How to Repurpose Your Old Sketches into New Artwork

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

The old masters did it. Some new masters do it. I’ve done it more than once and I’ll bet you have, too.

What is it? Recycling artwork, of course. It’s quite easy to paint a new picture over an old picture. A little bit of sanding and fresh paint is all it takes.

And you can do the same for your colored pencil sketches and drawings, too. There are all kinds of ways to find new uses for old art. In my case, I like to re-purpose sketches by developing them into completed drawings.

Here’s an example. This is what I call a quick sketch. . . I drew it in about 30 minutes.


The sketch turned out nicely, so I packaged it and offered it for sale at every horse show and art show I attended afterward. It got a lot of interest—who wouldn’t be interested in a blue horse—but it never sold.

A couple years later, I was looking for something to work on and came across this sketch. I passed it by, then went back to it. After a few moments of consideration, I decided to turn the sketch into a drawing and see what happened.

If you’re interested in doing the same thing, here are some tips that may help:

1. Reference the original photo or subject

I still had the reference photo, so my first step was laying down some of the base colors I saw there. I alternated glazes of burnt ochre and yellow ochre applied with light pressure and very sharp pencils. Color was applied in directional strokes following the pattern of hair growth where appropriate and closely spaced circular strokes in the eyes.

The base color for the black areas was cool grey 50%. Once the base colors were in place, I darkened shadows in the brown areas with sepia and in the black or gray areas with black.


In the illustration above, the ears show the initial glazes. The shoulders and chest have one or two additional layers and the head is the most complete after several layers.

2. Make corrections when you see problems

Sometimes finishing an old sketch means taking two steps forward and one step back. Such was the case with this drawing. It didn’t take long to realize the body and hindquarters were a distraction, so I removed them, alternating between a soft eraser and a harder click eraser.

The coat color was also too brown, so I layered mineral orange over it. The only areas I didn’t glaze were the brightest highlights. Color was applied with light pressure and a variety of strokes.


Lastly, I lifted as much color as possible from the ears using masking tape. (You can see that one ear has been lightened.)

3. Build up your colors and contrast

The next step was all about developing color and color saturation. I used black, dark brown, yellow ochre, burnt ochre, and jasmine in the ears. I suited strokes to each area, using the length and type of stroke most likely to produce the results I wanted quickly.

I darkened the eyes with black, brightened highlights with blue slate, sky blue light, and white, and added eye color with yellow ochre and burnt ochre. Again, I used tiny, circular strokes and increased pressure with each layer, burnishing the final layer.


For the hair, I used white, sky blue light, cream, jasmine, yellow ochre, burnt ochre, and burnt sienna. Color was applied with medium to heavy pressure using strokes that mimicked hair growth.

4. Make it look finished and add a background

For me, finishing a piece often requires a series of color applications, each one followed by rubbing alcohol in order to blend it with the other colors. (I use a bristle brush to apply the alcohol and move liquified pigment on the paper, then wait at least a half hour for it to dry before doing another layer.)

Ordinarily, an alcohol blend works best when there’s a lot of color on the paper because pigments blend and mix more easily. But the right shoulder in this drawing is the result of an alcohol blend with only a few layers of color. The result looks almost like watercolor and has an appeal all its own.

Other important details included adding a reflected light over the right eye by burnishing sky blue light over the contour, and warming up my shadow colors with a glaze of Bruynzeel sanguine at medium pressure, then darkening them with dark brown.

For the background, I added several layers of sienna brown applied with light pressure in a closely-spaced cross hatching pattern working from the bottom of the drawing to about half way up. I then added mineral orange from the bottom to about 3/4 of the way. Then I switched to blue slate and applied the same type of strokes with the same or slightly heavier pressure from the top down and burnished with sky blue light at the top and cream at the bottom.


I ended this step by blended the background with rubbing alcohol. I used a stiff bristle brush and scrubbed alcohol into all of the drawing but the head. When the paper was well saturated, I was able to pull color into blank paper and tint those areas. When I was satisfied with the result, I let it dry.

5. Take a break, then check your work

After coming back to my drawing I didn’t change much.

I simply burnished most of the background with white and most of the foal with mineral orange, cream, and dark brown. Then I tidied up the ears and forelock with dark brown, added a few highlights around the eyes and muzzle and drew chin whiskers, and blended the background with rubbing alcohol and a large sable flat brush.

Once the alcohol was completely dry, I sprayed the entire drawing with retouch varnish and it was done.

If you’ve got a pile of old sketches that are just collecting dust, try pulling one out and “re-purposing” it this week to make it more appealing and more marketable. The result may astound you. . . after finishing this particular drawing, it sold fairly quickly—and yours could too!


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