Ordinarily, I’m not an advocate of do-overs on artwork. Once you allow yourself to start a drawing over, it get’s easier to do the same the next time. Before you know it, starting over is a habit.
I know. I’ve been there. Of all the portraits I’ve painted over the years, I would guess as many as a third of them were started over. Sometimes two or three times. My personal “best” is four start-overs.
That means I started that painting five times before finishing it!
Sometimes there were good reasons for starting over, but I’m sad to say most of the time, I was just frustrated. Usually because things were more difficult than I liked.
I don’t claim to be an expert on very many things, but on starting drawings or paintings over…. Let’s just say I’ve made it an art form all it’s own.
What to do when You Feel Like Starting Over
Before we go any further, let me assure you that breaking this habit is the best option.
I’m always working on breaking my start-over habit. When I get frustrated with a drawing, I try to take a break. Sometimes it only takes a short walk to get past the desire for a fresh start.
At other times, it requires an overnight wait, or a weekend break.
Sometimes I work on something else for a while, or work on a different part of the drawing.
Scanning or photographing the artwork and looking at it in a different context is also helpful. Things look different on a computer screen or in a photo. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always different. That change of perspective is often enough to keep me on track or get me back on track.
Maybe those tricks will help you, too. Or maybe you have a few tricks of your own (please share them if you do.)
The point is that it’s not always necessary to start a drawing over. The honest truth is that learning to work through those periods of dissatisfaction or those Ugly Phases is good for us. We finish more drawings and learn how to handle the rough patches when we persevere.
For more tips, read How to Finish a Drawing That No Longer Inspires You on EmptyEasel.
…there will be times when your best option really is starting over.
So how do you know when starting over is the best choice?
When You Should Start a Drawing Over
Here are some of the main reasons—legitimate reasons—I allow myself to start a drawing over. Most of them come out of my years of portrait work and satisfying clients. Hopefully, they’ll help you when you’re faced with the same kind of decisions even if you don’t do portraits.
It may be time to start a drawing over when you’ve badly misdrawn the subject.
I don’t know about you, but some of my worst nightmares began with a bad line drawing. I learned as an oil painter that I could always correct problems in a line drawing during the painting process. Just redraw it in paint and move on.
Colored pencils? That will not work.
And if you happen to have a lot of color on the paper or have burnished or blended with solvent when you discover the problem, you just about have to start over.
With a new line drawing.
An unrecoverable error may be a good time to start a drawing over.
So what is an unrecoverable error? That depends on your preferred medium.
For oil painting, I considered peeling paint an unrecoverable error. I remember one time when paint actually began to flake and peel before the painting was half finished. I don’t recall what happened to make the paint peel, but once the peeling began, there was no way I was going to finish that portrait.
Yes, I could have sanded the panel down and simply repainted the bad layers, but my clients pay a lot of money for my portraits, and there was no way I was going to deliver a questionable portrait. Starting over was the only option.
Colored pencils come with a different set of unrecoverable errors because it’s so nearly impossible to cover up really bad mistakes. Even if you can lift color, you can rarely get back to bare paper. That means there’s a risk of seeing a “ghost” of the mistake through the newer layers of color.
You can’t fix or cover up the mistake.
I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been there myself. A lot!
Mistakes that are just a nuisance in oils or acrylics can be major calamities in colored pencils! Right? It’s so difficult to cover up anything but the smallest mistakes because colored pencils are so beautifully translucent.
I’ve learned over the years that not all mistakes that look catastrophic really are. Colored pencil artists have a lot of tools available that make covering up even big mistakes easier than it’s ever been before.
And even if you don’t have access to those tools, there are ways to lift and replace color, and cover up big mistakes.
Read How to Fix a Big Mistake for a step-by-step tutorial.
That doesn’t mean that every big mistake can be covered up or corrected, though. If something is beyond your skill level to fix, or when attempts to fix it end up making things worse, then it’s time to think about starting that drawing over.
The problem can’t be cropped out of the composition.
One of the first options I consider when I find major problems is cropping the drawing to eliminate the problem. If a major mistake is close to the edge of the drawing, you may very well be able to crop it out, or mat over it. That should always be the first option.
But what if the mistake isn’t near an edge? What if it’s right in the middle of the drawing or in a position that makes cropping the drawing difficult?
If there is no other way to fix or mask the problem, starting the drawing over may very well be your best choice.
The support gets damaged beyond repair.
I once tore the surface of the drawing paper right in the middle of the drawing. Pulled the sizing right off the internal fiber of the paper while using tape to lift color. I thought it was ruined!
Fortunately, my husband (and the Colored Pencil Solution Book by Janie Gildow and Barbara Benedetti Newton) showed me how to repair the damage and finish the drawing.
Punctured, torn, or heavily stained paper, on the other hand…. Those are another matter.
Maybe you can crop the damage and salvage the drawing, but if you really want to finish the drawing as you originally designed it, starting over is the only option.
Should You ever Do a Portrait Over for a Client?
This is really a personal choice. Most artists would answer that question with a very firm, “Absolutely not!”
But my word has always been my bond, and I have made extensive changes to portraits to satisfy clients. Especially if I felt the problem was due to my carelessness, laziness, or something else. That hasn’t happened very often, but I can think of at least one client for whom I not only ended up doing the portrait over; the delivered portrait was a totally different concept from the original concept.
I hope these tales of woe from my studio help your make the decision whether or not to start a drawing over when the need arises.
But what I really hope is that they’ll help you avoid getting into that position in the first place! 😉