The Reject Project

The Reject Project

The Reject Project - A fantastic free lesson for creating loose, fun and expressive portraits

If you are like me you have stacks of reject paintings. I learned a long time ago to never throw them away since they're easy to recycle. Now a lot of my inferior works are just sketches and doodles too. I spend a lot of time playing around in the studio so the sketches are part of the pile. These doodles are how I learn to paint expressively, break the ice with my subjects and experiment with mediums and colors.

I've also trained myself over the years to use rejects and doodles for under-paintings. I have to confess that if it were not for my rejects I wouldn't know where to begin a painting when it's time to do some finished pieces.

So I decided to share a technique that you may enjoy. I simplified the process so you can easily apply it and have some fun too.

Ready to get started?

Here's a quick list of materials

  1. one reject - 22" x 30" 140 lb. CP paper
  2. charcoal
  3. 90 lb. drawing paper
  4. yellow acrylic ink
  5. black gesso

Step One

Select a reject! I suggest using a reject that has less saturated colors and plenty of negative space. This will help you see your subject better as you paint over it. I find that if the reject is saturated then you may be competing with all that color and energy.

This reject, or sketch, is a full sheet of 140 lb. watercolor paper - 30" x 22".

Here is the reject example that I'm using for this project.

Are you curious what this reject was originally?

Here you go - two boots! I used this sketch as a demo in a feedback video for one of my online workshops (a little plug there). The image below was rotated 90 degrees clockwise and I added some black lines to outline the boots so you could see them. This quick sketch makes for a great underpainting for a finished piece which is why I rest easy knowing I rarely waste my time and materials even when I'm just doodling. Everything gets recycled and will eventually become a finished piece of art.

Step Two

Add a pop of color if you need it. I added a splash of yellow ink just to accentuate the colors that were already present. I've used inks enough to realize they are awesome for adding a layer of transparent color that can really enhance paintings. You can also use watercolors, or water-downed acrylics if you don't have inks.

I felt this reject was a bit flat color-wise and the blue crayon scribbles needed a partner - something to balance it out a smidgen. You can scroll back up and see the original reject as it was before I added the ink. I think you will agree that the addition of just a few strokes of yellow added some serious pop. It brought the reject to life.

Step Three

Pick your subject. I picked my subject which is Abraham Lincoln. The reason I picked this image is it has great light and shadow areas. Plus I've been obsessed in the studio the past few weeks with portraits so why not use it for the project? Now you can use whatever you wish but be sure to choose an image with strong darks since this is what I will focus on when adding the next layer of paint.

I will say portraits work great for this technique. You can even try an animal too. But again, feel free to explore and make it your own.

Step Four

A quick charcoal sketch. Get familiar with your subject by creating a quick charcoal drawing. I focused on the darks since I knew this is the area I'm going to paint when I begin to add the final layers. The charcoal sketch helped me connect to my subject so I can paint with confidence once I begin.

I suggest you do the same. Create a sketch and focus mainly on the dark areas. It doesn't have to be perfect but you certainly want to capture a likeness of your subject. I've painted plenty of Lincoln's so I'm very familiar with the face and features.

Step Five

Time to paint. I used black gesso and a small round brush to add the dark areas over the reject. I've never tried black gesso before so this was a great experiment. You can sub black gesso with any dark color so long as it's thick and saturated. You can always thin the paint out to create a variety of dark areas but starting thick and opaque is essential IMO.

Notice how I kept the underpainting as it was. I didn't try to cover it up. This gives the piece a lovely abstract quality that I could never create on my own without the help of the inferior piece, or sketch in this case.

Have a look at this

This piece is created with the same idea in mind but without the reject and inks. So it's only black gesso applied to the dark areas and edges of Lincoln. It's a simple piece and that's okay, but notice how this compares to the piece above. It lacks that abstract quality and energy of using the reject with a pop of ink. Interesting to see these two together to get the comparison in style.


That's a pretty simple way to recycle those rejects. right? Plus you get a sweet, fun and abstract style work of art out of the deal. Can't beat it. So go ahead and give it a try. I wish you all the best and be sure to have fun while you are at it.

Here are some other works created with a similar technique.

Free TipsRobert Joyner