How To Repair A Damaged Or Torn Canvas Painting

No matter how careful we are with our artwork, occasionally canvas paintings can get damaged. Some of the most famous paintings in the world have sustained damage over the years and have needed repairs made to the canvas. What at first can seem like a complete disaster, is in actual fact probably repairable, let me show you how.

First let me show you the damage that I’m going to repair. This happened when a friend who was visiting my studio accidentally knocked over a big wooden print stand, the corner of which went right through this painting as it was sitting on the floor leaning up against the wall.

how to repair a damaged canvas painting

As you can see the damage to the canvas was quite substantial, not only had the tear gone right through the painting, but the canvas had torn in two directions, both diagonally and horizontally.

how to repair a whole in a canvas painting

You can see here that the fibres of the canvas were pulled apart when the damage occurred, leaving a jagged uneven edge.

how to repair a torn canvas oil painting

If this painting were a priceless Rembrandt ( perhaps ‘Night Watch’, which has been damaged many times since it was painted in 1642 ) I would align all of the individual fibres of the canvas and glue each one back together separately. However, this painting is not a priceless Rembrandt, it’s a priceless Chris Chalk, and as he is still here to repaint the painting once the canvas is repaired, I only need to glue a patch to the back of the canvas to make the repair.

equipment needed to repair a damaged canvas painting

What you’ll need to repair a canvas painting is: a piece of canvas the same ( or at least similar) to that of the original canvas, a pair of sharp scissors, and some acid free glue (in this case PVA – Polyvinyl acetate).

PVA Polyvinyl acetate glue

First using your scissors to cut a piece of your spare canvas to make a patch. Make sure when you do this the patch is large enough to cover the damaged area of the painting, plus at least 3cm extra overlap, so that the patch can be glued to plenty of undamaged canvas around the tear. Once you’ve cut your patch to the correct size, apply PVA glue to one side of it.

fixing canvas patch to damaged oil painting

With the painting laying face-down on a clean flat hard surface, offer-up the canvas patch to the back of the painting and push it down into position. Make sure you’ve applied enough PVA glue so that every part of the patch is glued to the original canvas. If you have any excess PVC that get’s pushed out from under the patch just wipe it up with a wet cloth, PVA is water soluble and cleans-up easily.

canvas painting repair

Make sure the new patch is in the correct position and that the damaged area of the canvas is under the middle of the new patch. You can see here, because the damage to my painting was near the edge of the painting, to achieve that I’ve had to push part of my new patch under the wooden stretcher-bar.

mending a damaged canvas painting

Once the patch is placed in the correct position we need to place another flat surface down onto the back of the patch so that as the glue dries it creates a perfectly flat repair. I’m using a thin sheet of hardboard to do this.

gluing a damaged canvas painting

Again, because the damage in my case is very near the edge of the painting, I have had to push the thin sheet of hardboard I’m using between the original canvas and the wooden stretcher-bars, not just in the middle of the painting, but also on the right-hand edge.

wait for PVA glue to dry when repairing painting

Once you’ve got you patch applied and your piece of board laying flat on top of it, you need to place a weight of some description on top of that to keep everything is position and to make sure a good bond is formed between the patch and the original canvas. Once you’ve done that you need to let the PVA dry for at least 24 hours before doing anything else.

finished painting repair

Once the glue had dried and you’ve removed the piece of hardboard and the weight your repair should look something like this.

repaired oil painting

The new canvas patch should be glued to the original canvas right up to the edges. If it isn’t, and the edges of the patch can still be lifted up, you’ll need to work a little more PVA glue under the unglued edges with match stick (or something similar), replace the board and weight onto the back of the painting, and wait another 24 hours for that to dry.

front of repaired canvas painting

This is what the front of my painting looks like after the patch repair has been made to the rear.

successful painting repair job

If you look closely you can see my repair was very successful. The canvas is even and flat once again, and all the edges are lined up well. You can however see that there are some stray/loose fibres, that’s not a problem, we’ll sort that out next.

liquin oleopasto used to repair damaged canvas oil painting

To paint over the repaired area I mix a little Liquin Oleopasto medium into the paint that I use. Liquin is a medium that artists can add to oil paint and is mainly used to speed up drying times in every day oil paining, Oleopasto is just a much thicker form of this medium and helps to fill in any indentations in the repaired area as I repaint.

perfect repair of a damaged and torn canvas painting

One of the keys to repainting a canvas like this is to repaint more than just the repaired area. Like with all painting, looseness/tightness of brushwork should match that of the rest of the painting, in my case other parts of my painting are painted with quite thick loose paint, namely the foreground wall and rocks, so this new more thickly painted area doesn’t stand out. You can see I continued repainting across the horizon line so that it all matched the newly repaired area – you might say the repair is hidden in plain sight. I used a palette knife to mix the new paint/oleopasto mix, and put the paint on quite thickly and deliberately uneven.

repaired oil painting torn canvas

Here is the final result; a permanent repair and will last as long as the rest of the painting, and one that is unnoticeable unless one looks at the back of the painting to see the patch. Of course when selling a repaired painting like this it goes without saying you should tell the buyer.

See the framed repaired canvas painting here

If you have any questions just get in touch.

Chris

 

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20 thoughts on “How To Repair A Damaged Or Torn Canvas Painting

  1. Liz

    If you were to repair an acrylic painting, do you still need to use a medium of some sort with the paint I wonder?

    • You could use something like Daler Rowney Texture Paste, Liz. Really, the liquin medium is only there to aid levelling the canvas, you could just use think paint, but it’s easier with a medium added.

  2. Sergio Mariscal

    Hi Chris thanks for sharing this secret with the world.
    Now will it be the same treatment to add more canvas to an existing paint? I have a painting that I would like to add more canvas to for I painted all the way to the edges and if I put stretchers to it the painted subject will go all the way to the edges and part of the head will be hidden on the top strecher. The canvas measures 6 by 4 feet.
    Thank you chris

    • Hi Sergio, If, when wrapped around stretcher bars, the subject is too close to the canvas edge, I would suggest gluing the canvas to a piece of hardboard or MDF, then you can show/frame the whole painting without any being lost in the wrapping process. I do not think the method I described above would work for enlarging a canvas with new canvas strips, the additional canvas might not withstand the pressures involved when wrapped around stretcher bars. Hope that helps, Chris

  3. Kim kikuts

    Hello, I have a painting that had some water damage and the canvas became brittle fraying and torn around the edges of the canvas where the wood frame had contact. I need to repair edges and restretch it to a frame. Do you have any suggestions or resources to help me do that? Thanks

    • Hi Kim, it may be wise to remove the canvas from the stretcher and apply ( glue ) additional canvas on the back of the damaged edging, to strengthen/reinforce it. It would be better to fix new canvas to the back of the entire painting/canvas, and include the danged area. Then when re-stretched onto the stretcher the strain would no longer be on that damaged area.
      Chris

  4. Lynn Waltke

    I’ve just discovered your info on how to repair a tear in a large canvas.
    I was getting ready to first sand the oil painted ripped canvas, then gesso then repaint.
    I see you use some oleopasto liquin with no mention of sanding or gesso.
    Do you prefer your method and why might it be better than what I just described: sanding, gesso, repaint?
    It sounds much easier. I just want it to look like the original as I’ve had my photographer make CDs of it for entries. Thanks much!!

    • Hi Lynn, Sanding, gessoing and repainting will work just as well. I used oleopasto because I’d used it in the original painted area, before the damage, therefore to make the repair match I used it again. Hope your repair went well. Chris

  5. Kinsey

    Hi Chris~ Do you have any tips on acrylic peeling or being torn off? One of my paintings was unfortunately stored folded in half exposing dried acrylic to acrylic.The top and bottom of the painting stuck and there has been a lot of peeling/ sticking… I hope there is cure! I’m so upset.

    • Hi Kinsey, That’s a shame. Damage to acrylic like that is not repairable, but you can re-paint those areas damaged by the folding/sticking. Any acrylic still left on the painting that is flaking and coming away from the canvas/paper would need to be removed also, before repainting. It’s a pain, but I’m sure you can do it. Chris

  6. Crista

    Hi Chris, I have an original 1904 Harry Roseland oil painting. Sadly, it was damaged in a way very similar to the one pictured above however it is torn in two areas. Do you have any suggestions as to where or who I should take it to? What would you do if you don’t mind me asking?

    • Hi Crista, If your Harry Roseland painting is worth a considerable amount of money I would suggest NOT trying a repair yourself, but searching for ‘art conservators’ locally, failing that ask for referrals to good art conservators from a museum or organisations responsible for cultural material locally. If however the painting isn’t worth the cost of this, you could carry out a repair as detailed above, but bear in mind the paint will be old on your painting and very hard to match. Chris

  7. Katen

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your info about the canvas repairs as I’ve just had an oil painting returned from a show with a hole in it! It has already been varnished so do I need to remove the varnish first before repainting using the liquin oleopasto and if so how would you recommend removing the varnish.

    • Hi Katen, It depends on what sort of varnish you used, if you used re-touching varnish you can paint over it, if you used a more permanent varnish you’d need to remove it first. You should be able to remove the old varnish with a rag dipped in turpentine, make sure you don’t remove any, or too much, of the painting though ~ Chris

  8. Samantha

    Hi Chris, I have an acrylic painting that looks like it has some heat damage. The painting blistered/bubbled in some spots. Do you by chance know how I could fix it or if there is anyone who does that kind of work?

    • Hi Samantha, it sounds like the painting was not painted by yourself, in which case it would need to be re-painted over the damaged area by a competent artist. If the painting is varnished, that would need to be removed first, which can be done by rubbing off the varnish with a rag dipped in turpentine usually. Not knowing where you are, I would suggest googling ‘art restorers’ locally, or contacting your local museum and asking for art restorers detail, they usually used these services ~ Chris

  9. Gaynor Laight

    Hi Chris
    Thank you for the information. What are you thoughts on using beeswax instead of PVA, but then again would it be as stable as PVA? I have a small oil painting with a small tear, and I am quite nervous about repairing though I have done it before but a long time ago, I will just to take the bull by the horns. Thank you once again

    • Hi Gaynor, I’m not sure beeswax will work, I’ve not tried it, but I doubt it has the adhesive strength to cope with the stretch of the canvas. Let me know how you get on if indeed you do use it though ~ Chris

  10. Gaynor

    Hi Chris thank you for your reply. I am afraid I chose the PVA and it does look good, all I have to do now is to retouch the paintwork using your advice, but will probably be nowhere as good as yours. It is a small area only, so will take my time. Once again thank you.

    • You’re welcome Gaynor, and good work ~ Chris

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