How Many Times Can One Canvas Be Painted?

I recently did a painting of the Bow River. It’s a quiet scene — mountains, a light sky, a rocky river bed.ย Like a lot of my other recent paintings, this one was strictly for practice, and it’s still on-going. I want to play around with a few different techniques, add more highlights to the middle ground trees, and play with colors a bit on the background trees.

The painting isn’t one I take too seriously, and I have to smile each time I look at it. This particular canvas, you see, has had quite an interesting history. It started with one of those weird mad scientist experiments. I’d had fun adding salt to the background of watercolor paintings, so why not try a similar technique for oil painting? Just for giggles I toned the canvas with acrylics and scattered a little salt over it. I let it dry for a long time, wondering what I might do with that rough, bumpy background. I should have taken a photo, but I didn’t.

When I attempted to use it for a landscape, I quickly discovered that putting salt on a canvas probably wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had. I played around with a few colors, and chalked it up to experience. Again, I wish I’d taken a photo.

One day, I wanted to practice a few different techniques for brushstrokes, so I grabbed theย unusable canvas and just had fun making marks:

Salt 3 (2)

Later, when I wanted to practice glazing and scumbling, I grabbed the same canvas. I couldn’t hurt it, so why not practice with it again?

Salt 2 (2)

A few days ago, I was learning about cropping and stretching elements from landscapes to create more interesting compositions. Working from a photograph of the Bow River, I took my well-salted canvas, painted over the sky, added the mountains, and turned the foreground into the start of a rocky river bed.

Here it is asย Bow River:

Bow River Framed

You can still see the rough texture from the salt, and maybe that would be an interesting technique for abstract painting. For landscape painting… not so much. It does make me wonder, though, how many times I can use and re-use old canvases.

It’s actually been quite fun to paint and re-paint this canvas, and except for lots of bumps, it doesn’t look too bad right now. It’s definitely worth keeping around. I have lots more practice I can do with it.



    1. Oh, it’s so easy to ruin a painting! I’m trying to avoid the temptation of “fixing” too many paintings simply because I’ve ruined a lot in the past. That’s one reason why most of my paintings are “practice” paintings. If I ruin them, it’s all right. It’s fun to look through my old paintings, find really awful ones, and breathe a sigh of relief knowing I can play around with them all I want and no harm done. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. Trying salt on acrylic was very brave! I wouldn’t have risked it. But these kinds of experiments are how we find the techniques we love. I think it was very smart of you to keep re-using a canvas for experiments; it’s hard to just go through the art supplies practicing, but how else can we improve?

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    1. Yes, it was a crazy experiment, but I think it could be useful for abstract paintings. I love painting over old paintings I don’t like. It’s such a fun way to practice. Lots of times I add things — putting little buildings in here or there — or change features in the landscape. I need lots of practice, and it’s a good way to get it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Ohhh how interesting! Reusing canvases never occurred to me before, what an amazing idea! that way we can keep practicing and practicing ๐Ÿ™‚ I love your result at the end (was a bit afraid to say that because when we hear that something looks good already, it gets harder to keep experimenting and changing it :P) can’t wait to see more of your art ๐Ÿ˜€

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    1. Thank you, Alicia. Yes, I love painting over old canvases. Sometimes I just use them to practice adding things — like putting a little cottage in the woods or a sailboat on a lake. Sometimes I re-use canvases to practice different brushstrokes or blending techniques. And sometimes I just cover an old painting completely and start over. FWIW, I’ve actually even used acrylic OVER old oil paintings to make a fresh start. It can be done. I’m excited to follow your blog and see your paintings, too.

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