Three Very Basic Ways To Salvage A Failed Painting With Digital Editing

2016 Artwork Salvaging failed paintings digitally

If you’re an artist, then you’ll know that failure happens sometimes.

But, as long as you’ve got a digital camera and/or a scanner, and an image editing program (if you don’t have one, you can download a freeware open source image editing program called “GIMP” here), then you can at least have a better digital copy of your failed painting if you’re prepared to edit it.

Just remember that, if you’re planning to sell your art, then the digital image of it that you post online should be an accurate representation of the original painting or drawing. But, if you’re not selling it, then feel free to edit away to your heart’s content.

Although I use a combination of an ancient 1990s version of Paint Shop Pro, GIMP 2.6 and/or MS Paint 5.1 for my image editing, most image editing programs share a few basic features.

So, it doesn’t really matter which programs you use. I’ll try to write these instructions as generally as possible, so that they’ll be useful regardless of which image editing program you use.

I should probably also point out that the three tips in this article are extremely basic. So, if you already know a little bit about image editing, then you probably won’t learn anything new here.

1) Your picture looks too faded: One problem with scanned or digitally photographed paintings or drawings is that they often look slightly faded.

An easy way to remedy this in pretty much any image editing program is to look for an option (it’s probably in the “colours” menu) labelled “Brightness/ Contrast”. Once you’ve found it, all you have to do is to lower the brightness level slightly and raise the contrast level until your picture looks right.

Personally, I usually tend to use a fairly low brightness level and a fairly high contrast level, because it gives my art a “vivid” look – but just experiment until your picture looks right.

Once you’ve done this, then just cut the image to the proper size (eg: if there’s other stuff in the background of your digital photo etc..) using the cropping tool in your program ( In GIMP 2.6, the icon for this tool looks a bit like a scalpel. In other programs, it often looks like a square made from two overlapping “L” shapes).

2) You’ve messed up the colour scheme: If you’ve messed up the colour scheme in part of or all of your painting, then all is not lost. In fact, there are several things that you can do to create a better digital copy of your artwork:

– Hue/Saturation: Select the parts of your picture that are the wrong colour (or don’t select anything, if you have problems with the whole image), then look for this option in your image editing program (it’ll probably be in the “colours” menu).

Once you’ve found it, just move the “hue” slider until the selected area is the right colour. This will probably require a bit of trial and error, but you can change the colour of pretty much anything (except for solid black and white areas) using this.

– RGB values: Another way to change the colour of a selected area of your artwork is to look for the “RGB” options in the colour menu of your image editing program. This allows you to alter the amount of red, green and blue in the selected area. This is less precise than altering the hue levels, but it can be useful if you need to add colour to a solid white area of your artwork.

– The Nuclear Option: If your problem can’t be solved with either of these two things, then you can remove all colour from your picture by either looking for a “greyscale”/”desaturate” option in the colour menu of your editing program, or by opening the “Hue/ Saturation” menu and reducing the saturation to zero.

Once you’ve done this, then you can mess around with the RGB options (or look for a “colourise” option) to give your artwork a tint if you want to.

In fact, I actually did this with one of my failed paintings from late April (in addition to using a “blur” effect too) after I messed up the colours in it fairly significantly. This is what the final picture looked like:

"Let The Rain Fall" By C. A. Brown

“Let The Rain Fall” By C. A. Brown

3) Correcting small mistakes (in a less noticeable way): I usually tend to do this in a fairly basic program like MS Paint, but you can do this in any image editing program.

The main thing to remember when correcting small mistakes is that the exact colours in your painting are different from the basic stock colours that are available in the menu of your image editing program.

If you use the stock colours (or try to create a similar colour using a custom colour menu), then your corrections will stand out from a mile away.

So, before you correct small mistakes, look for a colour selection tool first.

In MS Paint 5.1 this is called the “Pick Color” tool and the icon for it looks like a pipette/ dropper. In GIMP 2.6, it’s called the “Colour Picker Tool” and the icon also looks like a pipette/ dropper. Virtually all image editing programs contain this tool, so you should be able to find it.

So, what does this tool do? Well, once you’ve selected it, just click on any part of your painting and the brush/ airbrush/ pencil colour will change to the exact colour of the area that you’ve just clicked on. This means that you can seamlessly alter a part of your painting using the exact colours that are in this part of your painting.

Yes, your corrections will still be noticeable if people know what to look for, but they won’t be extremely obvious at first glance.


Anyway. I hope that this was useful 🙂


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