A problem painting that I spent some time attempting to fix. 8x10 acrylic on yupo. Tdlart.com

How To Fix a Painting When You Don't Know Where to Start

Kasey Wanford "Great Band Name" digital 2021

You know when I first figured out that I was an abstract painter at heart?  It was while I was painting and my mind checked out and I let intuition take over. I had some music playing, and I was expressing my thoughts and feelings through color choice and movements with the the brush. I let my heart do the thinking and it felt great!  Afterwards, I felt great! The painting itself was not amazing, but the feeling was and I wanted to keep that going. I had to learn to improve the paintings after the fact.

Now what do you do with artwork that isn't yet amazing? Simple refinements can make all the difference.

Don't go down the tunnel of emotional despair.

Calling yourself a bad artist just isn't rational, or helpful, or correct.

Ask yourself, "Can it be fixed?" 

Only you can answer this question. Is there something about this artwork that you're proud of and want to preserve somehow? If not, paint over it.  If so, read on:

Can it be fixed without losing its soul? 

There have been many times when I've tried to improve a painting, and what I end up with has lost all the magic it once had. It's usually because I tried to smooth out some choppy areas that looked too messy up close, only afterwards to discover it was in those choppy areas where the emotional soul of the painting was.

Ways to fix it:

This is where a good eye for design comes in handy, plus more of that "artist's intuition".  Somedays I'm in short supply of both, so I rely on these old standbys:

1. Check for value contrast:  

Squint your eyes at your painting and see if there are a lot of darks and a lot of lights. This is how I do it, but I know a lot of other artists just take a photo of the painting with their phone and apply a black & white filter on it in their photo editing app.  You can also get a piece of transparent red acetate, and look at your paintings through that.  It's amazing how a high levels of value contrasts can make a painting more appealing.  Home designers know this too, which is why the walls in their photos of rooms are so often white, with pops of color here and there, and a dark green plant or a black lamp breaking up the vast whiteness of the walls.

2. Check for balance.  

Do you have too many square shapes and not enough circles?  Too many lines and not enough dots? Too many cheeseburgers and not enough french fries?  I don't know what you have in your artwork, but it may have too much of one thing which may leave it feeling off balance. With balance, I mean the yin and yang kind, which is hard for me to describe but could be elements of brushwork that are both: refined and unrefined, deliberate and accidental, harsh and soft, dark and light. Hopefully this makes sense to you dear readers.  Feel free to leave a comment if it does not.

3. Is there a path for the eye? 

When you look at your canvas, you probably take it all in at once, but then your eye goes somewhere first and then it moves around the painting to look at other things.  If your eyes aren't going around the whole canvas in this natural way, perhaps that's where it can be improved. Ask yourself if making a better visual pathway would be an improvement. Is there a line blocking the natural eye path? If there is, break up that line so we can see it all. 

Fixing art problems of my own creation is now one of my favorite hobbies.  

Almost every morning over coffee, I'll grab my iPad, open up the Procreate app and make myself an art mess to fix.  Doing this digitally is very freeing because no art materials get wasted and I can try anything. I get great ideas for future paintings with my iPad as my idea sketchbook.


Hopefully, this has been helpful.  If so, I want to hear about it. Leave me a comment below.


"Katana" by Kasey Wanford digital 2021

"Katana" digital Kasey Wanford 2021

Follow me on Instagram to see daily digital paintings @tdlart.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.