Flip the paper over and try again.

Out of 10 watercolor paintings I produce, about half will turn out subpar, and some will go straight into my personal Salon des Refusés (keep them, it helps to see what progress you’ve made). In the last few months, I’ve observed my painting practices to see if there was a correlation between my technique and the bad batches I produce. Here’s what I noticed:

  1. Not being in a “happy painting mood” and wanting to be done already doesn’t produce any masterpieces.
  2. Trying to make a painting work won’t turn it into a masterpiece. At least for me, it won’t. If anything the painting will look overworked, and there will be more muddy colors than usual.

I would like to offer a solution to my fellow painters vexed by the same problem:

Flip the paper over and paint the same scene again or paint an entirely different subject!

Artist-grade watercolor paper has sizing on both sides (check the label); there is no reason why a sheet of watercolor paper can’t showcase two paintings. You will not only notice that your painting style will be a bit more relaxed because you trick your mind into thinking it’s only for practice, you also might feel less guilty (I know I do) of having wasted expensive watercolor paper on a blah painting. I’ve used this method over the last few weeks on paintings I didn’t like. Have a look:

I’m not sure if the retakes are, by default, an improvement. What the first takes on the left have in common: They are first takes, obviously. But also: not planned through and a bit restricted, for lack of a better word.

There you have it. That is my take on dealing with subpar paintings. Have you given this method a try already? Who knows, maybe one day your “two-siders” will become collectors items…

If you would like to see swatches painted out on both sides of watercolor paper, here’s a great post by artist Chris Breier.

I hope you liked this post. Thank you for stopping by. Stay safe and healthy!




  1. It’s great to see more of your work, things that you haven’t posted on the blog. I think your idea of using both sides of the paper is very sensible even though I don’t have that problem as all of my watercolor work is done in sketchbooks and not on full, half or quarter sheets. Most of your “retakes” definitely show improvements so I think you’re on target. Keep ’em coming. Be well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jeff. Although it took a little courage on my part to show some of my unsuccessful paintings. You’ve now planted the idea of using a sketchbook in my head. I might give that a try! Be well and say hello to your chairs for me 🙂


  2. What a lovely post, and so many great paintings to look at 🙂
    I can definitely recognize the points you make about the effects of not being in a painting mood and struggling to make something work.
    All the paintings I’ve made that I’m particularly pleased with has been painted with a free and untroubled mind, and almost like a “happy accident”.
    And when I try so hard to recreate it, it looks absolutely horrible 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! So it’s not just me. Painting from memory is also a tried and true fail for me. If you look closely at the collection above, you’ll see a good example (painted on student grade paper): it’s the one painting depicting a distant hill with a lake and some very tall bullrushes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it’s always appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s the opposite for me, actually 😀 Often when I try to paint something from real life I end up overworking it, and making a total mess. Lately I’ve gotten better at picking out the features I want to include, though, and not try to push everything into the scene. That was a huge lesson for me 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What good advice and I know what you mean about trying too hard and not been in the painting mood.
    If I feel things aren’t going right then I usually stop before things get worse.
    My next option is do something that’s not painting like read a book or watch a movie.
    My second option is starting another painting a day later to hopefully lift my spirit then when happy re visit original painting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve got a good few of these too, Laureen. Many of which I put out on my blog and you can see subsequent attempts at the same subject. Recently I did a painting on the back of a reject and only when I had the satisfactory result did I realise that I had cut the sheet down and it didnt fit my mounts. It took two more goes to get a decent outcome.
    I suppose we see xrays of false starts and rejects under paintings – so this is just the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Xrays of false starts” well put, Graham. I will have to go back and check your blog for “false starts” as I have never noticed them as being just that. I like your approach of painting the same subject several times until you are happy with the outcome. How do you go about it with your mounts? Do you buy the paper in bulk and make the cutout yourself or do you purchase them made to fit? If you ever decide to write a blog post on that topic, you’ve found yourself a happy reader. Have a great day and be well. — Laureen

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Laureen, I buy imperial sheets of Arches paper – 30x22ins – which I generally cut down to half and quarter imperial sizes. I have a framer who makes ash frames with mounts to fit these two sizes, plus a long format quarter imperial format ( and I buy these in bulk to keep costs down). This means in an exhibition all my frames match with a uniformity about them. I also have an odd full imperial frame and mount, to use a full sheet.
    This means that I have difficulty with any cut down sheets as they wont fit the aperture – though I suppose I could ask him to cut a mount to fit the frame and paper though it would get complicated. The point is all the frames have bendy tabs at the back, so if a painting doesnt sell, I whip it out and replace it with another and start again, again keeping costs down and logistics simple.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Graham. Thank you so much for sharing. I like how you think in terms of uniformity of frames and how they will look in a gallery setting. That would be my next step. I had some mounts cut by a framer and one alone cost about (quick run through the converter) 20 pounds. And having the painting professionally flattened adds another 20 pounds. I’m therefore thinking about investing in a pro-grade mat cutter and doing it myself if I ever participate in an exhibition or would want to sell my art. Your frames are very tasteful and harmonize well with the colors in your paintings, I had a look at them on your website.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I used to do my own framing, but when I had difficulty getting picture glass from the glass merchant I went to my present framer. I realised he could frame then cheaper than my materials cost.
        We now have a deal where every frame costs me £20 and I buy between 6 and 10 frames in a go. He also lets me use his window to display paintings – as every painting he sells, I need another frame.
        Getting someone to make the frames gives you more time to paint – there are enough distractions as it is.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Laureen, great work. I just wondered about the using both sides of the paper part. I’ve personally found three challenges in that.
    First I sometimes realize I actually have a good painting on both sides, later… and wished I had two, instead.
    The other challenge is that I can’t compare the two works side by side later, to learn, or photograph them in a collection like you did in your great photo in the story.
    And last, when I walk on and put the paper with the paintings down back in my pack. Especially in wet weather, I can’t put the next painting down there too, as the papers can’t stack front to back to avoid watercolor from one side to transfer to the other. And sometimes instead they rub against each other, from the movement of walking, messing both up 🙂 So now I always just use one side of the paper, even though the paper cost is slightly higher. Just my experience – great work you do look forward to follow you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Frits, nice to meet you! I am so glad you stopped by and shared your thoughts, especially regarding plein air painting: What a mess 🙂 I can see that you wouldn’t want to use both sides of the paper. By the way: Did you ever try to place your damp paintings in a plastic accordion folder? I wonder if that might help. I am not too bothered by not having a side-by-side comparison as I take photos of all my paintings. But there were a few instances where I, too, wish I hadn’t used both sides. Then again, in those instances, it turned out well because I flipped over the paper. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Thanks again for visiting, I’ll be sure to check out your blog too. Wishing you good health, Laureen

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Laureen, I so agree there are both good and bad things about using both sides. I’ll try the plastic accordion idea, thanks, And glad I found your site. Stay safe.
        All the best

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Great, let me know if it works out for you. I was also thinking about having some stackable container but that would probably be too bulky. I am really glad you are happy you found my blog. Best, Laureen


    1. Hi Mike. Nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by. Yes, it is part of the process. I used to throw away the “bad” ones but not anymore. They are important for evaluating one’s progress. I was looking at your blog and just love your nature scenes, and our linework is really neat! Take care, Laureen


  8. your inner critic is so kind! while yours says “subpar” mine says (or rather, used to say) “fails”. my life partner suggested i start calling them “learns”.


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