5 Ideas to Rescue Failed Art

Apr 29, 2020 at 11:48 am by Barbara Din

5 Ideas to Rescue Failed Art

Depending on where you are in the world, the possibility of going to get art supplies might not be an option for you. Just now you run out of canvases, panels or paper to paint on. You may be having the art itch, and can't wait for the post office to deliver new substrates to work on. This, then, might be a useful set of ideas for you.

However, this is not the main reason why I wanted to make this article. The truth is, the idea sat in my article to-do list well before the Covid-19 crisis hit. The motivation for me to give you some ideas to turn failed artworks into new, successful ones is to take an opportunity to exercise creativity and problem-solving, which is something great to cultivate as an artist.

So here are some ways you can convert something that wasn't going anywhere into something new and exciting: 

1. Cut it in half

The first painting I ever sold was a product of this exact treatment. It was an MDF panel. I made a background and I wasn't feeling at all. In an attempt to not let what I already painted go to waste, I decided to cut it in half and look at each resulting panel with new eyes. And it worked! I not only made two successful paintings, but one ended up being the very first painting I sold, not long after I started painting.

If your piece was made on paper, it will be even easier to cut it in other proportions. Here's a video with one example of a small watercolor painting that wasn't going to ever be something I liked, that I turned into three much better-looking bookmarks:


2. Paint over only some parts of it

The goal here is not to continue with the current piece and fix it, but look at it with fresh eyes, as if you just found it and it isn't yours. Study it for a while and use almost an abstract mindset to cover only some parts of it, using some of the original piece's features to inform you like color, shapes or overall mood. Then, leave it alone for a while. When you return to it, see what comes to mind and go for that new concept.


3. Collage it

You have two options here: you can make a collage over your artwork using whatever comes to mind and you can find. It can be cut magazine scraps, as usually associated with “collage”, but you can also cut and glue other things into it, like pieces of fabric, lace, plastic and smalls things like buttons, beads and hardware findings.

If your artwork is on paper, you can cut it into smaller pieces, using parts that interest you and use those to make a fresh new artwork.


4. Flip it

This is one of the easiest to perform, but one of the hardest in terms of getting away from the original idea. But if you like a challenge, it's a very good one. You flip it upside down and walk away. After a while, you come back and take a good look at it with new eyes. Don't rush, give yourself some time. You will find some good visual idea to pursue.


5. Scan it

You may try this before any of the other ideas, or if none of the above convince you. Simply scan your work (or, if you don't have a scanner, take a picture of it) and work on it as the base in a painting program. If you want to try something new, you can find some of my favorites in this article.

Here you have the freedom to go in many directions: from distorting it, scrambling it, changing it in different ways before trying to properly “paint” over it, to simply try to fix whatever you found troublesome. Even something as big as the whole composition can be changed with this method, so this might be the more versatile of the bunch.


I hope you found these ideas helpful and inspiring. The point is to change the way you perceive your creative speed bumps and turn them into fun challenges. I assure you, whatever the outcome, you'll come out richer in creative thinking. 

Barbara Din is a visual artist, graphic designer, painter, interior designer, crafter, musician and writer living in Argentina. Learn more about Barbara and her work at the following links:
Barbara Din YouTube Channel 

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