Common Acrylic Painting Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Acrylics are more forgiving than watercolor, but definitely less than oil. Hence, you might find yourself wondering “how to fix acrylic paint mistakes”. Fortunately, you can correct mistakes, even if the mistake is as fundamental as the wrong background color. Contrary to popular belief, an acrylic painting can be corrected even if it is completely dry. Get off on the right foot with a few words of wisdom: Acrylic Painting for Beginners Step by Step. Oftentimes there are several ways to fix a mistake and it is important to consider your options before you go ahead so as not to make things worse or damage your canvas. Thick layers of paint, thin layers of paint, dry or wet acrylic paint; below I will not only show you how to fix your mistakes but also how to think about each solution so you can choose the most appropriate one.

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I Picked up the Wrong Color by Mistake!

You are partway through your painting and while looking at the canvas you expertly reload your brush with that beautiful Phatalo Green, only it turns out to be Alzarin Crimson, and presently you have a murky streak of red/black/green on your canvas, that you did not plan for. You have done a dip dab! You scream and look in disbelief back and forth between your palette and your painting.

Your instinct, if it is anything like mine, is to look for the palette knife and scrape the mess off. Stop! Don’t use your palette q1 knife for this. Instead use your palette knife skills for some abstract art with this guide: Abstract Magic: Pallet Knife Painting.

If it was, for example, yellow on white this would be the right thing to do. But with dark saturated colors there may be better options I’ll share below. Also if the dab of unwanted color has been placed at a point of detail in the painting and you are worried you may not be able to remove the wet paint without ruining the detail or spreading it too much, your best option would be to let it dry completely and remove it later.

Removing Dry Paint

To carefully remove the dried offending paint you can follow the steps below:

  1. Rub with a little denatured alcohol applied with a paper towel, folded as small or as big as you need. The alcohol will soften the paint and you can remove as much as you want, just the offending paint, down to the base paint, or all the way down to the canvas.
  2. If you want to repair with the correct color then sand the area lightly to create enough tooth for the paint to adhere to – light grit sandpaper is all you need. It is a good idea to wear a mask while doing this as acrylics are basically plastic and sanding introduces very fine plastic dust particles into the air and you don’t want to inhale that.
  3. Having finished the sanding, use a damp cloth or a wet rag to wipe the dust off the canvas.
  4. Once it is all dry you are ready to paint.

Sometimes I can still see a tiny bit of offending color. I don’t want to damage the canvas, but I am worried that it may show through if I just paint over it. In that case, I paint it over with a couple of very thin layers of Artists Grade titanium white.

This will literally white out any residue left of the offending color.

Removing Wet Paint

There is a different method for removing thick wet paint straight out of the tube or mixed with a thickening medium. Once on the canvas with other paints, it is hard to separate cleanly if the first layer of paint is not completely dry. If you are painting with heavily diluted paints, also called glaces, the first layer will often be dry enough that you can remove new paint immediately without significant damage to the previous layer.

Thick: If you decided to, or you were overtaken by the impulse to use the painting knife to remove the paint, I recommend you leave the area to dry completely. You may now be able to apply thin layers of artist-grade titanium white to block out any remaining offending marks. I recommend artist grades because, in my experience, lesser quality paints will not cover well.

Thin: If your paint is thin layers and the layer you painted earlier is dry or near dry, you will be able to remove the wet paint with water, with hardly any damage to your earlier painting. Simply grab a clean wet brush and a clean dry cloth or kitchen paper. Apply the wet brush to the offending paint and dab with a kitchen towel/cloth, keep going until all the offending paint is gone – do make sure when you reapply the cloth/kitchen paper that it is clean.

Correcting Mistakes that Still Show Through

Your painting is finished and dry. While you were working on it earlier, you made a few mistakes along the way, you decided to leave them in but paint them over to hide them. You used artist-grade Titanium White and painted it on in several thin layers, leaving each one to dry before you applied the other. It was perfect, but only now a few days later the original paint is showing through in places.

Pro Solutions

First, I would try to correct the problem by applying a few more thin coats of Titanium White. Bear in mind that it takes longer to dry than other pigments and make sure it really is dry before you apply a new coat.

If the problem persists you can try applying an isolation coat and when that is dry another coat of Titanium White. This you should only do once you are completely happy with the rest of the painting. In effect, this is done when you deem the painting finished as the isolation coat will make the surface more slippery to paint on.

An isolation coat is most often used between your finished painting and the varnish, it is perfectly transparent. The idea is that it protects your paint from being damaged by solvent when the varnish is removed and reapplied every few years, keeping the colors looking fresh and new. The less traditional use is to use it as a barrier between your original painting and the new painting on top, eliminating show-through from previously corrected areas.

You can now buy an isolation coat pre-mixed, but if you have gel gloss you should just mix your own.

You will need artist quality gel gloss—all the professional brands have one to their name— and water, distilled water, if possible.

You need two part gel to one part water. If you have not used an isolation coat before or haven’t used varnish for a while, it’s advisable that you prepare yourself with a couple of test pieces to practice on. It is not necessary to use a canvas or acrylic board for that; a couple of pieces of the stiff card will do fine. Paint them in a dark color blue or brown to make it easier for you to see what you are doing.

Practice using different brushes, once you feel happy with your choice of brush and confident applying the isolation coat you need to work fast as it dries very quickly.

Once your isolation coat is dry, you can start applying thin layers of Titanium White or whatever color is needed to cover the show through.

Reusing a Canvas After  a Painting Didn’t Work Out

Some times, however hard you try your paintings just don’t work out and all you want to do is start over again.

You can absolutely paint over it with several layers of artist-quality paint or black or white Gesso for example. Just first decide whether it is worth the time and effort. Using Gesso to prep a canvas is a technique for many art styles, check out some common questions around the practice: Should I Gesso My Canvas or Surface Before Painting?

Reusing A Canvas Takes More Time Than You Think

Painting over a whole canvas is more tricky than painting out a small mistake. When you paint over a smaller mistake and it is done well, the rest of the painting largely distracts you away from any slight difference in texture thickness and color. However, painting over a whole canvas you need at least two layers of the highest quality paint or Gesso, possibly more if you have highly contrasting and/or dark colors to cover. As you are planning to start fresh you don’t want any difference in texture, color or thickness to distract you.

Reusing A Canvas Won’t Feel Like New

Because acrylics are plastic based, your build up layers create a hard and shiny surface. A repainted surface in acrylics will have lost a lot and in some cases all of its tooth, leaving a texture that is slippery. Or if you have painted over the whole canvas with white acrylics it can feel chalky. Either way, the paint is not pulling off the brush as it does on a new canvas. In short your painting experience will differ drastically and not in a good way.

Limitations of an Over-Painted Canvas

If you have over-painted a canvas you will have lost its absorbency and will no longer be able to use it for thin water color like techniques as the watery paint no longer will behave the same. Personally I have found very few instances where I have been able to use an over-painted canvas for anything other than a heavily textured or impasto painting with any kind of success.

Quick Tips on Fixing Acrylic Painting Mistakes

  1. Accidents and small mistakes can quite easily be remedied and if you are careful and patient no one will be any the wiser.
  2. If you are removing paint, there is a different method for dry, wet, thick, and thin applications.
  3. Always use artist grade paint for over-painting and rather use several thinner layers than one thick layer.
  4. Corrections still showing through, apply an isolation coat and paint again with artists grade Titanium White. Again use best quality and thin layers.
  5. Fixing the mistake may not always be the best way forward; acrylics is very forgiving medium, at the time of making mistakes this can be a disadvantage. Acrylics dry so fast and you can erase your mistake and be ready to paint again in a matter of minutes.

You can also Read: 3 Ways to Transform Your Pour, for more inspiration! 

Should You Fix Your Mistake?

Painting in oil or watercolor, or working with collage, the chances of ruining the rest of the work trying to fix a mistake always makes me think twice before correcting it, and oftentimes I will end up incorporating the mistake rather than fixing it… I believe Bob Ross calls them happy accidents.

Not being forced to think about it too much before correcting a painting I believe can be a disadvantage.

As artists, we need space and time to look at and judge our work and make conscious choices.

Acrylics are so easy to correct that it often leads you to look less and paint more, the result can be a painting that is perhaps technically perfect but lacking in life and character.

When you next make a mistake–unless it is an obvious dip dab disaster– take a break; have a coffee or even take a walk. If when you look at it with fresh eyes you feel it isn’t a bad mistake but you can’t see the way to incorporate it into your painting at this time, put your painting away for a couple of days or even a week, if you are able and don’t have a deadline that won’t allow it.

You may be surprised at what you will find and, talking from experience, this practice will save you a lot of stress, money, materials and, surprisingly, time over the years.

Acrylics are more forgiving than water color, but definitely less than oil. But you can correct mistakes, even if the mistake is as fundamental as the wrong background color. Oftentimes there are several ways to fix a mistake and it is important to consider your options before you go ahead so as not to make things worse or damage your canvas. Thick layers of paint, thin layers of paint, dry or wet; below I will not only show you how to fix your mistakes but also how to think about each solution so you can choose the most appropriate one.

Final Words

I hope you found the fix you were looking for and encouragement too. Even with many years of practice I still make mistakes; the dip dab more often than I would be willing to admit. But there are also times where no fix will make my paintings right and I have to start again.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to fix acrylic paint mistakes?


1.What you shouldn’t do when reusing canvas for acrylic paintings?

If you wish to resuse the canvas, reapplying gesso is considered to be an ideal way. That said, make sure not to use chemicals, alcohol, cleaning agents or the soak-in-water method to remove acrylic paints from any old painting. If the old painting is painted in thin layers, the use of such chemical-based cleaning agents might ruin the canvas altogether.

2.What are some tips to make fewer mistakes when painting?

Whether you are more into acrylic painting or are a die-hard fan of oil painting, making mistakes is an inevitable part of the painting process. And while making and fixing mistakes is a great way to learn to be a better artists, it is of course, ideal to make as little mistakes as possible. Some of the tips to ensure this are –

Make sure that you have the composition and proportion of the paintings in mind. When you start painting with a clear goal in head, it makes it easier to make it more accurately.

If possible, have a reference photo by your side, when painting. It will help you keep intricate details in mind, and will help avert any ‘happy accidents’, as Bob Ross likes to call them.

Last but not the least, practice as much and as often as you can, even if that means using gessoed canvas every now and then. When you practice more, you are less likely to make a mistake. And even if you do, you will know how to fix mistakes more efficiently.

3.How to use Titanium White for fixing paint mistakes?

Simply use a damp cloth to remove any dust from your painting. Next, make sure that the area is dry completely. Now, apply a total of two coats of Titanium White. Apply the first layer, let is dry and then the second layers of titanium white. Once both the layers have dried, you can then continue your work.

4.How do you fix too many layers of acrylic paint?

Watery paint is what usually works well for this issue. Since, acrylic paint is water based, all you need to do is, add a fea drops of water to thin down the pain!

5.Can you smoothen out acrylic paint after it dries?

Yes, most certainly. Simply wet your paint brush by dipping it in water. Then, mix it together with the paint to get the desired fluid-like consistency. Add in more water if needed.

6.How do you remove brush strokes from acrylic paint?

If you wish to remove brush strokes, simply dip your paint brush in water, and then dip it in the paint. This will ensure that the paint is thinned out before you use it, such that there are no brush strokes.

7. What are common mistakes beginners make when painting with acrylics?

 Some common mistakes beginners make when painting with acrylics include using too much water, not using enough paint, not letting layers dry before adding more, and not properly cleaning brushes. It’s important to take your time and practice to improve your technique.

 8. How can you fix mistakes in an acrylic painting without starting over?

There are a few ways to fix mistakes in an acrylic painting without starting over. One way is to let the paint dry completely and then paint over the mistake with a layer of white paint. Another way is to use a palette knife or scraper to remove the mistake and then repaint the area. You can also try using a wet brush to blend the mistake into the surrounding area.

9. What are some ways to prevent cracking in acrylic paintings?

 Some ways to prevent cracking in acrylic paintings include using a flexible support, applying paint in thin layers, avoiding over-thinning the paint, and using a medium or varnish specifically designed to prevent cracking. It’s also important to store your paintings in a cool, dry place to prevent environmental factors from causing cracking.

 10. How do I avoid overworking an acrylic painting and ruining it?

 One way to avoid overworking your acrylic painting is to work quickly and confidently, making deliberate brushstrokes and not going back over areas too many times. Another tip is to step back and take breaks to assess the painting from a distance, rather than getting too caught up in the details up close. It’s also important to let layers dry completely before adding more, to avoid muddying the colors.

3 thoughts on “Common Acrylic Painting Mistakes and How to Fix Them”

  1. If they’re water soluble oil paints or if you won’t be using any more acrylics over the oil. Oil can go on top of acrylics but acrylics cannot go on top of oil but there are mixable oils. If that helps any.

  2. I’m a beginner with acrylics. Primed/sealed a hugh clay water pot. Painted with Craftsmart white, bright red and a navy blue matte acrylic paint (what a waste of money). Want to start over using Liquitex acrylic paint. What is the best way to cover 4 layers of matte blue paint and one layer of red paint, the rest of the pot is white with pencil drawing? Should I sand and primer/seal over again or use Liquitex basic titanium white paint? Thank you in advance for any assistance in this matter.

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