What to do with bad paintings

We’ve traveled a ton the past few years, and we’ve moved several times, too. Hanging art is always our last step in settling in, which means we’ve still got a few pieces leaning in a corner, six-plus months after being in our current digs.

I was recently flipping through our art and bumped in to this one. It makes me smile every time. I think we’ll update it soon and give it the same procedure we did the first time—which is what this post is about. It’s from several years ago, and I almost never write about things like this, but really, it’s a non-craft craft. It’s making art with kids. It takes almost so planning beyond keeping your eye open at thrift stores.

Maybe you need this smidge of inspiration this week?


I bought this ridiculously ugly painting at Goodwill awhile back:

Hear me out.

I actually passed it by several times, not giving it a second thought. It was priced at $30, which was, to me, overpriced for a painting that looked like it belonged in a hotel lobby in 1983.

But then the voice on the PA system said purple tags were half off that day. The painting had a purple tag. I kept shopping, browsing the kids’ clothes, the furniture, the plates, but the painting was stuck on my brain. I left without it. I mean… it was hideous.

I returned home, unloaded the car, and told Kyle I needed to go back, get one more thing. I paid for the purple beast and finagled it around the carseats, barely closing the trunk.

See, I wanted it for only reason: it’s huge.

I remembered a post from my friend Meredith ages ago, when she bought a Craiglist painting and immediately had buyer’s remorse. But she rectified it by having her daughter paint on top, and it looked amazing. Because it’s huge:

Photo from Like Merchant Ships

So I bought the 1983 hotel painting because of its size—canvases that size are really, really expensive. Definitely more than $15. Plus, this one had a nice frame.

I first painted a layer of basic latex primer.

This is also when I realized the painting was 3D.

Then I painted several coats of acrylic paint, just to give it a blank slate. I chose Robin’s Egg Blue from Craft Smart that I bought at Michael’s. Less than $1.

And then I let Tate go to town. I only gave her colors I’d be okay with hanging on the wall, and would look okay if they smeared and blended together.

The whole family ultimately chipped in and added a bit of artistry, and ended up with this random-yet-not-shabby original piece of art.

Tate calls it “A Windy Spring Day.” I like it.

It’s now hanging in our dining room.

It’s random, but I like the splash of color it adds to our dining room. I also like that it’s original art, created by us. And that it cost about $20 total. And that it’s better than the mauve disaster of its inception.

I love reusing instead of buying new, and I’ll hang a one-of-a-kind painting over a cookie cutter print any day.

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. What an awesome idea!

  2. Fantastic! My dad did something similar to a printed canvas years ago. He paid mayb $5 for it, then spray painted over it with a denim blue. You can barely see the original image of birds flying behind the blue. It’s pretty neat. I currently have a canvas that I got for free drying in my hobby room right now. It had a gaudy tree painted on it with circles all around. It was thrown away at my Thrift Store because of a tiny tear, but I just taped up the tear from the back and Gesso’d all over the canvas. When it’s done drying I’ll attempt to put something worthy of hanging on it!

  3. I LOVE this idea. How fun for the kids to have original artwork displayed in such a classy way.

  4. This is absolutely brilliant! Plus, its gorgeous! Would love to hang it in my house!

  5. I looked at your pastels and thought hmmm pastel colours ick, then I see the painting and it really works. I liked the baby for size and cuteness 🙂 cheers Kim

  6. Hello Tsh,
    This is such a cool idea! I love it!
    This reminds me of an article in a design magazine. Children made paintings by copying famous painters’ artworks in their own style. It really looked beautiful.
    Have a nice day,
    Natacha (blogging from Luxembourg)

    • My daughter did that in school last year! I’ve got a frame ready for her rendering of Henri Matisse’s Goldfish. I loved it so much I decided we’re going to do that every year at home.

      • In 3rd grade my son coppied VanGogh’s Stary Night. It’s fantastic, and still hanging in our home ten years later, a treasured heirloom IMHO.

        • LOOOOVE this idea- thank you all! Just hopped over from Money Saving Mom- and was thinking, if you ever want to change out the artwork you could take a picture of this masterpiece, turn it into a canvas, and paint over the original again for a new look. Happy New Year!

  7. Love it! We’ll have to try that sometime. We’ve got a big white wall just waiting for some original artwork 🙂

  8. That’s a really, really great idea. I wish I had a wall big enough to use it on. 🙂

  9. WOW! I love that! It is beautiful. What a great idea. Thanks for the inspiration, I never would have thought to do that. I’m going to give it a try!

  10. Fabulous Idea!!! I will have to remember this next time I go to Goodwill or yard sale-ing. Thanks for sharing it.

  11. Seriously an awesome idea. Love it! I don’t think I would have thought of this idea & would have most likely passed up the piece at the store …thanks for the inspiration!

  12. That’s a really great idea!

  13. I did this on a smaller scale, but made the “artwork” into a chalkboard and magnet board. I painted over the art with chalkboard and magnet board paint, and now have a really neat chalk/magnet board that the kids love.

  14. What a fabulous idea!

    I have 3 small, square canvases that I liked YEARS ago and now are hiding on the wall behind my bedroom door because they’re too ugly to go anywhere … but I knew I needed inspiration – THIS is the inspiration 🙂

  15. You are a genius! What a great idea. Beautiful artwork and created by someone you love!
    I love the baby on the table for size. You can tell he thinks he’s something because he is doing something he probably doesn’t get to do, lol, climbing on the table!

  16. THIS IS GENIUS!!!! I can’t wait to do this for my oldest. She will LOVE the huge canvass!

  17. Amazing! That is a GREAT idea! You make me want to bargain shop for a huge ugly painting!

  18. I remember seeing Meredith’s post and thinking, “I NEED to do this!” So it’s been two years, has it? Guess I really need to hop on this soon.

    Tate’s turned out stunning. I could definitely see it in a gallery. And the name is so perfect!

  19. Hannah D. says:

    Very cool! I wondered what you were going to do with that find, and I didn’t realize from yr FB photo that it was so huge!

  20. What a cool idea. I LOVE it! I am definitely going to try it some time. Ooo… maybe I’ll use chalkboard paint and it can be ever changing art 🙂 My newest idea for art was to take my own pictures from our trip to the zoo and using my photo program change them into colored pencil sketches for some decoration in my little guys room. They turned out pretty awesome. I have a little bit of an animal theme in his bedding so I thought the pix would add a nice personal touch. Now I just need to find some cheap big frames to paint and extra poster board to make some mats and I’ll be able to hang them on the wall. Yeah for finally finding art for the nursery after only 2 years haha!

  21. Really cool idea. I had to pin it on Pintrest. 🙂

  22. That is such a great idea!

  23. I love this. I’ve been wanting a large canvas, but they are expensive! I will be vintage shopping now!! Thanks.

  24. LOVE this idea! Awesome job!

  25. Tiffany Larson says:

    I love reusing paintings! I had a huge framed painted canvas that I got tired of looking at everyday. So I turned it into a giant chalkboard that we use everyday. I LOVE it!

  26. “Random”!? On the contrary, this is a beautiful piece of work that you should all be proud of. I have been looking to display my own daughter’s art in a way that is a real tribute to her (what I think are) natural talents…and this is perfect! One of the things I love most about this is the size…awesome!
    Thanks for sharing.

  27. Seriously awesome execution of a seriously brilliant idea. I’m already scoping out the wall space and will be on the lookout for a hideous piece of art to upcycle.

    My favorite kind of wall art is textile–embroidery in hoops, wall quilts, weavings, etc. I just love texture on a wall. I’ve been planning to build a simple loom in an old frame, put out a basket of chunky yarns and fabric strips and let the family create something. I have some framed quilt squares made by my great, great grandmother. I also have a nice (but small) collection of artist friends work (watercolors and photographs) work, bought at local art & craft fairs. Unless you are going to be a serious collector, it’s so much better than random art in my opinion.

  28. I just wanted to add a historical perspective on this–artists have been doing this for centuries! Back before you could pop out to Michael’s for a fresh canvas, artist would paint over their earlier works, buy up cheap street art, or rummage for cast offs from wealthier artists for canvases to paint over. You and Meredith are in good company.

    • Interesting! I never knew that.

      • The benefits of 2 years of Art History. 🙂

        • Also makes me wonder what amazing works of art lie beneath other amazing works of art.

          Probably not the purple hideousness I painted over.

          • Probably not but lost Van Goghs and Wyeth’s, just to name a few, have been found this way using x-rays and radiography. And I seem to remember an Antiques Road show where someone founds a VERY valuable painting under the chipping off paint of something they bought at a garage sale or found in the attic or something.

  29. It’s beautiful, all the more so because it’s personal to your family. I love the colours. I hope your daughter is very proud of her creation.

  30. What a great idea- and it came out beautiful too

  31. donna attaway says:

    AWESOME!! You are a smart Mama who knows how to promote creativity in your kids…plus decorate while you are at it!!!

  32. Wow! I LOVE that!

  33. I did something similar (but made the mistake of buying a blank canvas) and let me then 4-year-old go to town. She’s now 10, and we still get lots of compliments on the painting. She even did some other paintings for friends. By the way….rolling golf balls or driving a play truck over the canvas adds a lot of texture.

  34. Tsh, what fortuitous timing! I’m looking for the right painting to hang over our couch at the new house (the commercial, European themed pring I had before just will not do anymore). Last weekend, I discussed it with my artistic decorator mom and she suggested I do exactly what you wrote about here! I wasn’t sure how to go about it, though, and felt a bit intimidated by starting from scratch on a huge canvas. But after reading your post, I think I’ll give it a whirl. What have I got to lose?! Now back to the thrift stores! 🙂

  35. That is an awesome idea!!

  36. I nearly snorted my coffee out my nose when I read, “This is also when I realized the painting was 3D.” Such awesomeness out of such ugliness. And a wonderful title. If you have to leave that one behind when you next move overseas, please leave it somewhere I can find it. =)

  37. I did almost the same thing:
    You have quite a little artist there! It looks magnificent there in your kitchen! If you bought that canvas blank it would have cost more than what you paid! Success! LOVE it!!

  38. Awesome idea! I love it! Now I’ll be on the lookout for a huge ugly painting! 🙂

  39. So artistic – which I am not! But I think I will be on the lookout for big ugly paintings – who would have thought? Thanks so much for the idea!!!

  40. I LOVE it! I now know what I want to do with the large empty wall in our family room! Seriously, thank you for such a terrific idea!

  41. That turned out very well! As I was reading this, however, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder how many people will comment on the baby being on the table?’ *gasp!* LOL. 🙂

  42. This is a great idea, thanks! I’ve done something similar with a smaller canvas, and I’d love to try it on a pre-owned, super large canvas. My boys would love to have lots space to “express themselves.” 🙂

  43. Oh, yeah!!!!!! Love your daughter’s art work and big paintings rock. I’m an artist. I need to make a big painting. Goodwill here I come.


  44. I’ve had that idea in the back of my mind since I read Meredith’s posts too! Love your version as well. I think my boys would be into it at their current ages. I’ll have to look for some bad art now. 🙂

  45. Love it! What a great idea…I’ll be keeping my eyes out for something similar now. 🙂

  46. FANTASTIC> I currently have four 10×10 canvases from Michael’s craft store that I am painting and decoupaging to hang together above our bed. I like this idea better. Going to shop for big ugly paintings…BRILLIANT.

  47. What a fabulous idea! I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with the big blank wall in my dining room. Next time I see a giant painting at the thrift store I’m going to buy it!
    I love the whimsical abstract-ness and I love that it became a family project!

  48. Brilliant!

  49. When I started reading your story, I had no idea that it was going to end in such a cool way! Great idea for decorating!! I must bookmark for future reference.

  50. Genius! I was thinking of Craigslist’ing a bunch of old canvases yesterday but the same thought occurred to me that my daughter could use them for painting. I didn’t think to take it to the next step, as an actual painting for our walls. Great idea!

  51. THAT is a really cool idea! How fun for you all!

  52. Great idea! Can’t wait until my little guy is big enough to go to town on some art projects 🙂

  53. LIKE!!

  54. Awesome! I love it. I have a piece of original art hanging in my room behind our bed compliments of our kids. I bought a large canvas when it was on sale at Micheals, then took latex paint that matched my room decor and let the the kids start painting. It turned out great and I love that’s it’s done by my kids. Now that I’ve seen yours I just might do it again!

  55. I love this. Great idea. My little artists would love a chance at such a large canvas.

  56. Very cool idea!! Beats spending hundreds of dollars on a painting. I don’t like expensive stuff like that in my home anyway as my toddlers would probably find a way to destroy it.

  57. I LOVE this idea! What an awesome way to upcycle something into a masterpiece that [literally] has your fingerprints all over it 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  58. I LOVE it! Does your daughter paint on commission? 😉

    I have a few art pieces that I no longer love or doesn’t go with our current decor. I might have to try this project – IF I get the courage, I’m seriously challenged when it comes to any kind of artwork!

    On another note, I’ve been enjoying your ebook One Bite at a Time and tackled Project 7: Downsize your book and magaine collection this weekend.

    • Awesome! I’m so glad you like it. That’s a good project to start with because it’s got a definite end to it. Hope you have more shelf space now!

  59. Love this idea! Did you take the frame off before hand? Those can be a real bummer to remove sometimes!

    • Not the canvas frame, just the surrounding frame, if that makes sense. Kyle did it, and he had no trouble at all.

  60. I love it!!! A family painting that is soooo creative and so great for your family.
    Five Gold Stars!!!!

  61. Well, shoot. I passed by a purple-tagged, ugly, huge painting just yesterday at the thrift store. Must have been from the same 1980’s hotel. Now I wished I got it…

  62. My favorite is painting on old windows. I just gesso (prime) the whole top, and then paint over with acrylics. Often, I find myself mixing colors for a background and painting a silouhette in the foreground (an overhead projector comes in really handy for the giant sizes!) Super easy and fun, but when you’re done, you have to remember there’s GLASS under there, which is a little nerve-wracking, but adds a ton of character. I wish I knew a way to stabilize the glass (maybe from the backside?)… Once a family was getting all new windows (in Nashville, TN) and gave me a truckload of the old ones!

  63. I LOVE this idea. Love love love love. This is definitely something that I can see doing with my kids (when they’re big enough to not eat the paint, that is).

  64. Tsh, that is adorable! Love it!

  65. That turned out INCREDIBLY well! I love it! I’ve never seen a painting that big at our Goodwill, but now I am really going to keep my eyes open for one.

  66. Hey I feel this is one of the best methods of using the bad paintings I have ever come across to make the worst to the best is something that we can never do. But this thought of mine has proved me wrong after reading the post. Thanks for the information.

  67. I love this idea! At first I was thinking, “there is no bad art”. Now I am thinking, wow I want to go find some old canvases at Good Will and try this myself! How fun.

  68. Now instead of looking for art I can look for canvases in the right size and make my own! Great idea, thanks for sharing.

  69. What a great idea and what a gorgeous painting! I may have to suggest this to my daughter and husband as they would love a project like this and we are always looking for interesting art to hang on the walls.

  70. I LOVE it! What a neat idea! And how fun to have something like that hanging in your house.
    Uh… can your kids make me one?

  71. First of all let me get up from giving a bow!!! This is the neatest idea evah! The size, the outcome & the fact it was a family activity ! Nice!

  72. Beautiful wonderful idea

  73. WOW! That is such an awesome idea! I haven’t bought any canvasses or paints since moving cross country. I will def buy some “ugly art” next time I pass a thrift shop. What a great idea to give new life to something so ugly! LOL!

  74. What a great idea!! Seriously! I love it! I’ll be on the lookout for an ugly painting now! Never thought I’d be shopping for that!

  75. I love this idea! My budding artist would love it as well! Thanks for sharing!

  76. Sheer brilliance!

  77. I actually didn’t mind the original painting… but I am not really a still life kind of art girl. I just liked the colors! I am way more of an abstract person, and love the new design your family put together.


  78. i’ve always wanted to do this. thanks for your example and tutorial. i’ll be on the lookout at my local goodwill for a monster canvas! 🙂

  79. Awesome idea and a beautiful painting! I’d say Tate has a real talent!

  80. Kate, your painting is absolutely gorgeous. But I do have to give everyone a caveat. If you apply an acrylic over an oil based paint (say the original painting was an oil painting), it will eventually start peeling off. We learned in art school, oil is ok over acrylic (gesso treatment of the canvas), acrylic is never ok over oils.

  81. Genius!!!!!!!

  82. Tsh, it looks wonderful! I’m honored that you found a little inspiration in our project and hope it brings your room the same happy feelings that ours does.

  83. Oh, Lovely!!! Great idea for decoration and nice for the kids to have one of their master pieces hanging at home with style!

  84. Your daughter came up with that name? You just may have a writer on your hands! Thanks for sharing a great idea!

  85. amazing! i love everything about this!

  86. I had the same idea last week to buy an old ugly picture in a gorgeous frame to give a makeover. When I got the monster out of the car at home, my landlady was there and started gushing over how lovely the picture was. Very awkward moment!

    My painting is in oil paint though, so taking Jane’s advice, I might just be salvaging the frame.

    Your project turned out really well. It was a very clever idea to give your daughter the colours you were happy with – she did a fantastic job and you had a guarantee the colour scheme would suit.

  87. This is absolutely amazing, great idea!

  88. LOVE IT! Your daughter did a FABULOUS job! I don’t think I could have painted something that nice!
    What a wonderful idea!
    Thanks for sharing!


    I remember Meredith’s post, and I was excited to see her comment above. Meredith – where are you? I miss you. Your blog was one of the first I ever added to my reader, and you always inspired me.

    Sorry to hijack the comments, but I really have missed LMS. And I also really love Simple Mom, too. 🙂

  90. Thank you for inspiring me to do this! What an awesome idea! 🙂 I can’t wait to find old paintings now!

  91. now I’ll be on the lookout for a huge painting.. thank you!

  92. Wow! Love the idea. I’d do that to my old unfinished huge painting.
    Love your house too 🙂

  93. I am SO inspired! thank you for sharing this. (Probably the first time I’ve ever commented on a post that I found via Stumble.)

  94. We just completed a project like this as well! My sister, an avid painter, had collected together a random collection of cheap canvases over the years, always claiming that she would eventually do something with them! But time has flown by and up until last week she hadn’t really put any use to them, she had dabbled, trying different things out leaving them marked and messed up. That was when my mother and I came up with a family project that would last after I moved out of the house. The nine random canvas shapes were all black glossed and then covered with different kinds of art work from each of the three girls. I, personally, am into contemporary renditions of everyday objects and have had a recent faze of bold, block feathers. My sister, Raven, is a manga artist, and the youngest Finch is into splatter painting and anything messy! What we got was a massive collage on the 22 foot square wall of our kitchen! It looks stunning and is a massive mix of all our personalities in one! I love recovering canvas!

  95. very fun idea, my daughter who is 26 paints murals,and the painting she did for me,outstands any painting i would buy in a gallery,do to the fact its from her heart

  96. I am uber impressed & in awe of your creativity! I want That kind of inspirational spark! Gorgeous colors, too!

  97. I gave my girlfriend 6+ framed prints and later discovered she had painted directly over the GLASS!!! It looked fantastic! I never woulda thought about doing that!!!

  98. Wow! I love that painting! Are your kids for hire? 😉 Great idea!

  99. I liked the old one better.

  100. That is a seriously cool and sensible use of a bad painting – so novel! I was wondering where you were going with it – but I love it! I will suggest this idea to a couple of friends whose kids love to paint.

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