How to Paint Over an Acrylic Painting

Should I paint over my acrylic painting that hasn't worked?

“Take encouragement from the thought that you may learn from honest failure than from mild success”
Solomon J Solomon – British Pre-Raphaelite painter

It’s the debate with yourself that never ends…

Should I paint over my painting that’s not going to plan or start again on a fresh canvas?

How do you weigh up the time you’ve invested, the cost of materials and all the emotions versus starting again…. it’s almost too much…

When do you need to start your acrylic painting again?

Imagine the scene, you’ve been tinkering over a still life painting for days, tweaking a bit here, a bit there and something is just is not right. Your previous colour has all dried up and you just can’t match it again. The apple looks wrong, the drawing is a bit ‘out’ and the colours, well what were you thinking the day before?

Oh sod it, I’m going to start again.

You’ve spent out money on the canvas and want to change the picture so you reach for the white paint intending to paint out the whole thing. Right choice or wrong choice?

How to cover your Acrylic painting

You have to be aware of a few things if you decide to repaint, and to make the decision, is it worth it?

1. The paint surface won’t feel the same – Once you’ve lost the ‘tooth’ of the canvas the paint behaves differently, it doesn’t pull off the brush in the same way.

2. You can’t use watercolour techniques. Because once the paint surface has built up watery paint just won’t behave the same. Some of the most interesting areas in paintings are from the mix of thin transparent paint with thick impasto. This can be key in portraits when trying to create the illusion of depth.

3. The paint can feel chalky. If you paint over the whole canvas with White acrylic, it will feel chalky when you paint over it.

4. You lose the glow of the ground. When you paint Yellow Ochre onto a white canvas (See: How a prepared canvas can drastically improve your painting) the trick is to paint it thick enough to form an opaque layer but thin enough to allow the white from the canvas to shine through and give the colour a glow. When you paint over an existing painting you loose this glow.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘I’ll just paint the coloured ground again‘. The problem is you’ll have lost the absorbency of the canvas and gained another layer of unwanted texture.

5. Your paints get slippy. Because Acrylics are plastic based (See: What are your paints made from?) when they are built up in layers they create a hard, shiny surface. This is rubbish to paint on. Period.

6. It can take longer than you think. To cover the painting completely will take a minimum of two coats, even with artist quality paint. To paint sections will take longer because you won’t have the coloured ground to fall back on. You will have to cover every area of the canvas.

We’ve all been there

One of my moments of ‘the blackness’ came two days before a deadline for a client. It was for a large triptych painting of a sky. Each canvas was 6ft x 4ft, and I’d spent over 3 weeks on the paintings, they were practically finished.

They looked good, all they needed was a few subtle glazes to bring the paintings together.
Vanessa had just popped upstairs to make a cup of tea with the fateful words ‘They are finished Will, just varnish them’ The phone rang, she was delayed upstairs.
Fifteen minutes later she came down, all the canvases were now white. No dramatic clouds, no subtle glazing, just one big problem.

I don’t think I can repeat what she said.

The moral of the story

The triptych got repainted, it looked better than the first. But, it still took me another two weeks and a lot of trickery and late nights. Sometimes if a painting is not quite sitting right, reserve judgment, have a brew. Come back to it with a calm composure.

However, I don’t always get away with a repainting.
Even with all my experience the pile of unfinished, slightly embarrassing paintings, is a clear reminder that sometimes when you know in your heart a painting is not right it is worth starting again.

It can be depressing. Even though you’ll think it is great to save the money on a canvas it’s a false economy. The time it takes to paint over, add extra layers, and try to keep a section you were pleased with, it is just not worth it. Don’t paint over it, keep it as a record of your progress.
Take the hit in your wallet and put it down to experience, see it as an artistic progression tax.

This, of course, is easy to say. The next time I feel like throwing a canvas across the room I shall try to practice what I preach, but the urge just to tweak a bit, just to repaint that one little passage can be hard to resist.

The answer:

If you’re a beginner it will not only take more time, cost more money, and will probably look worse.

Of course, there are certain situations if you’re more experienced and can judge the level of repainting needed i.e: not usually the entire canvas, when repainting is a life saver but should be reserved for very small areas.

Acrylics are fantastic, you can paint over your mistakes easily and completely but having this level of flexibility can lead to you abusing it by never getting past the first canvas. This can stilt your progress by becoming too precious and wanting everything to be perfect.

Mistakes are part of progress.

“I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution.”
Sir James Dyson

This Post Has 203 Comments

  1. Great advice Will. Summed up perfectly by the James dysons quote…. Must frame that for those moments of despair!

  2. Hi Will
    I just found your blog and I am completely loving it. Great stuff!
    I need to completely repaint a painting I just “finished”. It’s a pretty big canvas and I don’t want to buy a new one… Can I apply a cover of acrylic gesso over the painted canvas, and then coat it again with yellow ocre and start painting again? Will this work?

    1. Hi Val,
      Great to hear you’re enjoying it.

      In answer to your question:
      Can I apply a cover of acrylic gesso over the painted canvas, and then coat it again with yellow ocre and start painting again? Will this work?

      Yes you can. The acrylics won’t be affected by it at all, but what will happen (depending on how thick the paint was on the previous painting) is a change in handling properties of the fresh paint, because you create a more waxy less absorbant surface, the more acrylic layers you have on the canvas.

      That said, if the cost of the Gesso is a lot less than a new canvas then go for it!

      Good luck and let me know how you get on,


  3. Just came across your blog. Thank goodness for the advice! I’m only a beginner and I’m doing a painting on a large canvas, but something just wasn’t right! So I painted it all white and started again. But it’s still not ‘right’. I haven’t painted for two weeks now, due to my frustration with this painting, but after reading your advice, I’m definitely starting on a new canvas. Thanks for a great page!!

    1. Hi Cecilia,
      Pleased to hear you stumbled upon it. Yes, it can be very disheartening when the painting still doesn’t ‘work’ the surface can often make a bigger difference than you would initially think.
      Good luck with the new canvas!

  4. Hi! I’m an art student in Edenvale High School, South Africa and I am only in grade ten so this is all very new to me.

    We got a major project to paint a close-up of a flower (Mine was a water lily) using the composition colours of red and green and I’ve totally messed up on the background… And I’m using my big sister’s acrylic paints so I’m in utter distress because I can’t use too much of it. Nor can I afford to buy a new canvas! What must I do to fix my error? Can I just coat it in two layers of titanium white like a wash and then start painting again?

    If not what will help?

    Let me know A.S.A.P!

    1. Hi Amber,
      No need to panic, you’ll be able to fix it.

      Just paint over the canvas with the titanium white ( a couple of thin layers is better than 1 thick layer) and I would then be tempted to to add a muted green background (depending on your composition) to the whole of the canvas. (burnt umber & cadmium yellow or Black & yellow + white) make sure it is a muted green so it isn’t too harsh. To find a balance using red & green you’ll need one colour bright and one muted, for example a muted dull green next to a bright red will look good.

      With the water lily this might be a bit tricky though. Have a look at this painting by Kathryn Townsend where roses have been used in a balanced composition.

      Hope this helps,

  5. Thanks so much for the helpful advice. I’m a beginner with Acrylics and the hardest part is knowing when it’s finished. Walking away and coming back later helps to see it through new eyes. I am unsure if it’s ok to leave the distance part of landscape thinner and smoother with less detail. From what I read on your page this helps with depth so am hoping I’m on the right track. Would be helpful to share via photos to get advice or encouragement sometimes. Also is it best to prime canvas with Gesso or not. I’ve read conflicting reports. Thanks again.

    1. Hi Coral,

      Glad the advice is helping, yes, keeping the distance objects out of focus will really help add depth to your paintings.
      You can read a post on using Gesso here.

      I always work on a surface that has been primed with Gesso and then a coloured ground added.

      If you feel you would like to have an expert eye look over your work I offer an art critique service that you can read more about here.

      Hope this helps,


  6. DANG, just googled “starting a painting over again.”
    This is depressing but sometimes forcing it tends to be worse.. ahh time to start over (with only 2 nights left before the deadline.)

    Also great painting, I commented on your most recent oil painting time lapse and coincidentally found you on here after my search! peace!

    1. Hey Kasey,

      I feel your pain!

      Hope the new painting works out well and thanks for the comment on the timelapse


  7. Hey Will,
    Was so happy to find your site.. thank you so much for all your demonstrations/advice.

    I have been working on a painting of a lady sitting.. everything was coming together.. I was almost finished, when I realised the eyes were a bit weird, then the paint got sticky and awkward.. I ended up painting over the face in white a couple of times and now its really difficult to rework as the face has more layers of acrylic than the rest of the painting.. do you think I can save this woman?

    thanks loads… (do you give classes in UK?) Sam :)

    1. Hey Sam,

      Mmm, a tricky one, we’ve all been there!

      If the paint has got too thick trying to get that luminosity of skin is going to be increasingly harder. However, If it is only the face that has gone wrong it might be worth perservering as it would be a shame to abandon the whole piece because of it. As long as she doesn’t turn into a Mr Bean ‘Whistlers Mothers’ scenario!

      I do run very occasional classes in Cheshire.


  8. I have a canvas that wasn’t easy to come by; it is a circle with a beveled edge. I want to redo what I have done. Can acrylic be sanded down or stripped? It’s not a large surface so painting over what I’ve done would not be an issue, but I would like get rid of the texture of the old painting, if possible.


    1. Hi Alicia,

      You can sand down acrylics, but it might need a hand sander depending on the thickness. As the acrylic stays slightly flexible when it dries it doesn’t sand down as easily as say plaster but it is possible.


      1. Hi, I just wanted to say that I have sanded down acrylic paintings before successfully. I am working on canvas wrapped Dibond panels though. If you’re working on stretched canvas it might be more difficult. I’d put wood underneath for a more solid, rigid surface. Make sure the wood is the same height as the wood stretchers. Don’t use coarse sand paper or you’ll go right through the canvas itself. Good luck.

  9. My art assignment is to paint my portrait but I have no idea of what to do if I have a mistake. My teacher said that we cannot paint a lighter colour over a darker colour. Is that true?

    1. Hi Jamilah,
      You can paint a lighter colour over a darker colour, it just might take a couple of goes.

      Imagine trying to cover a wall that has been painted black with white paint.

      The first layer you would still be able to see some black showing through, but paint 3 or 4 coats and the wall would be white. The exact same principle applies when painting portraits.
      Good luck with your painting,

  10. Found your website yesterday, and it is brilliant. I was told at an art class that one can ‘paint out’ a previously painted canvas with gesso. I hope that’s true because I did that with a ‘study’ and am using it to follow your Monet tutorial and trying to produce my own painting.

    Your website and videos are extremely helpful and informative to the beginner. Thanks very much for being willing to share your insights.

    1. Hi Colin,
      Great to hear you’re enjoying the site. You’ll be fine with the gesso painted over a previous canvas and the Monet painting technique will work well.

      Let me know how the painting turns out.

  11. The painting is turning out very well (so far – fingers crossed). It’s a scene of a church near Montepulciano in s. Tuscany – lots of different greens – But I punched in some reds (red roofs; some red/gold trees in the foreground, luckily), taking the cue from your video suggestion of juxtaposing complementary colours. The sky really has turned out well – again following your ‘Monet’ videos. Thanks very much for the help.


    1. Great news Colin, Tuscany is such a perfect subject for a balance of those colours, pleased the ‘Monet’ video helped your sky.


  12. I started a painting on a Black Canvas. I’m using acrylics to paint a fern. The stems are too close together and the leaves are too long. Is there anyway I can start over?

    1. Hi Tammy,

      Yes, the same principles apply, you can repaint with black to start over, alternatively just repaint around the ferns as tweaking the length of the leaves is easily remedied.


  13. Hello Will my name is Brandon I’m a senior in high school and I just gessoed an old painting i had which had been done in acrylic. I use watered down paint when using acrylic and I know that i will not be able to get the same results on the gessoed canvas since the tooth of the canvas is gone. So my question is could using acrylic in impasto save this canvas?

    1. Hey Brandon,
      Yes, for your painting working with thicker impasto acrylic would save the day!

  14. I spent a lot of time making a very smooth surface on Baltic Birch.
    I’m having difficulty getting thin layers of acrylic wash (underpainting) to stick after removing masking fluid. Ideas: Painting gesso over areas that are beading? Sanding surface? Using detergent to increase surfactant action? I don’t want to move on to thicker paint until I get this beading-up to stop happening.

    1. Hi Claire,

      I would recommend using a flow medium, such as Golden Acrylic flow release.

      Flow medium is a liquid medium (Acrylic Flow Release) you can add to acrylic paint to increase the flow consistency whilst maintaining a solid paint film.

      This results in a more liquid paint with colour particles that ‘hold together. The flow medium breaks the surface tension and will allow the paint to soak into the board rather than beading on the surface.

      Hope this helps,

  15. Hi, thanks for being out there offering useful advice! I hope you can help – I painted a large canvas about a year ago, which has some areas that I repainted. I didn’t varnish the painting. Now I want to varnish it for an exhibition but recently a blue shape from the underlayer has become visible in one of the spots where I overpainted with titanium white. It has only happened in one place even though I overpainted with white over quite a few blue parts. I put several layers on when I overpainted (allowing each to dry first). Any ideas why this one part is now showing through and what I could do about it? Would varnishing when it was first finished have made any difference?

    1. Hey Crumplehorn, is the painting in oils?

      Because oils get more transparent with age, this will be the reason that the blue shape is now visible.
      Varnishing straight away wouldn’t have made any difference. The only thing to do is to paint more titanium white over the top, but I appreciate as titanium white is a slow drying pigment it might be too tight a deadline to paint for the exhibition.

      You can repaint and spray with ‘retouch varnish’ this will help the paint breath to fully dry yet unify the surface and add some protection rather than having to wait another 6 months to add a full varnish.

      If you are working with acrylic, just paint over the top, make sure you use an artist quality white so it has maximum coverage.

      Hope this helps,

      1. Thanks so much for your quick response. It is an acrylic painting and had already been painted over with several layers of good quality white. I am mystified that the colour has shown through a year later, Until then that part was completely white, which is what I wanted. I have now repainted again (twice) and it is already starting to show through. Is there anything I could put down as a ‘sealant’ over the blue shape before painting over again with the white? I am using only artist quality paints.

        1. Mmm, what a mystery. You can paint over the blue shape with an ‘isolation coat’ it is a thinned down mix of soft gel gloss ( from Golden paints) I advise applying an isolation coat before varnishing when using acrylics. You can read an artlice about it here. So you could apply an isolation coat and then add another coat of white ontop ( it might be a bit slippy though due to the gloss of the isolation coat)


  16. Just read your section on using an isolation coat and can see what you mean. I’ll give it a go and see if that solves the problem. Thanks for the suggestion and for taking the time to respond. Much appreciated.

  17. I have a similar problem…and I keep seeing you Will, on youtube and the web as I search for an answer…so, I hope it’s ok if I just ask here. I just started painting with acrylic paints, I’m a total novice. One issue I seem to be running into is that if I paint a light colour, say yellow, over a dark colour, say navy blue, I can still see the blue through it (or rather it turns green)…although the blue paint behind is dry. I want the bright yellow that I am painting on the canvas to be…bright yellow. Being a beginner, I have purchased inexpensive paints. I understand mixing colours, so I understand that yellow and blue will give me green, however, the blue paint was I expected to be able to paint my yellow on top…and not see it give me the yellow. Is it the quality of the paint or do I have to keep laying on the yellow…to get to the pure yellow colour I want? I imagine the wet yellow paint is re-wetting the blue and hence mixing the two together. I am contemplating Gesso-ing the area and letting it dry so that my yellow is yellow…with one coat. Am I missing something? I noticed at the store that there are “beginner”, “intermediate” and “professional” acrylics. Could that help..getting a thicker or better quality yellow for example…so it does not mix with the blue background? I mean, when people do landscapes and paint the background sky blue…how do they prevent the blue mixing with the trees and clouds that are being painted on top? I’m a bit frazzled.

    1. Hey John,

      Frazzle ye not! I’ll answer your questions a bit at a time, so here goes but it’s mostly down to an opacity and quality of paint problem:

      I want the bright yellow that I am painting on the canvas to be…bright yellow. Being a beginner, I have purchased inexpensive paints.

      With standard acrylics, the blue underneath will definitely be dry and would never re-wett and mix together with a new layer of paint on top to make a new colour, in essence it forms a plastic layer.

      The green you are seeing is being mixed ‘optically’ between the yellow and the blue.
      This is traditionally called a glaze, where thin layers of transparent colour are laid over dry paint to alter the appearance of the colour underneath, think coloured glass laid over a picture.
      Glazing is a great skill to learn and a more advanced technique so your ahead of the game!

      Do I have to keep laying on the yellow…to get to the pure yellow colour I want?

      No, you need an artist quality yellow that is an opaque yellow, Cadmium yellow would be your best choice. However because you’re trying to cover navy blue, you’d still might need a couple of coats. Usually colours have been mixed with a little bit of white which gives them a good coverage, again, artist quality Titanium white is one of the best investments you can make in your painting.

      The problem your having with the yellow is certainly to do with 2 things:
      1.Inexpensive student grade paint, therefore not as much coverage as artist quality paints.
      2.Yellows in general being semi transparent colours and your trying to lay it over a dark colour.

      You don’t need to Gesso the area unless it’s a very large expanse and this would cut yellow paint cost down!

      When people do landscapes and paint the background sky blue, how do they prevent the blue mixing with the trees and clouds that are being painted on top?

      They don’t need to as the acrylics underneath would be dry, unless you wanted them to mix e.g: like blurring a clouds edge. Then this would be highly desirable and creating soft edges and a blend is the number one problem people have with acrylics, they dry too quickly so you can’t blend them together easily!

      Have a look at this free landscape course, where it introduces some of these painting principles,

      Hope this helps,



      1. Hey Will, thanks so much. Very interesting to learn that the yellow is not “re-wetting” the blue to mix and give me the green but rather it being an optical result due to my novice yellow paint. I’ve since gotten a pro-level cadmium yellow that I shall test out this weekend..I’m kind of excited…lol…I’m a novice woodworker too…I get a bit giddy when looking at different types of wood…so hey…why not paint, right? I shall check out the landscape course too. Thanks!

        1. Good one John, glad it helped, enjoy experimenting with your pro cadmium yellow this weekend.


          1. The results: So, last weekend I gave my new pro cadmium yellow a try…and it worked like a charm! I must say…I’m a bit surprised in the quality of the paint…not only did it cover much better…but it was a lot nicer to apply. I also had to apply “novice” orange over black….and it wasn’t working…so I put a layer of the new “pro” yellow on…and then orange over the yellow…and voila…it worked. Wow…time to replace my “novice” paint with “pro” paint. What I find a bit odd is that for a novice…the “novice” paint was/is harder to work with….you’d kind of think it should be the other way around. Very happy Will…thanks so much.

          2. Hi John, thanks for the update, brilliant news with the pro cadmium yellow. It really can be night and day working with artist quality paints, I come across so many students that feel they just can’t achieve what they want with acrylics and it is purely down to the paint they are using.

            I also agree it is really odd that the paint aimed at beginners is the hardest to use and performs the worst, so pleased you’ve achieved the results you where after.


  18. I do thank you for the advice, but you did not answer the “how to” at all. You just gave a list of reasons on why not to.

    1. Hi Mandy,

      That’s the point! The ‘how to’ is probably not to!

      However, if you want to go for it anyway, then either:

      a. Apply white paint or gesso over the entire canvas, and start afresh with a coloured ground (bear in mind all the points in the article)
      b. Apply thicker paint over the areas you want to repaint, making sure to use artist quality paints or you won’t get the coverage.

      Hope this helps,


  19. Will,
    Would it be possible to gesso over a “failed” acrylic painting and then do a new one with a palette knife technique?

  20. Hi, i want to repurpose the canvas of the acrylic painting that I did during college. The thing is I don’t know how to base it properly so that the texture would still be nice. Some of my friends adviced that I can just paint it on with a white latex flat paint. Some advices that I mix a plaster of paris with te white latec paint to base then another layer of just white paint. I’m confused. What do I do? Thanks in advance! :)

    1. Hey Chico,

      The best way to have a surface that you’ll be able to paint on to, over your existing painting, would be to apply a couple of coats of Acrylic Gesso.



  21. I am a beginner and I want to ask you that will it make any difference if we prime out already primed canvas with acrylic gesso.Will it be more good if we apply more coats of gesso or it would just ruin our painting?Plus I want to ask you that can we use a little bit of water while painting with acrylics on canvas and can we draw on canvas which is already painted?
    Please reply

    1. Hi Mepemba2,

      If you apply more coats of Gesso to an already primed canvas it definitely won’t ruin your painting, it will just give is a slightly different surface to paint onto.

      The best thing to do is to take one canvas, mask it into 4 and then apply different coats of gesso to each section – 1 square blank, 2 square 1 coat etc.

      Then just test the canvas to see which surface you prefer.

      can we use a little bit of water while painting with acrylics on canvas?

      You can use loads of water with acrylics and apply them as thin as watercolours.

      can we draw on canvas which is already painted?

      It’s harder to draw onto a canvas that has already been painted with a standard pencil as the acrylic won’t show the graphite, try using a pastel pencil such as the Derwent pastel pencil.

      Hope this helps,


  22. Hi Will. Thanks for all the useful advice, but I have a much more amateur question than most of the others here! I´ve just started learning to paint with acrylics, so I´m really just learning how the paint behaves. What I´m finding is that when I paint layers on top of acrylics which appear completely set, then start to blend with the new layer (I was adding shadows to trees). The paints are Daler Rowney, which are reasonable aren´t they? I´m at a bit of a loss, given that I´m no Joaquin Sorolla to start with, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Do I need to leave the paints to set for a few days or something?

    1. Hi Jimi,

      I know this might sound like a silly question, but are you 100% sure the paints are acrylics?

      I only ask because I’ve had a student before that was using Gouache (which is water soluble) and was having a similar problem.

      Acrylics will dry within a few minutes (if not quicker when painted thinly)

      Let me know.


      1. Hi Will,
        Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. It´s not a silly question at all. I´ve had a look at all the paints I´ve been using and they´re all Daler-Rowney Acrylics. They have either 3 or 4 stars next to the word ‘Permanence’ above the logo. I´ve had some of them for years, but the same thing happens with one I bought a couple of months back. It´s an ugly smearing effect, where the paints underneath mix with those I´m adding on top. Hmm, not sure what to try next. I have another attempt which I could experiment with, it´s been dry for longer, maybe it was a one-off.

        Many thanks, your website is brilliant by the way.

        1. Hi Jimi,
          Thanks for checking, how strange, as the very nature of acrylics is to dry quickly to an insoluble film, rather than to stay wet, unless the lower application of paint was very thick.

          Have another experiment, even just squeezing out small blobs of paint (in progressively larger blobs) and timing how long it takes them to dry. If you hold the paint up to the light you’ll see the sheen change as it dries. Who would have though watching paint dry could be so much fun!


          1. Hi Will,

            Haha, I actually tried it again before reading your response, and it worked fine. I think that either some of the paints I´m using have expired (does that happen?) or I must not have mixed them well enough. I also tried mixing from orange to purple, as you explained in one of your colour theory videos, and I found the explanation really helpful. So, thanks again.


          2. Hey Jimi,
            Really pleased you had better results with the paints and the colour mixing tutorials where helpful, thanks for letting me know.

          3. Hi Will,
            Sorry for the delay. I haven´t been painting much over the last week or so, but it appears to have been a one-off. Yes, your site is really helpful too, so thanks for everything.

          4. Good one Jimi, pleased to hear it.


  23. Hey,
    I’ve finished painting with acryling on a wood board, and after finishing a layer of varnish (without applying an isolation coat, my bad) need to fix something in the painting, can i paint over the varnish and add another layer or two, or will it ruin it further? is there any alternative except removing the varnish and basically starting over.

    important to add, that the corrections needed are very small.

    appreciate the help and the article,

    1. Hi Dean,

      Mmm, we’ve all been there! personally, even though its not 100% technically correct, I would be tempted to paint ontop of the varnish, change the small details, and then apply another coat of varnish.

      The only issue you’ll have is with the acrylic adhering to the varnish layer but if it is only small adjustments you should be okay, also the different in sheen of the finish of the new acrylic painted on top compared to the existing varnish layer.

      Hope this helps,


  24. Will, I’m new to acrylics. I am experimenting with Hardy Plank (fiber cement sheet) How do i best prime this for acrylics?

    1. Hi Lenora,

      I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this surface when you’re first starting because the sheets are often powder coated in the factory to repel moisture and water, so when you start to try to paint any watery layers onto the sheet they will just slide off. You will be able to use thicker acrylic straight onto it, but you run the risk of having poor adhesion to the sheet. If you’re really keen on painting on the surface though you can add a coat of acrylic gesso first which will give you a slightly more matte and absorbent surface to paint onto.


  25. I am a beginner/intermediate acrylic painter. I’ve produced several paintings, but the latest of my pet has me in a tizzy. The painting is of a german shepard with various shades of tan and brown, but my problem is that I painted the whole background red and now am not sure I like it. What can I do to just cover background and start over on that portion? Thanks so much!!

    1. Hi Vicki,

      If it’s the background and the application of paint wasn’t too thick (you can still see the weave of the canvas) you’ll be okay just to paint over that area of the painting in a new colour. Using a good quality titanium white will help with coverage.


  26. thanks for sharing with everyone your art; knowledge; etc…just decided i wanted to try and paint some photos i have taken in the past of sunsets; moonlights and flowers..i found a child’s paint kit (not used) at a yard sale and used gesso to cover up the drawings on the small boards…well; 3 coats later i found your website and realized i may have ruined them..i didn’t sandpaper in between the coats of gesso…is it too late to sandpaper them for a smoother finish? also; i want to try and paint a photo i took of a purple sunset with trees and a full moon..( how to mix purple video really helpful!)..also; is it necessary to use gesso on artist trading cards if i intend to use acrylic paint on them as well? thanks for your time…

    1. Hi Lee, you won’t have ruined the paintings, you’ll still be able to paint ontop. It’s not necessary to use gesso with acrylics, it can just give a nicer surface to paint onto.


      1. thanks!

  27. I worked on an 8’wide x 5’high acrylic painting for a long time. When I applied with a brush from top to bottom the isolation coat of Liquitex glazing medium gloss, it left vertical ridges/brushmarks everywhere. I must not have used a smooth enough brush. It is hard to cover such a large area. Much of the painting is black {with glazes of color} and the ridges ‘catch’ the light in different ways and make the black appear blotchy (lighter at the tops of each ridge). I tried putting on another coat on in the other direction, but that did not help. In addition, some spots are more glossy than others. It is as if it is impossible to apply it perfectly evenly as to avoid this. Should I repaint it with black in a thick manner so as to fill in between those ridges? Will the varnish do the trick? Do you run into the same problem of areas of gloss and matte no matter how you apply it? I would appreciate any advise. You are a genius with these materials and if you cannot help me then I’ll conclude no one can …..and I will join that painful ‘club’ where you throw out the painting.

    1. Hi Hillary,

      The ridges occur if there is too much varnish on the brush when applying, and you’re right, applying to such a large area is very tricky with a brush. Areas of Matte/gloss are usually due to a lack of product on the surface. Its a case of many thin layers to build up the sheen. The varnish will accentuate the sheen that is underneath so its best to have an even tone to start with.

      I usually try some small tester pieces, making a note of how many layers/how thin the mix was etc until I have a ‘recipe’ that works. I’m working on an varnish application video which should be on the blog soon.



      1. Thank you Will. Your advice to do a test run and figure out the best recipe is a great idea that I will try. Sometimes I wonder if the uneven appearance can also result from my not mixing the water into the glaze thoroughly enough. Perhaps I should also use a sprayer.


  28. hey will
    how do i get depth in my portraits

    1. Hi Will, it depends on the composition and feeling you’re after. You can achieve depth using perspective within the composition of the scene, but often the illusion of depth is more to do with creating the illusion of form. So start with one strong light source and go from there.


  29. Will, what about saving a canvas that has pencil marks ALL over it (thanks to my niece)? The marks are dark in most areas, and I tried applying gesso without knowing what I was doing and made a big mess. Anyway, I then took a wet rag and wiped most of the gesso off so that the pencil marks are visible. Sorry, for the long explanation, but I wanted you to know all properties.

    May I try using gesso again – this time watching/reading your tutorial first)?

    1. Hi Jamie,

      No worries about the long explanation, thought it sounded quite succinct! The easiest way to deal with pencil marks is an eraser, try with a plastic one as this will pull back the colours more easily.

      Once you’ve taken most of the pencil off with the eraser you’re good to go, you probably wouldn’t need an extra coat of gesso, just apply a tonal coloured ground and you can build your painting from there.

      Hope this helps,


  30. Hi Will,
    I have a canvas that I practiced on with acrylic paints and would like to cover it up with leftover house paint. Will this work? Also, if I do cover the painting with house paint, can I use acrylics on top? Or do I have to stick with using only house paint once I cover the original acrylic painting with house paint? Thanks for your help and expertize.

    1. Hi Monika, if it is an acrylic emulsion you can work between the two on your painting, the only thing that won’t work is if the household paint is oil based. Bear in mind that the household paint won’t have as much opacity, and will also have a much greater colour shift when it dries.


  31. Hi Will,
    Love you and your info too!

    Please advise – when I started painting a couple of years ago, I did a portrait of my daughter, without a background first.
    Then I was advised to do a background.
    Have been having a lot of trouble deciding on color, so whited it out a couple of times.
    I was curious if there’s a masking solution that I can paint over her face, paint the background, then remove the mask?
    I’ve seen your article on varnishing, thank you, and know it involves an isolation coat, though I’ve never tried removing an isolation coat. Could that be used in this case?
    The portrait turned out very well and I’d like to put it up one day.
    Thanks much and looking forward to hearing from you,
    – Suzanne.

    1. Hi Suzanne, nice to hear from you and thanks for your kind comments. I nearly always work onto a tonal ground which helps you to see the tonal range and colour balance within your portrait. You can watch a video about it here, with the more subtle ground towards the end of the video being the closest to the background tone I would use for a portrait.

      Hope it helps,



      1. Hi,
        Thanks much for your reply.
        Enjoyed the video .. if I may, still curious whether I can cover the portrait with some masking emulsion to be able to have a better go of doing the background around it without messing up the subject.
        By now there’s already a few layers of paint around it with white under each layer.
        I know, sounds a mess, but the portrait is lovely and I’d like to save and finish it if possible.

        1. Hi Suzanne, you could try using masking fluid that is usually used for watercolours, here’s an article that goes through a few things to be aware of.

  32. Hi Will,
    I am by no means a professional artist. I painted a night lake/sky scene for my bedroom in greens and browns, but I don’t like the hue of the green paint I chose. It’s much too “grassy” and I’d rather it be closer to “earthy” or “olive.” Is there any way to fix that part of the painting?
    Thanks for your help! You have a lot of great tips here!

    1. Hi Lindsey, yes, you can just mix a more muted green and then paint over the top to create a more muted feel, have a look at this video on mixing greens to see the different tones you can create.


  33. Love your tutorials. Thanks for all the great advice. Re: fixing mistakes: A good tip I found is to use an emery board to sand the offending area and then smooth sand with a nail buffer. This minimizes gloss, brush marks and paint ridges. I tried this on a bird painting where I messed up the wing. Fortunately the background was a simple sky and clouds done only in ultramarine blue and titanium white, easy to match. (Skin tone or other mixed colors would have been a whole other can of worms.) Then I covered that space with gesso mixed with a tiny bit of blue and medium (extender). After that dried, I was able to blend in the sky background and place a buff wash in the bird’s wing area. Hope that helps someone.

    1. Hi Carolyn, pleased the technique worked for your painting.

  34. Someone gave me a large canvas 48″ x 60″ on which an oil painting had been started.
    I prefer to do a painting in acrylic on it. Would it be possible to paint over it with something – maybe Golden Acrylic Soft Gel? Then lightly sand that to get a tooth in order to paint over it with acrylic?

    1. Hi Micky, I wouldn’t try to make a tooth with soft gel gloss, or paint ontop of an oil with acrylics as the acrylics won’t adhere to the canvas surface. The paint surface will also be very slippery and won’t ‘grab’ onto the canvas.


  35. i just had one of these episodes.

    i had a good strong start and then i went beserk and over did it. some parts can be sanded down, a good section looks fabulous. i don’t know if i can save it and might end up wasting time and money. yet again, if i don’t try i might miss out on something that might work and could end up looking fabulous.


  36. Hi Will,
    I have just started using acrylics and started off painting your French Cafe (perhaps a bit ambitious of me).
    I started off well and I was really pleased until I got to the tables which I found difficult to paint without losing form and perspective. So I have made a few mistakes with the table in the foreground. Can it be salvaged and still look good. Unfortunately I am a bit of a perfectionist and if I make a mistake my critical eye is drawn to it all the time!

    1. Hi LeBot, yes of course, you can easily paint over any mistakes to correct the form or perspective in your paintings. Hope you’ve been enjoying the tutorial.

  37. I have an old acrylic painting I did and I like it but I just want to tweak it a bit. Can I just add acrylic over the top or is there something I need to do first?

    1. Sure can, I would just gently wipe a damp cloth over the surface first and then you’re good to go.


  38. Hi Will,
    I hope I’m not repeating what you’ve already answered – all fingers crossed you have time to answer this one as I’m totally stumped. I started painting in acrylics two weeks ago! I like to create an abstract background and then outline shapes – say flowers and fill in the spaces with white or a light neutral. Not sure what this style is called but I’ve seen others mask like this too..
    The colours I’m using are cheap acrylics but the white is artists quality and a lot thicker. Every time I come back to my paintings after a few hours some of the background colour appears to bleed to the surface of the white. No matter how many thin coats of white are applied to a dry surface the colour comes through. It’s worst with the magenta. Do you think it could be the quality? – The way its pigmented with a die or the specific magenta colour? So odd.
    Thanks so much for your help if you can, Esther :)

    1. Hi Esther, sometimes the less expensive man-made pigments are created using dyes which aren’t as permanent, bright magenta/purples are often man-made colours and can be more susceptible to bleeding through. It’s definitely worth trying an artist quality and looking out for ‘Quinacridone’s’ these pigments have good lightfastness and bleed resistance yet will give you a strong magenta colour.

      Hope this helps,

      1. Thanks so much. My work is ruined no more! all just by upgrading to a branded paint rather than an own brand. Guess I’ll be taking my work a bit more seriously. Thanks again for responding :)

      2. Hi Will,
        I have a similar problem to this. I had a canvas that was previously painted on using a cheaper magenta. I stupidly, painted over the whole canvas without prepping or applying anything between the two paintings and now the magenta is bleeding through to my top layer where the colours are lighter (white and cream) . I have used the liquitex structure titanium white and antique white. Is there a way to fix it so that the megenta won’t bleed through? Will it help just adding more layers of white or do I need to do something else first?
        Thanks! Shira

        1. Hi Shira, with an opaque white (like titanium white) you should be able to cover over the magenta colour. So yes, a couple more layers should do it.

  39. Hi Will
    Thank you very much for all the information.
    I have recently downloaded one of your classes and cannot wait for the weekend to get going with the new experience.
    One question that I hope you could help me with. If I paint over a gloss glazing, will the new paint adequately adhere to the gloss finish?
    Take care

    1. Hi Tamara, yes acrylic will adhere to a paint that has a glossy medium. I’ve used a Acrylic glazing liquid gloss for many thin glazes within a single painting and they are always very stable.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Thank you very much, Will. I wish you all the best. Tamara

  40. Hi Will
    I appreciate all the great information you provide
    I have an issue with a painting – I applied a coat of Liquitex gloss medium & varnish last night. I should have done a test first as have ended up with noticeable brush strokes :( I think the solution was too thick & I should have thinned with some water but the instructions indicated this was optional. I have used this product before with success, but on more textured paintings & brush strokes did not show. This painting has a smooth blue sky which is where the brush strokes are obvious. The sky covers about 2/3rds of the canvas. Would another coat of thinned out solution in an opposite direction then a satin or matte varnish help or make a further mess? Hoping you have a solution. Thanks

    1. Hi Noreen, a thin application would probably still show the texture of the brushmarks underneath, you could try another layer in the opposite direction and if that still hasn’t covered then apply another coat the first direction.
      Hope this helps,


      1. I did 2 more coats then a final coat using Liquitex satin varnish & the brush strokes are hardly noticeable. Thanks for the great advice!

        1. Good one Noreen, so pleased it helped.

  41. Hi Pulled a big boo boo. I am painting a 48×24 canvas in oil, it is sky and pallet knife
    blades of grasses at bottom. SO SO I mixed Quick drying extender gel with acrylic
    medium and oil paint, big mistake, so now I would like to take it off ], as it has all
    all kind of balled together. Is ther anyway I can do this or just buy new canvas?
    I have read all your letters and replies and am v inpressed, at how helpful you ar.
    Would appreciate any solution for gd or bad,, Thks Mae

    1. Hi Mae, you can’t mix the acrylic extender with the oil extender due to the different drying rates of each medium, you might be interested in Oleopasto, which is an impasto quick drying medium for oils.

      Hope this helps,


  42. Hi Will
    I just stumbled upon this website and it’s absolutely fantastic I love all the advice and techniques on here. I am in an absolute dilemma. I have painted a wolf and I didn’t like a certain part of it, left it for a while then decided to touch it up the problem is the colour is completely different and im devastated so now the poor wolfs neck is one colour and all the rest of the fur is another. It’s all black and white. I have no idea how it’s happened (probably a bad batch of really cheap paint lol) any advice would be amazing right now
    Kind regards

    1. Hi De, pleased you’ve been finding the site helpful, if your painting with acrylics it will be very simple just to paint back over those areas again so they blend in more with the existing painting, if its with oils, sometimes the difference between dry oil paint and wet oil paint will make the colours appear different, but they just need time to dry to match in together.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks will
        I was trying to avoid painting over the whole thing again lol lots of detailed fur is there anyway I can post a picture? I am going to try and find the original paint I used hopefully that helps. Thanks for your advice and time

  43. Hello,
    Ten years ago I painted a friend’s portrait in acrylic followed by matt acrylic varnish. I never saw it hanging in his house but he presented to me the other week asking me to change the eyes! Neither he nor his new wife would say who thought the eyes looked mad, they blamed each other for not liking them. I am reluctant to do anything as I no longer paint in acrylics, and don’t even know if it’s possible to paint over the varnish. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Jennifer, I’m reminded of the John Singer Sargent quote ‘Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend’! oh dear, we’ve all been here with a ‘tweak’ to a commission, but 10 years does seem quite a stretch. As its a small area of the painting and a matte varnish you would be able to paint on top of the varnish and then apply another coat of matte varnish to hide the fresh paint.

  44. Please help me! I have been working on a huge painting for school. I loved what I had going with the toning. I went in with glaze mixed with purple to lay in some shading and it was looking great. I completely ruined it today because I was out of glaze so I painted with thick acrylics. I am losing the beautiful toning. Can I gesso certain areas and retone? I hate to start from scratch at this point, but the only areas I like are the areas that I haven’t painted with the thick paint without the glaze.

    1. Hi Kristin, yes you can add gesso and paint ontop, just apply the gesso with a feathered edge and build up the colours in the same method so the tones match.


  45. Can you gesso over a varnished acrylic painting

    1. Hi Dalene, you can, but I personally wouldn’t as it would give you a non-absorbent painting surface to work onto as it would be very shiny and repel any thin watery layers.

  46. Hi there
    I am fairly new to painting. I have done a large canvas acrylic painting which has gone well with the exception of one animal on the painting which I’ve reworked over and over resulting in it being very thick and raised on the canvas and I can’t paint clean lines on it now. I don’t want to have to start over again! Can I use rubbing alcohol to take it back to the canvas in thar area and start the animal again? Us there any way of fixing this problem? Thanks

    1. Hi Elaine, you could try rubbing alcohol, but depending on the thickness of the paint it would take quite a lot of elbow grease to take the texture back. The other alternative to even out the texture would be to add a sandable gesso, sand it back to a smooth surface and then paint ontop of that.


  47. hi Will. I just love your website! You are so real and down to earth! This topic of ‘repainting, I have a still life. I really like the subjects in it except the darn cloth in the background. I am afraid to try and fix it! What are your thought?

    1. Hi Linda, if you feel you can tweak the background without affecting the main subjects I’d probably give it a try. You can start with the areas just around the main objects and see how it looks on the canvas, and then paint back the first cloth colour or continue on with the new.

  48. hi
    I started a painting and I made a lot of mistakes
    I don’t have gesso but was wondering if I could just paint over the acrlic painting with a white paint

    1. Yes, you could do that, it just won’t be as absorbent as gesso so the paint might slip a bit when you paint your colours on top.

  49. Hi Will,
    I wondered if you could give me a hint on the following.
    There a numerous canvasses in my stock (early works) which I would like to re-use but some of them have a final varnish coating. I would want to use them for collages. My idea was to glue the pieces of paper on the canvas with acrylic glue right over the varnish. Would that work or would I need to sand them first?

    1. Hi Linda, a light sand would help just to give a textured surface for the glue to sink into, it can still work straight onto the varnish but would be more like trying to stick onto glass.

      1. Thanks Will for your response, you are right, it might be better to sand first.

        1. You’re welcome Linda, it would only have to be a light sand say a 240 grit, but even the slightest texture would help.

  50. Hi Will,

    What is the best way to do the sides of the canvas. I normally paint the whole picture and then do the sides – either in white or black. Is it better to do the sides first for an even finish because sometimes the paint finds it way over to the picture – just a little bit but still it should not be there. Also is black and white the right colours for the sides – I am reading so many different opinions on the interest and I am just unsure. Many thanks, Avril

    1. Hi Avril, I usually paint the sides to start with when applying a tonal ground to the canvas. You can then vary the side colour if needed depending on the wall colour/aesthetic of the space the painting is going to be hung, or the mood and feel of the painting.

  51. Hi Will,

    Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, your answers are very helpful.

    I’m learning how to work in layers. I’ve put a bit of time into a portrait, I’m a few layers in and I’ve realised the skin tone is far too yellow. My layers mostly consist of yellow ochre, burnt sienna and raw umber with combinations of white. I tried a glaze with burnt sienna and white to balance the yellow but as you suggested it has come off chalky and the yellow is still too evident.

    I’m hoping to save the painting as I like the overall composition and structure of the painting.

    Do you think this is possible?

    Thanks again,
    Melbourne, Australia

    1. Hi Aimee, nice to hear from you and pleased you’ve been finding the website helpful in your paintings. yes, it’s definitely possible to save the skin tones on your portrait. I would just include a tiny touch more red into your mixes. So add a touch of cadmium red into your yellow ochre and then test a swatch of that colour next to your existing portrait, you can then add a little bit more red if you feel it needs it and then paint a thin layer over the top.

      You can see a video here on mixing and matching a flesh tone

      If you want a more in-depth study I also have a colour portrait course on mixing natural skin tones with acrylics.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Brilliant, thanks so much for the tips. I’ve watched your tutorial on mixing skin tones and I think it will be prove to be very helpful. Looking forward to getting stuck into it. Thank you

  52. I have an acrylic painting with a light coating of varnish on it. Can I paint over the varnish to change a color of a section?

    1. Hi Mike, ideally you would remove the varnish before painting on top of the painting so you have a better adhesion to the paint film but if the varnish was only lightly coated and the paint you’re applying isn’t thinned too much with water then it should still grab onto the surface fine. Then just varnish over the top to even the sheens between the varnish and the paint.

  53. Hi,
    can I drip paint over a painted canvas or gesso canvas?

    Thank you


    1. Hi Ann, yes of course, just experiment with getting the right consistency of paint, you can also add gels to the paint to give the drips more of a tar-like consistency.

  54. Hi Will.
    Awesome site. Has really motivated me to get back into painting. But new to acrylics.
    I’ve been working on a yellow rose painting and just bought Golden heavy acrylic set with 6 basic colors with no Brown or orange included.
    I’ve been trying to darken yellow for the shadows using yellow and red to make orange, then black to make Brown then blending the Brown with yellow on canvas but just not looking right.
    I also notice when trying to blend 2 colors i cannot get a smooth transition. Don’t know if I’m using enough paint? Or thinking out with too much water? I never used any mediums before but might it help?

    1. Hi Phil, pleased you’ve been enjoying the site, it would definitely be worth investing in a burnt umber as its such a handy colour for your colour mixing and you’ll see it crop up in nearly every tutorial. This will make it much easier to either darken a colour towards brown or towards blue (warm or cool). Smooth transitions with acrylics can take a bit of practice, but you try an acrylic glazing liquid to help give you a bit more working time on thinner paint layers.
      Hope this helps,


  55. Thank you for th gesso over old painting. Will now do this over a largish canvas that has been sitting waiting!!!

  56. I am a beginner. I am having a problem painting (acrylic) cadmium yellow over other dried colors. Blue turns green, etc.
    If you would be kind enough to offer advice please email.

    1. Hi Joe, when you have a yellow over a blue it will appear green if the paint is translucent.

      Cadmium pigments are quite expensive in comparison to other paint pigments so for student grade paints there isn’t as much opacity/coverage in the paint due to the lower content of cadmium pigment in the paint.

      An artist quality cadmium yellow would solve the issue, but be more of an initial investment.
      Hope this helps,


  57. I just painted over a portrait using black acrylic! I’m painting a horse portrait with lots of dark & all black background. t’s doing ok, I see some of the things you mentioned about loosing the texture of the canvas. It’s 3/4 Done and I keep seeing old colors of blue pop up in extremely tiny spots. I’m able to cover with more black, and it looks good. I’m worried that the old portrait might start showing through .

    1. Hi Sue, if you have a few coats of the black it should completely cover the underlying painting.

  58. Hi Will, Great site. I’m painting a portrait of two children…a young girl and boy. Halfway into the painting I realized the boy was in the wrong position and re-drew and re-painted him. Now, depending on the light and angle I’m looking at it from, I see the outline of the first painting of the boy. What can I do to minimize the underpainting? Would sanding it help to level the paint? What about coating it with a leveling medium? Or, is it best to just start over? Thanks for your advice. Chris

    1. Hi Christine, you can very gently sand the edges and then work over the line with more impasto paint. It depends on the final finish you’re after whether to repaint or not. If the background was going to be more textural, great, but if you wanted to go super smooth I would opt for a fresh painting.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Hi Will,
        Great advice. I’ll try the sanding and continue painting. I do tend to use my paint more on the impasto side anyway so the background will be more textural. If that doesn’t give me the results I want, then I’ll start over. Thanks for your help with this.

        1. My pleasure Chris, hope it goes well.

  59. I have a canvas wall art on a board that I love. It is not expensive…bought at TJ MAXX. We have moved and I would like to add a little purple and red to it. Just a little for the new decor. How can I do this?

    1. You can just paint with purple acrylics on top of the canvas wall art.

  60. Hello Will Kemp
    I have painted on a 60×50 canvas and i did not like it and i painted it with another painting after sometime i notice that the old painting is showing on the back of canvas how can i correct it.
    Can I use Gesso to correct it?

    1. Hi Iltaf, yes, if you want to cover the image for aesthetic reasons you can apply a coat to the rear of the canvas, it might need a couple of coats as it isn’t as opaque as pure titanium white.

  61. As a beginner I thank you! Your advice has given me the permission I needed and most likely saved me money and a big headache. Thanks! Onward to new adventures…

    1. Good one Kim, pleased you found the article helpful.

  62. Dear Mr Kemp, i am being formal as we have not communicated previously.
    i am 75 years and have just started to to splash paint on to paper (toothed)just to start with , i have started with,, ” apple on a table, ” (I have now hastily come to the conclusion, that it may be some time before i paint my next masterpiece, ” girl with pearl earing “.
    seriously, i now realise that it will be a long hard road ahead, but i fully intend to give it my best shot, i met someone in my local range store, who advised me to

    tune in to your web site, watching you work , has been a revelation, i tuned in this week for the first time, i can only say THANK YOU, SO RELAXED AND < FRIENDLY ,, i already feel that i have known you for several weeks. incidentally at the range i was looking for paints that stated artists quality but in the galleria range could not find the word artist can you advise once again thank you.

    1. Hi David, nice to hear from you, and so pleased to hear you’ve been enjoying the lessons. On the Range website, they stock Winsor and Newton Artist quality Acrylics which are great. Even just starting with an artist quality white and the galleria colours can make a great start to your paintings.

  63. Hi Will,
    Can I scrub acrylic paint images off a canvas with water, and then over paint it with white acrylic?
    Just discovered your site, its great,

    1. Hi Rosemary, if you’re using standard acrylic, once it’s dried you won’t be able to wash or scrub it off with water. But will be able to paint over your painting with fresh acrylics. Hope you enjoy the lessons.

  64. I’m a beginner, trying to do a canvas picture with an image of Jesus on the cross against a night sky. I started to do the background sky in acrylic paint but not knowing any better have overwatered it and don’t like the initial result. Have I ruined the canvas – would I be able to go over the overwatered background with soft pastels? Am wondering whether to do the figure in soft pastels and really don’t know what I’m doing. The lady leading the craft group doesn’t have the knowledge to help or advise – and I don’t think we can afford to waste the canvas. Could you help?

    1. Hi Sue, not at all, if you’ve diluted the paint with water it will be very easy to then paint over the surface with thicker paint, or pastel. If the pastel doesn’t ‘grab’ then you can add an acrylic medium such as an ‘acrylic pastel ground’ which gives an absorbent tooth for the pastels to adhere onto.

  65. Hi,

    Very insightful blog! I had a question, there is a cotton fabric that has something written on it with acrylic paint. I bought it from a website but it not done well, its see- through. Can i add a layer to the existing one with acrylic paint? Hope it will not spoil the cloth since i need to gift it. Please suggest. Thanks.

    1. Hi Arushi, yes, you can paint over with acrylics and it won’t ruin the fabric.

  66. Will,
    I have an acrylic painting that I thought was complete and added a layer of gloss medium. Once it was dry and I had a good nights sleep, I saw some things I wanted to touch up. Is it too late to do any last minute tinkering because of the coat of gloss medium?

    1. That will be fine Vincent to paint over the gloss medium, you just might get a difference in sheen with the paint you apply on top so may need to apply another coat of gloss medium.

  67. Will,
    I had a couple of other questions concerning acrylic painting I wanted to ask you about:

    1) I’ve read that using too much water in acrylic painting breaks down the binding properties in the acrylic paint, which in turn poses a threat to one’s artwork eventually peeling away from the canvas. I also read that using a gloss or matte medium on the finished artwork, doesn’t just enhance the paint and protect it, but acts as a binding agent. Will using these mediums really help prevent that from happening?

    2) I’ve also read that one shouldn’t be using gloss or matte mediums as a final varnish on a painting, even if the product says it’s ok to do so, that it’s permanent and only specific varnish should be used. What would be your opinion on that topic?

    Thanks again,

    1. Hi Vincent,

      1) I’ve read that using too much water in acrylic painting breaks down the binding properties in the acrylic paint, which in turn poses a threat to one’s artwork eventually peeling away from the canvas. I also read that using a gloss or matte medium on the finished artwork, doesn’t just enhance the paint and protect it, but acts as a binding agent. Will using these mediums really help prevent that from happening?

      The water content to acrylic can often be overstated, have a read of this article, specifically the section from Sarah Sands from Golden paints, here’s an excerpt:

      The cautions against thinning acrylics beyond 30% (or some similar figure) is common to run across and is something we often find ourselves having to correct, at least in regards to our own paints. We cannot, of course, comment about other manufacturers’ products, where performance can differ. So the following is really only about our brand and is not a blanket statement.

      The first thing to note is that our Fluids and Heavy Body acrylics can easily be thinned up to one part paint to one part water, or a 1:1 ratio, and maintain excellent adhesion onto absorbent surfaces. In fact, even when testing this on a non-absorbent material like Plexiglas, the paints still formed good films with no adhesion failures after being allowed to fully cure.

      To add even a little more comfort beyond that, we can share that the adhesion onto Plexiglas remained solid even when thinning with one part paint to two parts water, or a 1:2 ratio. Which would feel like a fairly fluid wash for most people.

      2) I’ve also read that one shouldn’t be using gloss or matte mediums as a final varnish on a painting, even if the product says it’s ok to do so, that it’s permanent and only specific varnish should be used. What would be your opinion on that topic?

      Yes, that’s right, a varnish will give you a much more protective surface to your paintings. I add an isolation coat and then apply a varnish layer. You can read more here: Varnishing an acrylic painting

      Hope this helps,


      1. Will, Sorry if I’ve asked questions you’ve answered before, but thanks for all the helpful information.

  68. Hi Will,
    I am in a painting class and we are painting a self portrait. I painted my face too dark. Can I try again over what I have already painted?
    Also, I painted the background an olive green and would like to paint some yellow ocher accents on it. Will this cover on the olive green?
    I love everything you post and when I need any information, I go straight to Will Kemp. :)

    1. Hi Donna, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons, yes of course, painting over the top of the first stages of your portrait is all part of the process of refining what you’ve first observed. The yellow ochre will cover the olive green if it’s an artist quality paint if it’s a student grade it might need a couple of coats.

  69. Hi Will

    New to your site and acrylic painting.
    I can’t seem to find this answer, when working on a painting and due to time need to stop for the day then want to continue the next day. How or what do you do to start up again?

    1. Hi Dave, you can just continue where you finished on the previous stage, it’s often best to work in stages or colour ranges in one sitting and then when you return to the painting you’re working with a fresh palette. If you’re working on a larger scale piece and want a colour consistency in your mixes you would mix larger amounts of paint and store in a stay-wet palette between painting sessions.

      1. Thanks for your time and your comments, very helpful.

  70. Hi Will,
    Your website is so helpful. Thanks for your advice. I have been painting for 18 years now and still feel like a beginner! I have a dilemma. I’m doing a painting of large red poppies on a dark background. I’m using payne’s gray with quinacridone magenta and a touch of white blended with a satin glazing liquid. I tried to put some delphiniums in the painting as well but they were distracting from the poppies, so I had to take them out. Now I’m trying to vary the shades of gray in the background to make it interesting. I think I have too many layers and I can’t get the paint to blend. Do you have a solution?

    1. Hi Linda,
      Nice to hear from you, and pleased you’ve been enjoying the website. Paynes grey and Quinacridone colours are both transparent so can be quite hard to cover over dark areas. Have you tried painting a section with more opaque colours to start with and then adding any of the quinacridone colours ontop?


  71. Will,
    I was wondering what your advice would be concerning the application of fixatives to pastel (soft in particular) works of art. I’ve heard both pro (to protect the art) and con (changes the colors and/or rinses them away): your viewpoint? What about watercolor? Would charcoal be the same as soft pastels? What about oil pastels?
    Thanks for your time and your expert advice,

    1. Hi Vincent, yes the fixative for pastels can change the appearance quite a lot. It will add a sheen to the surface and can lose some of the subtle colour shifts, the best way to try is to use some on a small sample piece and see how you feel about the change in aesthetic. You can always spray a light fixative in some of the build up layers to secure the underlying layers and then leave the final pastel surface un-fixed.

      1. Thanks again for your great advice.

  72. Hi, and help, please! I’ve painted a cityscape scene in acrylic. Now I’ve decided I want to blurry it…put it out of focus…and paint figures on top. Any way to do this after the fact?

    Many thanks,

    1. Hi Paulette, you won’t be able to paint the existing area out of focus if the acrylic has dried, it has to be blended wet-into-wet, but you can paint another layer of paint ontop to give a blurred finish.


  73. Hi Will
    Thanks for your time.
    I thought I’d paint on printed textiles. So I bought a selection on flower print fabrics and made abstractions on them. I’m making it hard for myself because I introduced some oil paint as well as acrylic. Also I didn’t prepare the surface with gesso or size, so no surface preparation, which made it hard to get hard edges of course. My question is can I now add an isolation coat as a layer to further work the abstractions, seal off what I have done and then keep working. Some of the material is pourus and may need a few coats but of what to use? Would clear gesso do the trick or other medium?

    1. Hi Alan, you can’t use an isolation coat over any of the oil paint sections, it’s only designed for acrylics and will dry too quickly without letting the oil paints fully cure.

  74. Hi Will,
    I wonder if you have any sage advice re the fact that I have been asked to paint a 6ft x 4ft picture of an espalier tree. I have never painted anything that big before, but I would still love to do it. I am thinking maybe if I divide the original, small, picture up into segments and divide the canvas up into the same number, and then draw each part onto the relevant segment and take it from there.

    1. Hi Catherine, nice to hear from you, yes, if you grid out the reference onto the canvas and tackle each part of the drawing at a time. Then, the most important thing when you’re painting the tree is to keep on getting really far back from the piece to see how it reads from across the room. It can be easy to become engrossed up close to the painting when you’re creating it by everyone that sees the painting will first see if from afar. Hope it goes well!


      1. I have all the supplies to start painting with cold wax mixed with oils. I have been reading that I can paint over sanded acrylic. Just wondering if I can paint on wood not just canvas.

        Thank you,


  75. I remember watching the old movie about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel and at one point he got really frustrated with the outcome. He went to dine at the local tavern where he was served a wine that went sour. He called the tavern keeper to point to him that the vine is sour, the guy was not happy but look into the matter, and when he tasted it and knew that the wine was sour he went to this gigantic wooden barrel, hammered out the bold and the wine was pouring by the large stream in all directions. The shocked Michelangelo looked at the scene and the tavern keeper who kept repeating.. “when it is sour, throw it out”..
    Moments later Michelangelo went right back to the chapel, up his scaffolding and
    he started destroying the whole work he did so far.
    The confused and deeply concerned Pope appeared at the scene and asked what is going on, to which Michelangelo replied “when it is sour throw it out!”.

    This scene is very powerful and very encouraging to all of us, artist and humans alike because in life just as in art, many times we put so much effort in something that
    is not going well yet we mourn over the efforts, time and emotions invested.

    I think the movie was called Agony and Ecstasy with Charton Heston and Rex Harrison. Well worth the time.

    1. Cheers for sharing the story Georgina, so true.

  76. Hi Will, This is interesting. I agree with your point about not to getting too attached to failures, and I see where providence takes me. My very first attempt with acrylics, I had the paints, but no knowledge of technique or how to use them. I experimented with some ‘Rothko’ style colour blocks in reds and browns on a yellow ochre background using a palette knife to apply thick impasto layers. It looked rubbish and I realised I’d wasted a ton of paint! The result languished in my ‘art lessons learned’ box for ages before I agreed to paint a picture of some champagne flutes for a friend’s birthday card but didn’t have any spare canvas boards. I took the textured board and painted over it with a coat of burnt umber, then drew the champagne flutes with black and white acrylic marker, adding in some translucent yellow and carefully masked flecking for the champagne and bubbles. The results were very stylised and I framed it in a shabby chic wooden frame. The best thing about it was the texture showing through from below. My friend loved it so much she asked for the original. I didn’t tell anyone it was simply a happy accident. Sometimes it might not end up like you planned, but it can still work.

    1. What a great story Julia, you’re so right‘Sometimes it might not end up like you planned, but it can still work.’ Looking back on abandoned pieces with fresh eyes can be an education in itself.

  77. Hi Will,
    Just found your blog. I am not an artist. I commissioned a painting from a friend after I saw her mixed media art, and learned that she was an art major. I thought, how cool to have one of her paintings. The short story is..the acrylic painting that she did for me is far too bright for my home full of neutral colors.
    Is there a way to soften the colors now that it is finished. I paid a hefty price for a painting that is not workable in my decor.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Candace, nice to hear from you, in terms of softening the colours, you can’t really mute them down with changing the surface quality of the painting and repainting, which of course is less than ideal! a matte varnish will give you the softest look to the paint surface but still won’t make a huge difference to the brightness of the colours.

      1. Thank you!

  78. Whew! Am I glad I read this! I feel so much better – thanks for explaining all this.

  79. Hi Will,

    I have been painting on my own for awhile and learning more all the time, but I just recently came across your information. I have a painting that I have had trouble starting, but reading a lot of your tips has gotten me excited to do it again. The trouble is, I attempted to start this landscape a while back. I gessoed, and painted a thin layer that I was going to use as a toned background. But, I made it so that where the sky would be, its blue, where the field would be, its a yellow color, and where the grass would be its green. I now want to use your method of a yellow ochre background on the entire thing. Do you think I’d be able to use the same canvas or would it be best to start blank?


    1. Hi Shayla,
      Nice to hear from you, if it’s a thin application you could paint over white a white gesso and then apply a coloured ground on top.

  80. Hi
    I have done a very intricate painting of birds and trees and have mucked up the background done in lighter shade that needs gone beofre I do it with blue pastel shade. Do I need to gesso that areas -or can I paint with white and then blue?
    The underlying shade is in lemon yellow , green and slightly pink and grey shades

    1. Hi Sadhana, you’ll be able to paint over the existing colour without the need to gesso.

  81. Hi. Just stumbled across your blog. I have an old wood panel which I want to paint with acrylics. One of its side is black and the other had paper stuck onto it which I tore off. But there is still bits of paper stuck to it and has glue marks too. Will acrylic gesso hide all this? Or if I paint the back side will the black colour show over the gesso?

    Thanks :)

    1. If you paint a few layers of gesso it will cover over the black, but it depends on if the black paint in oil based. If it is, the acrylic gesso won’t adhere to the surface.


  82. Hi there,
    I’ve come across your web page and found it very helpful, though I can’t find the answer to my problem…I have covered my painting with an isolation coat and as I did it, it smudged my signature. Now it looks messy. Is there any chance I could rectify this before varnishing?

    1. Hi Elaine, yes, you could paint over the section with your signature before applying the varnish. I’d be tempted to test your signature with the varnish as well just to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen when the liquid varnish is applied.

  83. Good Morning Will. I really appreciate all your advice.
    Thank you…thank you! Started painting again at 72 years of age.

    1. Hope you find the lessons helpful Jean.

  84. Hi Will. I just completed an acrylic painting on watercolor paper. It’s about 2′ x 3′. I put down an isolation coat and then two coats of varnish. Now I realize that I need to make some minor changes to make it work. What do you think? Can I/should I remove the varnish and make the changes on top of the isolation coat and then revarnish? I’m learning not to be so eager to say I’m finished with a painting! Thanks so much.


    1. Hi Anne Marie, yes, you can remove the varnish and make changes on top of the isolation coat before revarnishing.

  85. Hi Will. I can’t quite see the answer to my problem.
    I have spent much of today painting a sunset. Unfortunately I couldn’t finish it unable to add the main subject – a statue and background trees etc. Will I be able to continue it tomorrow? Is there an agent to unblock the painting? I saw one for a different acrylic paint. Surely I don’t have to loose a whole painting because it needed a bit more time. It measures 24” x 18”. What is your advice please?

    1. Hi Sheila, with standard acrylics you can’t unlock the painting, but you can simply paint over the top of the initial block-in.

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