Digital Paintovers

IMG_2346Hemingway said, “Clarity is the indispensable characteristic of good prose,” and E.B. White gave the means to that end when he said, “I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.”

We understand editing in writing, but we sometimes treat every stroke we paint as precious. The fear of ruining a painting often leads artists to be timid and spend vast amounts of time polishing bad ideas. But growth can’t come without revisions, without taking risks, and without being willing to try even outrageously different ideas for a painting. There really is no other way to learn and improve.

I have found that in various stages of any painting, revision for clarity is essential. Sometimes I can easily see where a piece needs to go, and other times it’s not until I get trusted feedback that I see things in a new way. But if, for example, the tree I’m envisioning in the middle of the canvas doesn’t work, I don’t want to repaint half the piece to get it back to where it was. I have found several things very helpful to keep in mind as I work through revisions:

IMG_23451- Paintings in-progress are NOT precious and often require a great deal of reworking. Repeat this in your mind often. The moment I get too attached to something before it’s finished is when I get careful and timid, which inevitably leads to stiff, cautious paintings.

2- Digital paintovers can solve a lot of problems very quickly. I would wager I’m not the only one who has stared at a painting for hours unsure of how to proceed, and the risk-less potential of digital paintovers saves a lot of time and stress. I can quickly try an idea digitally, and then get back to the easel and continue working much more confidently.

IMG_2344When I’m struggling to work out compositional ideas or clarifying adjustments, I take a quick photo of the painting with my phone, import it into photoshop, and then use a digital tablet and stylus to try out different ideas. Having painted a lot digitally, this works well for me, but Photoshop and a tablet/stylus can be expensive and some artists have found faster ways to work out revisions quickly. Artist Josh Clare uses an iphone app called ArtStudio delux ($5, but there’s a free basic version too). This allows him to take a picture with his phone and quickly paint right over it with his finger on the phone. This saves time and doesn’t require multiple machines. It also doesn’t feature the same fine movement and pressure-sensitive controls that Photoshop does, so it forces decisions to be worked through quickly and boldly.

Another thing I have learned about digital paintovers (or any painting study) is to keep them small: our minds compose well at a small scale. The pitfall of digital painting is that it’s a noodler’s paradise, and one can zoom in and in to paint every pixel/hair/leaf. The trouble with this is that A) One ends up painting details but not solving compositional and value problems, and B) when painting from the digital version later, too much fine detail will lead to an attempt to copy stroke for stroke what you did digitally, rather than taking a principled solution and applying it to a painting. So keep it small on the screen!


Let the days of being afraid to try new ideas be over. Be bold and willing to make revisions and explore a piece. Some paintings will go to the cutting room floor, but some will be the best you’ve ever done.

Upcoming OPA Events

30th Annual National Juried Exhibition 30th Annual National Juried Exhibition
The Thirtieth National Exhibition and Convention will be hosted by the California Center for the Arts, Escondido Museum, located in Escondido, California, from April 9 through May 16, 2021. Learn More!
First Annual Student Art Competition First Annual Student Art Competition
The First Annual Student Art Competition is from January 15 - February 15, 2021 and will be open to Student between the ages of 14 to 22 only. Learn More!
OPA Spring 2021 Online Showcase OPA Spring 2021 Online Showcase
The Spring 2021 Online Showcase is from March 1 - May 15, 2021 and will be open to Associate members only. Learn More!