Wiping down & Scraping off


Lisa David artist scraping tools

Tools for wiping down and scraping off paint

If only we could hit “undo” on an oil painting and back up a few steps to restart an area. It happens to every artist. Even Sorolla would scrape down multiple times until he got it right. Scraping down work is frustrating. Aside from the physical disruption of the painting, it can deplete your confidence. It also wastes time and paint. But, it’s inevitable. Sometimes you need to scrape down your work to get it right.


Scraping down paint is usually done on an area of a painting which is dry. During en plein air painting or alla prima (wet on wet), it is more likely that you are wiping away a wet area. Often, artists do a combination of both scraping down and then cleaning up with a mixture of odorless mineral spirits and medium to rework the area. I have been pretty far into a painting and realized the need for a scrape down. Perhaps the number one reason I scrape down or restart is inaccurate drawing. I recently was working on a portrait and noticed the left plane of the face was about a third larger than it needed to be. It required reworking the entire left side, hair and all. I debated letting it go and giving it the proverbial “whatever” but decided it would haunt me if I left it. Poor compositional choices are also reasons that I have scraped down. When painting en plein air, for example, I tend to paint what I see rather than rearrange elements to make a more pleasing composition.


How do you scrape or wipe? It really depends on how wet or dry the paint is. If the paint is too dry, you can use a flat edge razor blade or a palette knife. Sometimes I will use a small piece of sandpaper to sand into the edges of surrounding paint. If the paint is wet, I use a Q-tip or Viva paper towel dipped in Gamsol. I also have a handy rubber tipped tool I purchased from Hobby Lobby.


To avoid the need to wipe down or scrape off, there are a few things you can do. First, do a drawing of your composition. Take a few minutes to get a pleasing design. Stand back often. Set a timer if you are well intentioned but get engrossed in your work. Paint thinly first (lean).  Don’t rush to add in details too soon. Keep squinting to see your values. Use comparable sizing early in the painting to get the drawing correct. Compare everything to that first bit of color or the first line you placed on canvas. If you do need to scrape or wipe down, it’s all good. At least you are out there painting!

Lisa David artist sandpaper

Sanding down an area to fix after paint has dried


Do you pick favorites?

Remember having a favorite everything as a kid? Favorite TV show, favorite cereal, favorite game, and the quintessential favorite color. As an adult, it may seem silly to have a favorite color. But as an artist, I must admit, I have a favorite color. I know, I am breaking all the rules. But there is one color I sneak into practically every painting. I don’t even do it to create color harmony.  I just use it because I have a great association with it, and it makes me happy.  My secret color? Winsor Newton’s Cobalt Turquoise Light. I even like the word turquoise.  To me, the color dances! It’s light, peppy, optimistic, cheerful yet doesn’t demand too much attention when used sparingly.

I have not seen this color on any recommended color palette by any artist. It is a color you can mix using variations of cerulean, but there is something about seeing the tube and the tiny squirt on my palette that makes me happy! It’s ready to get mixed, ready to do its job. My palette feels naked without it!

I remember as a kid, going to Lake George Village in the Adirondacks in New York State.  My sister and I would go into souvenir shops and handle all the merchandise. We would smell the insides of the cedar boxes. We would pick out patches for our jeans and would buy a piece of turquoise jewelry. I never knew where it came from or how the gems were made, I just loved the color and besides, cool people had turquoise. Stevie Nicks wore turquoise.  I have seen turquoise waters off the island of Puerto Rico, Culebra. I have swum in the turquoise waters off Key West & Miami. They are as pleasing to be in as a preheated bed.

Flaminco Beach, Puerto Rico

While Cobalt Turquoise Light takes the spotlight, the real star is light!  Our colors get all the fame and attention “oh, the colors!”, but the reason we love color is because of light.  Light shines on color. Light gives us memories. Light gives us feelings, emotions. It gives us life and miraculous possibilities. Light gives us rich reds and bright blues. It reveals the crimson of a rich ripe strawberry or the cerulean blue of the sky on a dry summer’s day. Light is what makes the waters blue. Without light, colors would just be bumping into each other fumbling in the dark. Thank you, light, for giving me my favorite color. Okay, I must ask, what’s your favorite color?