Why I'm painting over my old artwork

“Don’t look back unless it’s to see how far you’ve come” is a fairly common quote seen basically everywhere. Variations have been said by a million different people, for a lot of different reasons.

Today I’m saying it to break the ice about why I’m painting over my old artwork.

mixed media painting in Oregon

I have been painting since I was a child, but in 2010 I had a sudden insight into what would become my signature painting style. It was one of those odd moments where you can almost hear the PING! ring out above your head. It sounds silly, but a can of leftover gold spray paint changed the last nine years of my painting life.


I started going through my old paintings in October 2018. I had just moved to a new house and was in a new studio space. To organize and make room for new things, old things needed to go!

But I’m not as heartless or wasteful as to throw away canvases I had one time dearly loved. I separated 39 finished paintings, all from between 2013-2018. This leaning pile was dubbed canvas redo’s in my studio.

painter Hillery Lay

My work has changed a lot in nine years.

Subject matter has deepened, becoming more personal.

My artwork is very rooted to my place and my people. How I arrange my compositions has been switching from being almost portrait like to using repetitions of a single person and tracking their movements across a natural landscape.

how painting styles develop over time
Hillery Lay

Color schemes have also expanded.

I’ve been mixing color more, combining more opposites to create dark moody blends. Using neons, high contrasting color, and different formulas and types of paint helps to add a distinctive color story to my paintings.

painting blog

My skill with the unconventional techniques I use has improved.

I’ve taken masking, collage, and stenciling, to new places. This year I’ve also started thinking about fitting my work back into the natural places inspiring me to create it in the first place. This is producing art pop ups and my Sunday Study project.

Viewing paintings in this way helps to show where the subjects, symbols, and ideas for my art have come from.

art practice blog

Telling my own story has been very important to my painting practice. Finding depth in mundane moments of my day is a door that gets easier and easier to step through.

The small details of every day are really what a life becomes. I’m documenting this life.

painter Hillery Lay

Don’t think I got rid of everything! I kept a lot of paintings. I see it’s important to look back at how much my painting has changed over the years. To see what was working and what wasn’t.

It’s so nice to look at an old piece and notice how I’ve solved problems or found new ways to portray a shape or image I hadn’t known how to do before.

The only way this process grows is to keep painting and see what takes shape next.