How to Paint Over an Acrylic Painting?

By Mandy Moss

Sometimes your painting is simply not going as planned. You see one glaring mistake, or the entire project is not at all what you envisioned. The colors are off. Or maybe you have a canvas you don’t want to get rid of, or you don’t happen to have an extra lying around when inspiration strikes.

Do you have to throw the whole thing away and start from scratch? No! The solution? Paint over an acrylic painting.

How to Paint Over an Acrylic Painting

Can You Repaint an Acrylic Painting?

Yes, you can! There are two easy methods that will allow you to paint over an acrylic painting. This can save you time, save your canvas, and save on costly materials if you can avoid having to start from scratch. It might even save you a little sanity along the way.

How Soon Can You Recoat Acrylic Paint?

One of the most notable characteristics of acrylic paint is its quick drying time Depending on the thickness of your paint, the drying time can be as little as ten minutes for a very thin coat to one day for a thicker, all-over coat. Between 2-4 hours is a common suggestion to allow for proper drying. 

A few other factors that influence the drying time of acrylic paint include:

  • Temperature.
  • Humidity.
  • Air circulation.

If you want to speed up – or even slow down– the drying time, you can manipulate these conditions to get the results you desire. Check my post, how to dry acrylic paint for more info.

If you like to work wet-on-wet, you’ll have to work faster, but the addition of some water will help. However, be sure not to add too much water as it will break down the paint. Luckily, with acrylics, because of the fast drying time, the colors will not muddy and subsequent layers can be added without disturbing the previous ones.

How to Paint Over an Acrylic Painting?

Another advantage of acrylics is that you can easily paint over your mistakes.  If you have only one small area that you are unhappy with, you can simply reapply acrylic directly over that spot.

If you decide to start your painting over altogether or you want to paint over an existing acrylic painting in order to be able to create a completely new one, you can either:

  • Paint over the canvas with acrylic paint, most likely titanium white, in a couple of thin layers.


  • Cover the painting with gesso.
what is Gesso?

What is Gesso?

Gesso is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, and is used to prepare your surface for painting.  The main use for gesso is to prime your canvas in order to prevent paint from soaking into the weave of the canvas.

Gesso can be a real star in your supply arsenal as it can be used for more than priming a canvas. You can also gesso other surfaces, such as vinyl records, wood or paper, and then start painting with your acrylics. 

TIP: You can mix gesso with your acrylics to get a more opaque look and add interest to your painting. Try mixing gesso with acrylic paint instead of using white paint to lighten up a color.   

How Do You Gesso Over a Painting? 

It’s a pretty straightforward process to gesso over an acrylic painting. First you’ll need some supplies, and, with the exception of the gesso, you’re likely to already have them all:

Supplies Needed:

  • Gesso
  • Wide, flat brush. The bigger your surface, the bigger brush you will need.
  • Fine-grit sandpaper.
  • Container to pour gesso in.
  • Large board/ covered surface for you to lay your canvas flat for painting. 

Step One:

Very important:  Always make sure your acrylic painting is completely dry before applying the gesso.

Step Two:

For a super smooth surface, use a fine-grit sandpaper and sand down the acrylic, specifically any little bumps or peaks. You may need a hand sander for a very thick acrylic layer, but be sure not to use coarse grain sandpaper, only a fine grit.

Step Three:

Pour some gesso in a small container/bowl and stir.

Step Four:

Using your brush, brush even strokes of the gesso onto your sanded surface.

Step Five:

Allow time for the gesso to dry. Depending on the temperature where you are, the gesso could be dry in as little as ten minutes. You can add additional layers of gesso if you need to but remember to dry completely between layers. This is especially important if you are going to be sanding in between applying layers of gesso.  

TIP: If you are doing multiple gesso layers, paint one layer with vertical strokes and the following layer with horizontal strokes to give the surface a better tooth and also to give complete coverage .

Step Six:

One the gesso is dry, break out those acrylics and start painting again! 

TIP: If you want to increase the opacity mix a touch of titanium white paint into the gesso. 

Where Do I Get Gesso?

Gesso is readily available at any art supply store or big retail arts & crafts chains.  It comes in small containers and large tubs, which are more affordable if you find gesso is a product you want to continually use or if you tend to work on larger canvases.  

Amazon also sells a good selection including this one from Liquitex. This gesso has great opacity so you can use less and not have to do as many layers of gesso, it dries quickly and evenly, and cleans up nicely.

TIP: This is a white gesso but you can also buy black, clear and colored gesso. You can also tint your gesso to make any color you want. Just mix a little acrylic paint into the gesso.  
If you want to add texture to your painting, similar to an Impasto technique, instead of using layers and layers of your precious paint you can purchase a thicker, heavier gesso like this super heavy variety, also from Liquitex. It is great for applying sculptural effects to the canvas with a brush or palette knife. Using a pallet knife, you are able to spread it and press and lift, giving you texture without having to use your paints to achieve the same look.

Do I Have to Gesso Over a Painting if I Want to Reuse It?

You do not have to gesso over a painting to reuse it, but it may be the best option for you. If you want to get back to a bright, white canvas, using gesso would be your best bet. It does take more time to gesso properly since it usually requires at least two coats, more if you sand in between each layer, but you’ll end up with a practically brand new canvas.  

If you don’t have any gesso, you could simply cover the existing painting with acrylic paint, usually titanium white.  Titanium white is opaque. You can also do a mixture of acrylic paint and gesso to cover over the acrylic painting. 

TIP: Try mixing carbon black with titanium white and gesso to get an opaque light gray surface.  Experiment and see what works best for you and your painting.

Keep in mind the price of your supplies, though.  One drawback with painting over with your acrylics could be the cost. Depending on the size of your canvas, it simply may be more affordable to use gesso and save your paint for your artwork.

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