Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Painting - Oil Painting

Characteristics - Painting Methods - Materials and Equipment - Manufacture - Protection of the Picture

Oil Painting
Painting Over Old Work

Sometimes painters find that they have used all their fresh canvases or panels, but that they have on hand some pictures that they consider worthless which they would be willing to employ as supports for new paintings. The question is often asked: "What is the best way to paint over an old picture?" The answer is that the practice of painting over old canvases can bring many troubles as the picture ages. The new paint often adheres badly to the fat layers on the surface of the old picture. This may increase the chance that the new painting will crack. Sometimes the old picture shows through as the paint becomes more transparent with age, creating ghostlike effects called pentimenti. Furthermore, the texture of heavy paint strokes in the original painting, which may have been overlooked when the new image was first painted over the old, may become increasingly prominent as the canvas ages, causing undesired visual interruptions in the picture's surface. However, if a well-dried old canvas must be reused as an emergency measure, the following steps may minimize later troubles:

1. Scrape all thick paint strokes and high impasto from the old picture with a palette knife.

2. Use a knife or a flexible razor blade to reduce the remaining paint as much as possible, taking it down as close to the ground as possible without scraping the ground itself. A drawing board or small wood panel placed under the canvas will keep it from sagging under the pressure of the scraper.

3. Using medium sandpaper, roughen the canvas or panel evenly with overlapping short circular strokes so as to provide a tooth over the whole surface. Be sure not to sand through the ground of the support.

4. Dust the surface thoroughly and wipe it down with a rag, slightly moistened with the turpentine.

5. Give the surface a thin coat of light gray oil color.

Artist should remember that when they scrape down the surface of old pictures, they raise dust containing the pigments employed in the painting. They should protect themselves with respiratory masks against the risk of inhaling poisonous dust from lead or other toxic pigments.

The use of paint removers is not recommended because they cannot be easily cleaned from the surface. Traces of the remover may continue to affect the ground and the new painting. [pp. 124-125]

[Kay, Reed. The Painter's Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.]



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