Six Ways To Salvage A Ruined Painting Or Drawing

2014 Artwork Salvaging Pictures Sketch

So, it all started so well. Your sketch looked great and even any inked lineart or paint that you added to your picture looked amazing… until that one fatal mistake. Maybe something got smudged, maybe the colour scheme was horribly wrong or maybe the paper even got torn? It sucks.

And it’s happened to literally every artist on the planet at least once.

However, it isn’t always as bad as it might sound. There are ways of salvaging at least most of what made your original painting or drawing so great.

Some of the methods in this article will give you ideas for creating salvaged digital versions of your picture using image editing software (after you’ve scanned or digitally photographed the original picture) like MS Paint and a free open-source program called “GIMP“, but any editing program will do. I’ll try to keep this guide non- program specific.

But I’ll also include quite a few old-fashioned analogue methods that might be useful to you if you don’t have a digital camera or a scanner or you just want to salvage the physical copy of your art.

This isn’t a step-by-step guide to how to salvage a painting, it’s more of a list of ideas and possibilities that might be worth following. Still, I hope that it can at least point you in the right direction:

1) Tracing: Although tracing is most certainly cheating when it comes to creating new art, it can be a useful non-digital way to salvage any drawings that you’ve made.

Basically you just trace all of the parts of your drawing (eg: with tracing paper or by putting two sheets of paper on top of a sturdy light source of some kind) that you got right and then re-draw the failed or damaged parts from scratch.

2) Add new stuff: This can only work in some circumstances and I’ve written about it in more detail in another article. But sometimes mistakes in your painting or drawing can be covered up by… well… literally covering them over with other things. As long as the thing you’re covering it up with is darker than the original mistake, then no-one will notice.

Yes, this will change your painting or drawing and it probably won’t look as good as your original idea for it. But, well, it can be better than nothing in some circumstances.

3) Colour selection: MS Paint (and probably most other graphics programs too) has a tool which can be incredibly useful for repairing digital copies of failed pictures. In version 5.1 of MS Paint, it’s called the “pick color” tool and the icon for it looks a bit like a dropper of some kind. The icon and name might vary from program to program, but this tool basically does the same thing.

In essence, what this tool allows you to do is to click on a part of the picture and the colour of your digital brush or pencil will automatically change to the exact colour of the exact pixel that you clicked on.

What this means is that you can then smooth out or cover over any damage or mistakes in your picture with the exact colours that were used in the picture itself, so that your repairs won’t stand out from a mile away (in the way that they would do if you just used one of the pre-made colours available in your image editing program).

4) Greyscale: If the colour choices in your original picture are absolutely terrible (eg: the colours clash or something like that), then you can salvage your picture by removing the colours altogether.

Most image editing programs have some way of either turning a picture into a simple black and white image (with literally just two colours and nothing in between) or, preferably, a proper greyscale picture (with lots of shades of grey, like an old photo).

A more old-fashioned way to do this if you don’t have a scanner or a digital camera and are near a library or copy shop is simply to run your original picture through a photocopier. Unless the copier is a state-of-the-art machine that can make colour copies, you’ll end up with a physical greyscale copy of your original picture.

If you’ve removed the colour from your picture digitally, then you can also add some colour to your picture by messing around with the “Red, Green and Blue” (RGB) levels of the image in your graphics program. Yes, this might make your picture look slightly surreal, but it can make it more interesting than a simple B&W or greyscale picture.

Here is an example of how I used this technique to salvage a picture which originally had a whole bunch of clashing colours in it. Unfortunately, I converted it to B&W rather than greyscale before messing around with the RGB levels, but the results are still interesting:

"Planet Lost" By C. A. Brown

“Planet Lost” By C. A. Brown

5) Tape: If your painting or picture is torn, then you can use different types of tape to repair it. I haven’t studied this in detail or really had to do it before, so you’re probably best doing your own research before repairing your picture with tape.

But I imagine that a good way of repairing a torn picture is to use a rather sturdy type of tape on the back of the picture and then to either use some kind of thin masking tape (which can be easily drawn or painted over) or possibly a thin non-shiny transparent kind of tape on the front of the picture.

As I said, I haven’t really had to do this before, so you are probably best doing some other research before trying this.

6) Distract people: I’ve talked about this technique in a lot more detail in another article, but sometimes the best way to handle a mistake in your picture isn’t to try to cover it over, but to add something to your painting to distract your audience for the mistake.

Basically, if there’s something in your picture that your audience’s eyes are immediately drawn to (and this can be as simple as someone’s face, an interesting plant etc….) then they are less likely to notice or care about mistakes in other parts of your picture. Use this fact to your advantage if you can.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

One comment on “Six Ways To Salvage A Ruined Painting Or Drawing

  1. […] “The ‘Artistic Hunt’ – Hugh Brody’s Brilliant Idea” – “Six Ways To Salvage A Ruined Painting Or Drawing” – “Creativity, Art Forms And Simplification” – “Are Heavy Creative […]

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