How I Destroyed a Painting to Make it Better

When a painting of mine does not sell after about 6 months of being in one of my galleries, I usually have it sent home to reevaluate it unless I feel fully confident that the piece cannot be improved upon.

I thought some of you might enjoy seeing how I recently ‘destroyed’ a still life painting to make it better! Below, is the large still life oil painting - “Flowers and Feathers” originally 60 inches tall by 40 inches wide. It is was pleasant to look at, but something was bugging me about it…

I really liked the bird, but the rest of it was boring to me. Too stiff. Too decorative…too blah…

When I feel this way about one of my artworks, I get ruthless. Nothing is too precious. Sometimes, I feel as though the canvas or hardboard is worth more than the finished painting, and I end up gessoing over the whole thing! This time however, I felt like the painting had some life left in it – so here’s what I did.

  • I took the artwork, which was painted on hardboard, down to my local lumber yard and had a carpenter cut down the painting down to a smaller, 30×20 inches.
  • Chopping it down with a saw made the carpenter very nervous, but he finally agreed.
  • Happier with the way it looked already, I brought the newly re-sized painting back into my studio and looked at it with discerning eyes once again.
  • I decided to soften the table line to melt into the background which will not attract the eye as easily.
  • Next, I had to paint out the bit of vase that was still showing. I covered it with the background color.
  • I also added a bit of green to the warm background color and cooled it off.
  • Then, I glazed some of this new color over the bird and flowers which envelopes them in their atmosphere which makes the setting more believable.

Here is the original painting…

…and here is the revision!

©2010 Lori McNee, “Cockatoo & Cantaloupe” oil/board, 30×20 inches

The ‘new’ painting is now framed and hanging at my gallery in Naples, Florida! I am happy I made the changes. What do you think???

Thanks for the visit. I hope you learned a thing or two.

Lori :-)

*****

If this was interesting, please check out these great articles:

Save Money: Learn How to Gesso a Hardboard Panel for Painting

Painting with Acrylics, The Mystery Explained!

Water Soluble Oil Paints: Facts, Tips & Why I Use Them

Give a New Identity to an Unsold Painting

How to Rework an Old Painting and make is Sell!

About Lori McNee

Lori McNee is a professional artist who specializes in still life, and landscape oil paintings. She is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of Idaho, serves on the Plein Air Mag Board of Advisors, and is an Ambassador Artist to Royal Talens. As the owner of FineArtTips.com, Lori blogs about fine art tips, marketing, and social media advice for the aspiring and professional artist. As a social media influencer, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and named a #TwitterPowerhouse by The Huffington Post. She is a keynote speaker, has been a talk show host for Plum TV, writes for F+W Media publications including Artist’s Magazine, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, Photographer’s Market. Also, Zero to 100,000: Social Media Tips & Tricks for Small Businesses.

Comments

  1. I like how you reworked the composition. You have excellent rendering abilities.

  2. Fantastic. I would have been pleased as punch with the original, but I like what you did with it even better. Maybe someday I’ll be able to paint like that.

  3. I would say you were successful in your renovation. There is now more mystery in the painting and the bird seems more alive. Comparing the two, the original was too static. Congrats on taking the risk. What did you do with the other part of the board??

  4. Love the new composition! This is a great lesson for photographers as well – thankfully we can do it with a little less elbow grease:) Thanks!

  5. Lori, I think usually think of you as a marketing and art business wizard– (& how you find time for it all is a mystery!) But this post is a good reminder that you are an artist first!! This paint over/re-size is nothing short of brilliant! I’m inspired to re-work some unsolds of my own now.

  6. Very gutsy! I can see the reason of the consternation on the part of the carpenter! The revision is soft and the colors certainly meld better. Would the color changes and softening of edges made enough improvement alone to save it from the saw?

  7. Wow…I liked the soft off white on the Bird and the Flowers in revised painting….But I loved the vase from the original…It was beautiful….Must say you have a ton of patience to do that….For me once I finish a painting I am done.

  8. Wow. Find the revision so much more interesting!! Thanks for helping us to see that sometimes we need to punt!

  9. I love the way you reworked the painting. I have painted over some of my work and then they turned out even better and love that there is texture under it as well. Wishing you Happy Holidays! Thank you for sharing some great blogs with us creative spirits.

  10. Mountain Serenity says:

    Lori, I love the revision with its softness and focus on the bird. The original was beautiful but busy. Masterful improvement! As a budding photographer I am learning a lot from your website. Thank you for teaching us about composition, color, and light. Merry Christmas and may 2011 be your best year ever!

    • Thank you for the well wishes for 2011…I wish you the same. Also, thanks for the feedback. It looks as though I made the right decision in cutting this piece down!

      Cheers-
      Lori

  11. Many years back a friend of mine told me one of my paintings needed a BSJ. When asked what he meant by BSJ he said, “What, don’t you know what BSJ means?” When I answered in the negative he said that BSJ stands for a band saw job! In your case it definitley was literal.

    There are time when we have to be drastic with one or more of our paintings in order to make a visual improvement. You have done just that. The vase was too overpowering in the original and made the cockatoo look very small. Now the painting has balance and visual impact – well done!

    • I love this! Dennis, thanks for stopping by and sharing this little story. And obviously, I agree with your critique of the original painting.

      The best to ya-
      Lori

  12. Foxie Loxie says:

    Hi Lori,
    You certainly have a “Brave Heart” to go with BSJ method. It certainly did improve the composition of the image. Rendering is lovely.
    I can understand that something was bugging you about the original painting. The same this is bugging me on your revised image. It is PROPORTION. The Australian Sulphur Crested Cockatoo you have painted is a large bodied bird. Proportionally, the bird you have painted on the Cantelope is about as big as a Budgerigar (also an Australian native bird). The Cockatoo should have been as big or bigger than the origianal vase.
    Aussie Foxie

    • I learned long ago, that ‘nothing is too precious’ in the process of making art. If we get to attached to our work, we do not grow and progress as quickly. That vase is over 3 feet tall – believe it or not! But, I usually paint my birds a bit smaller than life size, otherwise they look like a giant Pterodactyl dinosaur! The cockatoo is smaller than life and looks much better without that huge vase.

      Thanks for the comment-
      Lori

  13. nick scianna says:

    second picture is big improvement
    the reason the first painting had two point of interest!
    love your backrounds I notice that using same color mix on most of your work
    and gives your painting tell tail of who done them!

    • Hi Nick-

      Yes, that is right – two focal points…thus a weak painting! I am much happier with the second attempt. The background palette is inspired by the Dutch masters. I do change it up a bit, but I keep returning to the old tried and true!

      Thank you for the comment-
      Lori

  14. I remember doing something like this! I had a large copper plate I was using for an intaglio print and I had done this very detailed work for weeks on this piece, but it kept bugging me every time I’d pull a print. Finally I took the plate to the metal cutter and to the shock of everyone around me chopped the piece down to a third of its size! Most everyone questioned my sanity at that point but I made the right decision, as my finished piece got accepted into a show. I am a firm believer in being completely ruthless to any piece that isn’t turning out well!

    • Hello Ally…my motto is, ‘nothing is precious’! Sometimes we have to be willing to start over to learn the needed lessons. These troubled days teach us more than all the good days put together!

      Cheers-
      Lori

  15. Kathy Howard says:

    You definitely improved this. Though I would have a hard time destroying so much work. The vase was so lovely, but as some one said, it was busy and overpowering. The bird needed to be the focal point. I’ll have to keep this in mind and remind myself that less is sometimes more. One of my fabric designs I believe needs this treatment; I just have to decide what has to go. I’m just an amateur and it has taken some getting use to that fabric (unless it is meant as a panel) doesn’t have a focal point and the design needs to flow seamlessly in the repeat.

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