What Would You Do? | How Long Before you Restretch or Repaint a Canvas?

I recently received this question from an artist:

When is it okay to pull a painting from its stretcher with the intent of reusing the support? Some friends and I are having a disagreement over this.


My response:

Good question Jackie – I knew an artist who would give a painting a year and if it hadn’t sold he would reuse the materials (those that he didn’t smash and jump up and down on – this was a very temperamental artist!). That’s extreme. Sometimes it can take a few years for a piece to find the right home. We just sold a piece for an artist that he created 4-5 years ago.

I guess if you feel that the stretchers are worth more than the painting they’re supporting, you know it’s time to switch it up.


What do you think?

How long do you give a painting before you restretch or rework? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. We moderate comments to keep out spam, so it may take a few hours for your comment to appear.


About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. I have a thought, and another question to add to it: First, if a painting that hasn’t sold is part of a series, and the series still looks solid after some of the pieces have sold, I will continue to exhibit them for up to three years. I find most venues don’t want work much older than that; at least not unless you are nationally renowned! Second – there are times when a painting hasn’t sold and it is my favorite; and in a way I’m delighted because I get to hang it in my own house. Third – If I really do get why it hasn’t sold… I paint over it. Some of my best sellers and favorite paintings have an entire layer underneath that provides texture and depth, sometimes amazingly in sync with the new layer without even trying – especially with my abstracts. Here’s my question Jason: How do you feel about having an open studio and discounting older works? I’m considering doing this now, and the paintings I want to sell cover the entire spectrum of age, medium and style, from representational to subjective, oil to acrylic to mixed media – some dating back as far as 10 years ago. Would love to hear your thoughts!

  2. If you need the stretcher that bad.. then carefully take it off.
    The artwork is still an inventory piece and can be shipped much easier.

    Regarding /Re-work the same artwork…. if you have not gone public with the piece of art and you find it calling out to you, then i believe the little voice you are hearing could be $ knock on the door – so put it in… rework it. But wait 15 to 30 days to go public. ( and to be sure that little voice stops.)

    1. I don’t think it’s a matter of “needing” the stretcher so much as it’s needing the space for new works and why buy new when you can save space and money by recycling your white elephants?

  3. If you really need the support, then re-use it, but don’t toss the painting. You might see it differently in a year or so and decide to re-stretch it. I like to look back at older work now and then to see my progress, so I don’t throw anything out.

  4. I just “went over” a four year-old painting that didn’t sell, and one that I hadn’t ever felt comfortable with. I really like what happened.
    But, having read the above comments, I might think a little longer next time.

  5. I keep them. A gallery owner came to my house and saw 2 paintings collecting dust- she took them, and a week later they sold for 3 grand each, and the customer even spent freight money to send one to her condo in England ( they were 4 ft by 3 ft, at least). Lesson learned. Keep everything, LOL.

  6. I agree with Marissa. A lot depends on the type of work you do. I am not a mainstream artist ( whimsical folk art story telling ) and I have a smaller group of people interested in my work. I also believe a painting that is good is not affected by how old it is. A good piece is just good. A lot of my pieces do not sell right away and this means well over 5 years. I have sold paintings that are 10 and 15 years old plus. One even went to a museum. I had a painting that was over 20 years old and I did not think it would sell- a buyer bought it as well as another 20+ year old painting from my website and both pieces were priced over $3,000 and 18 x 24” and 20 x 30”. So think carefully about painting over. If you take the stretchers off do not destroy the painting. You never know.

  7. I agree with many of the “keepers” comments above. My older paintings (only 5-10+ years 🙂 seem to sell very well eventually. If I like what I did someone will see what I do somewhere down the line!

  8. For me it is all about storage so I have been clearing the paintings that did not sell from series about ten years old. Some I destroy. I didn’t like them. Most I keep. they take up much less space rolled. I have kept a few from twenty years ago just to see the progress I have made. The rest I store or destroy. Transportation has also become a problem as they do not make vans that can accommodate 48inx. Sad. I like big. I limit myself to 40″ in whatever length so a few are still on the stretcher I cannot reuse. All in a day’s work.

  9. Goodness. Stretched canvass is not very expensive so I would just put it away in inventory.

    If you wish, come back later and rework the piece or add to it.

    The work is what it is and should be considered for its own uniqueness.

  10. I like to see all the ‘keep it’ comments and realize how emotionally attached many others also get to their work. While I have painted over a print on canvas (in an effort to ‘enhance’ it, I got carried away) I have only ever painted one canvas that I will someday paint over because it isn’t technically very good, by my standards.
    I also have several small canvases in various stages that I call my ‘failed canvas’ collection of earlier works that started going sideways and would have taken too much to correct them – but just in case I want to work on them again someday, I keep them.
    I also like to see my progress and improvement. I have only thrown away one painting, ever, and even then I didn’t have the heart to put it in the trash bin, so I put it in my charity donation box. You never know what might bring enjoy to someone else. A friend pulled one work out of my ‘failed’ collection and talked me into putting it up for sale in my coop gallery – it sold two days later.
    However, I find it better to move on to something fresh for the most part. My bigger storage problem is that I purchased too many canvases and frames during past sale events – but I now prefer to paint on aluminum panels, so the paintings never were done and the canvases take up a tremendous amount of room, along with the frames I fell in love with.

    I once read that we shouldn’t keep our student works and ‘failed’ canvases in our studios because they bring us down emotionally, but mine don’t (except for that one I donated) – it’s just the clutter that does that!

    Keep everything if you can, as long as you can and especially if you enjoy it.

  11. if its a poor painting i cut it in 1/2then give the stretcher away to someone who wants it. canvas stretched is so cheap its not worth reusing them. have destroyed thousands and sold thousands it all balances out. the 10% of sales revenue i spend on art supplies stretchers etc is more than enough to give me years of materials to work with and open an art school. richarddixonfineart.com seems a good formula for the last 50 years.

  12. I keep them, and if it has been a while and I no longer feel drawn to them, I offer them to family members who would like to have them. I have only ever painted over a couple. Like Karen, it is nice to see the progress I have made.

  13. Sometimes when I don’t like a painting, I will paint over it. And sometimes a client or art consultant who saw the original piece will want to buy the original. I then get mad at myself for covering it up. Sometimes I will paint a painting, decide it isn’t good and then cover it up. Then I wish I hadn’t cause it had a freshness and spontaneous feel and was better than what I ended up with. Now I am more careful. I wait a few days and am not so hasty. That’s how I try and be anyway. At times I have noticed that paintings I paint rather quickly sell the fastest. Other times, ones I spend a very long time painting will sell. I guess there are no rules. If it is good, just let it be. The enemy of good is better.

  14. So wonderful to hear all these varied comments! I have a whole closet & garage of old paintings that I either didn’t like and never showed or the didn’t sell! I guess it’s time to take look at them and decide what’s worth painting over and what’s worth restretching! Great conversation!!!

  15. I started experimenting on plywood years ago and created some underpainting on it but never finished the piece. I liked the underpainting so much that it got packed in our move from CA to Asheville. The size: 24 x 48”. Then One day(fast forward – after 2 years) I finished the seascape, and got sold in a gallery. Then it got noticed in my website and a client commissioned me to create a similar seascape! That was quite a journey for this painting on plywood! Had I thrown it away I have no story to share 😀 So don’t just throw your old works just because you don’t like it now. It could turn out as a blessing one day!

  16. I purged 7 various, larger older paintings to a good friend who had bought and moved into a house with empty walls. The gift thrilled her and helped both of us.

  17. Just a thought, which I can’t back up with any experience because I’m only plotting a few toe-dabbling projects as I’m typing this, but what about re-processing them into other works? I came across a recycled-book box-making video that I thought would be a good use for my umpteenth-edition, unlikely-to-have-any-collectible-value books, and then incorporate one of my “B grade” (I.e., I like them enough that I’m reluctant to over-paint them, but they’re not as good as they could be) canvas panels into the cover. Not a solution for every media, but how else do you move B-grade paintings when everyone wants you to only send your “best work”?

  18. I have chucked some, painted over some with completely different scenes and have, sometimes a few years later, touched up pieces that were almost but weren’t quite right. I have kept very few, due to emotional involvement, because I move a lot.

    I recently painted over a piece with a scene from one of my brother’s snapshots of his favorite walking spot. Since I intend to never sell it, I sanded down the old canvas, re-gessoed it, and painted that scene. Sanding never fully erases the knife marks and I can see them…but no one else notices them. Everyone who has viewed the new scene really like it. One visitor even took a snapshot of it.

    Another painting: I started it and fell in love with the underpainting of 1/4 of it. Never finished it. Looked at it for years. Then, for one move, I cut out that 1/4 to keep and chucked the rest. I still take out that 1/4 to just look at it.

    You can store hundreds of paintings in a 10×10 locker in a climate controlled facility for relatively cheap. It’s moving ’em around the country that costs.

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