Rework or Recycle?

An artist friend gave me the idea to recycle failed paintings by using an “extreme crop”.

Over the many years I have been an artist, I have acquired a growing collection of my own paintings that I abandoned before completion because I was not happy with the direction they had taken. Some of these pieces I had invested a good amount of time in, but no matter how much attention I gave them, they just did not match the painting I had envisioned in my mind.

I had a habit of putting them aside, going ahead with other paintings and projects, but inevitably, returning to one of the unfinished pieces in my stack of abandoned paintings to see if there was any way possible to wrest a pleasing work of art from the failed piece.

An extreme crop by Ora Sorensen
An extreme crop by Ora Sorensen

This process usually ended in more frustration, wasted time, and I rarely moved a piece from the abandoned stack of unsuccessful paintings onto the wall of any gallery.

Some of my friends who are artists have similar experiences, and each one handles their “flop” paintings differently. Some artists paint out the failed image on the canvas with titanium white paint, or another opaque neutral color, and reuse the canvas for a fresh composition. I don’t like to do that because for me, the brush strokes and ridges from the old piece could show through to any new painting I would begin.

Another artist I know cuts the canvas off the stretcher bars so the bars may be reused, and then uses the canvas fabric as a colorful studio drop cloth. And one of my friends said he slashes the “misadventure” paintings and takes them to the dumpster. He said if the paintings were put in the trash, he would no longer waste mental energy reworking the compositions in his head or be tempted to waste any more time futilely trying to rescue a failed piece. He says he destroys the painting before he discards it so that his ill-fated painting does not wind up in a thrift store for a price that he would not want attributed to his work.

All these solutions make sense, but it is still hard for me to throw away or destroy a piece of art that holds hours of time, even if all attempts at rescuing the painting lead only to frustration.

An extreme crop by Ora Sorensen
An extreme crop by Ora Sorensen

But recently, an artist friend gave me the idea to recycle failed paintings by using an “extreme crop”. This is done by finding interesting areas or sub-compositions within the larger composition of the painting, and cutting these areas out of the larger piece.

That sounded like fun, so I grabbed a razor blade, a T-square, a pair of sharp scissors and some blue tape, and headed to my stack of loser paintings. I had a great time squaring off parts of the paintings that I liked and cutting them free. I cut anywhere from one to six smaller pieces from each of the abandoned paintings. So now I have a collection of small paintings I like, and I no longer feel the pull to rework the abandoned pieces that formerly stood in the corner of my studio.

Artist Ora Sorensen ( was born in New York but grew up overseas. She has owned a gallery in Delray Beach, Florida, for 20 years, and has also been represented by other galleries across the country. Sorensen now lives and paints in North Carolina, and her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.