Drawing over Old Photographs

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in August, 2011.

Drawing over old photos :: Tinkerlab.com

Drawing over over old photographs is a fun way to turn old images into new treasures. Not only is the process totally enjoyable, but the product can be turned into postcards that are fun to mail to family and friends.

Old photos can be found in thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales, reuse centers, and mom’s attic. Can you think of anywhere else?

To start, I collected a big, random stack of photos when we visited the San Francisco re-use shop, SCRAP, with the idea that we’d use them for some kind of collage.

And then I remembered doing a fun photo painting project at some point in my own past, which inspired the direction we took this.

N recently started representing objects in her drawings, so I thought she might be at a point where we could have some fun playing with the intersection of realism and abstraction.

N likes to find new places to create, and on this day it was the kitchen floor. To do this project, all you need is a stack of old photos and some paint pens like these Elmer’s Painters Pens. Sharpies would work too, but with a slightly different effect.

Print a Recipe


Drawing on Photos

Prep time: 

Making time: 

Total time: 

Drawing over photos with paint pens is a fun way to mix realistic imagery with abstract coloring.
  • Paint Pens (such as Elmer's Paint Pens)
  • Old Photographs (or photos printed on photo paper)
  • Covered table or work area, since paint pens can be permanent
  • Smock to protect clothing
  1. Place a stack of photos and a bucket of paint markers in the middle of the work area.
  2. If your pens are brand new, depress them ahead of time to get the paint flowing.
  3. Offer your child a stack of photos to sort through and choose from.
  4. Each of you will choose one photo to work with.
  5. Draw over the photos in any way you see fit.
  6. Display the photos or turn them into postcards and mail them to friends and family.

If you don’t have any *actual* photos lying around, you could try sourcing them at a thrift store, cut images out of a magazine, or print your own photos onto photo paper or card stock.

As you can maybe tell from the images above, we collaborated on a few of the photos. I marked up a photo and then handed it to N, and then she added her own ideas.

After I drew on a photo that she started, N said to me, “you do it your way and I’ll do it my way.” Yikes. I’m usually really sensitive to drawing on kids’ art, and I learned that she didn’t see this as a collaboration — she was okay drawing on my photos, but didn’t want me to draw on hers.

So, I took a few big steps back and allowed her to do it her way!

A few of our creations — both “collaborations” and our own works of art. We turned these over later in the day and made some of them into postcards.

What do you think? Have you tried this yourself? Any other ideas on what we could do with these works of art? Do you have a favorite spot for collecting treasures for reuse?

Re-use Shopping Resources

I Heart RAFT (SF Bay Area)

National (US) search for contractor/building reuse: Building Materials Reuse Association

Find FREE stuff on Craigslist: List of SF Bay Area resources

Find FREE stuff in your neighborhood through the Freecycle network

SCRAP Portland

SCRAP San Francisco

Surplus Sales at Stanford University

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse (Berkeley, Oakland, CA)

Reuse Resources via East Bay Depot Creative Reuse



  1. says

    Love this idea. You are so creative! I know C would love this. We would probably use magazine pictures or old postcards? She loves junk mail and we may do a collage with that soon and this would be a good addition to just cutting and pasting!! Love your watercolor spirals too…from your last post. Thanks for the inspiration as always!

    • rachelle says

      you’re so kind, melissa. magazine pictures and postcards would be great alternatives. and junk mail too!

  2. says

    I haven’t checked your site in a few days and there are 3 awesome projects to add to my rainy day stash! Thanks so much for sharing your ideas!

    • rachelle says

      hi jane! i’m so glad to hear that there’s something here for your rainy days. stop on by any ol’ time 🙂

  3. says

    What a neat idea. Fun. We have tons of old double prints from back in the day. That’s a great way to use them. Thanks.

  4. Mis says

    you can also save a jpeg file and mess with it in Paint or other art software. Perfect for traveling if you have a laptop?
    One other thing I’ve seen is Crayola’s turning pics into coloring pages!!! Per

  5. says

    This is such a great idea. I have tons of doubles and not so great photos that I’ve hung onto with no real purpose. I’m glad to have something to do with them now.

  6. says

    what an interesting idea….

    We are totally into drawing prompts at the moment and this has inspired me to print out some photos of my kids for them to draw on to.. thanks!