prep your canvas in a way that fits your needs.

For the sake of this guide, we’ll cover how to rework an entire canvas and turn it into a clean slate.

If you can, use a palette knife or razor blade to gently scrape off as much of the thicker paint as possible (for an old oil painting, make sure the oil paint is completely cured before you do this. Otherwise, you can damage the canvas).

prepare your painted canvas

Then, sand the surface of the canvas with fine-grit sandpaper to remove any remaining paint or texture to create a smoother finish. Be sure to wear a mask and work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling any dust.

After removing the old paint, apply a layer of acrylic gesso to your canvas.

Apply a thin layer with a brush or roller, and let it dry completely before moving on to the next step. This surface can now be considered a primed canvas.

Step 2: Choose Your Paints

Next, choose the paints you want to use for your new painting. You can use any type of oil or acrylic paint, but it’s important to choose colors that will bond well to the layer of gesso.

When choosing your paints, consider the value of each color.

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color, and it’s important to have a range of values in your painting to create depth and dimension.

The most common colors to start out with when painting is titanium white, yellow ochre, and burnt umber. These make for a great first layer or underpainting (more on this in the next step).

choose your paints

Step 3: Apply Your First Layer

Once you have your paints, it’s time to start painting!

Apply your first layer of paint to your canvas using a large brush or roller. Use a thin layer of paint and focus on covering the old painting completely.

Allow the first layer to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

This first layer is also sometimes referred to as your underpainting.

apply your first layer

While this step focuses on covering the canvas surface completely, you can also add some form or outlines to your subject matter.

This is a good bonus step you can take to help determine the composition of your new artwork.

Step 4: Add Layers and Details

You have successfully reworked the surface of your canvas!

Assuming you have your subject matter and an idea of how you want the finished painting to look, it’s time to add paint layers and details to your painting.

Use smaller brushes and palette knives to add texture and details to your painting.

Be sure to let each layer dry completely before adding more paint. As you work, consider different techniques for creating texture and depth in your painting.

add layers and details

For example, you can use various brush strokes to create different textures or layer colors to achieve a certain effect. Additionally, you can use light highlights and shadows to create a sense of depth and dimension.

Step 5: Finish Your Painting

Finally, it’s time to finish your painting! Add any final details and make any necessary touch-ups.

Once you’re happy with your painting, varnish and let it dry completely before framing or displaying it.

Congratulations, you have successfully painted over an old oil painting and created a brand new artwork!

Examples of Artists Who Have Successfully Painted Over Old Paintings

Many artists have used this technique to create stunning new works of art.

For example, the famous abstract expressionist Franz Kline often painted over his own paintings to create new works.

paint over old painting
Franz Cline, Untitled

Additionally, contemporary artist Sam Moyer is known for using this technique to create layered, textural works full of depth and nuance.

painting over old paintings
Sam Moyer, Gibraltar 1

The Sanding Controversy

Sanding an oil painting has two purposes and it’s actually quite the controversial topic.

The first purpose is to make the oil painting smooth, like an airbrushed surface.

The second purpose is to erase the painting and start over. It’s easier to erase an oil painting by sanding if it’s on a canvas or wood panel.

This is where the controversy comes in.

Many people argue that sanding a canvas can cause damage (and it can if you’re too rough).

the sanding controversy

The other controversy concerns the dust that’s created when you sand down an old painting.

You see, many paints (such as cadmium red) are considered toxic. However, it’s not the paint itself that’s toxic; it’s the cadmium powder.

When you mix the cadmium with something that holds it together, called a binder, the toxicity is very low.

But even with a binder, it’s important to take precautions.

So, if you’re going to sand an old oil painting that has cadmium paints (or other toxic pigments), it’s best to do it outside and wear a mask to reduce the risk of breathing in the dust.

The Emotional and Creative Benefits of Painting Over an Old Painting

As an artist, it’s not uncommon to feel discouraged when a painting doesn’t turn out the way you envisioned.

However, the process of painting over an old painting can be a great way to overcome these feelings and break through creative blocks.

the emotional and creative benefit of painting over an oil painting

Starting with a pre-existing canvas can help you explore new ideas and techniques that you might not have tried otherwise.

Additionally, the act of covering up an old painting can be cathartic, allowing you to let go of past mistakes and embrace new possibilities.

By taking this approach, you can turn a frustrating experience into a positive one that fuels your creativity and helps you grow as an artist.


Can I use household paint to paint over a canvas?

While technically you can, house paint is not made to last as long as acrylic or oil. Where oil and acrylic paintings may last centuries, interior paint only lasts a few years before it cracks, peels, or discolors.

Do I have to sand the canvas?

Sanding a canvas is best for artists looking to make the canvas as smooth as possible, but there are alternatives.

Using paint thinner, for example, can help you remove old paint. This method also requires caution and ventilation.

do i have to sand the canvas?

Will my old painting be visible behind the new painting?

If done correctly, you shouldn’t see any trace of your old painting behind your new artwork.

Canvas Worth Saving!

Painting over old acrylic painting or oil painting is a great way to give new life to an old canvas.

With the right tools and techniques, anyone can do it. By following these simple steps, you’ll be able to create a brand-new painting that you’ll be proud to display.

However, it’s important to remember that not all paintings are worth saving. If a painting has extensive damage or has lost its original vibrancy, start fresh with a new canvas.

If you want to learn more about oil painting techniques, check out Evolve Artist’s Oil Painting for Beginners course. This comprehensive course covers everything from basic techniques to advanced methods, and it’s a great way to improve your painting skills.

Whether you’re a beginner or a professional artist, painting over a canvas can help you overcome creative blocks and explore new ideas. So don’t be afraid to try something new – pick up your brushes, choose your paints, and start painting!

Featured Image: Source

Like our Content?
Share It With Other Artists

Article Written By