Building Blocks

Canvas panels are piling up around my house. I keep a good supply of them — in all sizes — near my easel, and each day I grab my acrylics and a big brush, and I prepare one panel with a light tone. Then, whenever I’m ready to begin a new painting, I have a variety of panels to choose from.

I also have lots of finished paintings — and I use that word rather cautiously. Most of my paintings may be finished, but they’re far from complete when it comes to art. I learn from every painting I do, so even if the results fall short of my expectations — which is usually the case — the time I’ve invested has been well spent.

But what to do with all those used canvas panels? They’re everywhere. In the guest room, in my office, in the hall, in the kitchen. Our home has been taken over by colorful canvas panels.

Lately, though, I’ve started recycling these canvases. Some become complete re-do’s. I say farewell to whatever forlorn scene was first painted upon it, and on goes a fresh coat of paint.

But before an old painting reaches the re-do stage, I often use it for additional practice. It’s been fun to play with these old paintings and change them a bit by adding new things to them.

As I work on various elements — buildings, boats, clouds — I have fun going through my stacks of canvases and thinking, “Hmmm, what could I add to this one?” For me, these different practice elements are like building blocks, and I’m putting them together as I learn more about oil painting.

Lots of old scenes now have little cottages and cabins included. Buildings have always been hard for me to construct in my drawings and paintings. Practicing them this way — re-using an old canvas — gives me a great sense of freedom. I don’t have to worry about getting it right. It’s just practice. It’s a learning experience.

Here, I carefully added in a little cabin near a huge fir tree.

House near Tree

Not a good photograph, but in this one, I added a covered bridge (look close and you’ll see the vanishing lines I used to get the right perspective). Later I used it again to practice painting billowing clouds.
Practice with Covered Bridge

This re-do got both a little cabin and a sailboat.

Boat in Lake (2)

And here, I’ve added a row of fence to a wooded scene.

Practice Paints

None of these, of course, are intended to be good paintings. That’s the whole point in doing this. I’m hoping that by adding these different elements to previously painted panels, I’ll not only get practice in creating the elements themselves, but also have a chance to see them in proportion to already existing elements.

Eventually I do reach the point where I can’t possibly add anything else to an old painting, and then it goes into the re-do area where it will soon be painted over. Until then, every painting is fair game for my practice sessions, and I go through them eagerly, with an almost villainous grin on my face.

“Aha! What can I do to you today?” I ask. Since I’m practicing nautical elements in paintings, a lot of old scenes are now getting boats and lighthouses. I’m always working on barns and houses, so those are showing up, too. And clouds. Yes, I’m playing around with clouds and colors, and what better way to do it than by adding them to old skies I’ve previously painted?

Like a child playing with a set of blocks, I’m having a lot of fun putting together different building blocks in my art. The results are sometimes laughable — a lighthouse nestled among the pines of an old forest scene?  OK, so I’m joking. I haven’t actually gone that far, but finding places for my new little additions is always amusing. I think it’s helpful, too.

What do you do with your old, unwanted paintings?

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