Painting over the Past: An Artist's Dilemma

Painting over the Past: An Artist's Dilemma

Not every painting finds its voice, and as an artist, it takes courage to admit that and start anew.

I recently shared a clip of me painting over one such canvas—an oil on canvas of a local scene that had failed to resonate with me


A Delicate Balance

Painting over an existing piece of art is never easy. The creative process is a delicate balance between self-expression and self-doubt. Each stroke, each colour choice, is a piece of your soul on display. But sometimes, a composition doesn't feel right, or the colors don't convey the intended emotion. In those moments, an artist must let go and begin again from scratch


palette knife & canvas


The Cathartic Feeling of Starting Again

I posted that clip not to shock, but to share the reality of an artist's journey. The response was interesting. Thousands of views and comments flooded in, but for me, it was a painting that didn't find its place in my heart, and I couldn't justify keeping it. After all, who will believe in something if I don't?… There is a cathartic and satisfying feeling in painting over something you are not happy with


Artist Chris Cyprus at work in his studio © 2023


If a painting doesn't immediately resonate with me, I don't believe in trying to rescue it. Although there are no rules in art, creative expression must surely come with a sense of contentment

check out the video on my youtube channel 👈


Self Doubt - The Killer of Creativity

We can only speculate about the reasons artists like Van Gogh painted over their works. From the past to the present, artists have grappled with self doubt, sometimes teetering on the edge of insanity


Chris Cyprus Artist @ Manchester Art Gallery

having a closer look at 'coming home from the mill' by LS Lowry @ Manchester Art Gallery


Recycle & Reuse

Many artists in their early careers had no money to buy new canvas. Painters regularly re-used their existing canvas to make way for new works, often turning them over and even painting on the reverse. Nothing was wasted. Artists could not afford to be sentimental about their paintings….


It is well known that Picasso regularly re-used old canvases, previously belonging to other artists, painting over them, using the old work to influence his new creations.... the famous 'la miséreuse accroupie' is a good example of this. The bent over outline of the figure following the lines of a previous artist's landscape image


The portrait of a woman: Picasso's La Miséreuse accroupie being scanned at the University of Ontario

Picasso's La Miséreuse accroupie being scanned at the University of Ontario


Uncovering Ghostly Images Of The Past

Art historians over recent years have uncovered underpaintings hidden beneath famous works, brought to light by modern mobile scanning techniques and expert analysis. Some masterpieces even reveal more than one underpainting—a subtle hint that self doubt and lack of money have been enduring companions for artists through the ages


In July 2022 Van Gogh’s ‘head of a peasant woman’ was found to contain a hidden image believed to be the first ever of Van Gogh’s self portrait series

National Galleries of Scotland conservator Lesley Stevenson with Head of a Peasant Woman and an X-ray image of the hidden self-portrait. Photo:©Neil Hanna

National Galleries of Scotland conservator Lesley Stevenson with 'Head of a Peasant Woman' and an X-ray image of the hidden self-portrait. Photo:©Neil Hanna


Why did Van Gogh choose to paint over 'head of a peasant woman?'

was it because he couldn’t afford new canvas, or simply because he wasn’t happy with the likeness staring back at him?

 Close up of Van Gogh eye at Gallery © Squarespace


The prospect of a new year gives me the the courage to paint over old compositions which fail to light my creative spark, and invite some brand new compositions into existence…




The next time you explore your favourite art gallery, take a moment to contemplate the multitude of hidden masterpieces lurking just beneath the visible surface, waiting to be discovered...


 Manchester Art Gallery 2023 © Dionne Cyprus


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