Oct 20

How to Oil Paint – Toning a Canvas

How To Oil Paint: Toning A Canvas (courtesy of ArtistChronicle.com)

This is Don Stewart, the artist at ArtistChronicle.com, and in this video, we’re going to tone a canvas!

First question – Why do you tone a canvas? Well, not every artist does. I like to tone my canvas for a couple of reasons:

In the beginning stages of a painting, if the canvas is white, any color you put down there…you’re not really getting a true read on that tone, that color. Most colors appear darker when they are painted on a white surface.

Another reason I like to tone my canvas is that I don’t always paint over every square inch of the canvas, and so, a little bit of the tone will show through here, and a little will show through there. And that gives a nice unity to the painting. So, the toned canvas acts as a harmonizing element that ties together the colors that are painted over it.

Second question – How do you tone a canvas? I know, that’s what we’re here for, right? Well, let me step back here, and I’ll show you!

Now, this canvas has already been primed with a white ground. I purchased it that way. And, what I’m going to do is add a transparent tone to this white ground. Now, I could tone this canvas with an opaque ground. To do that, I would get primer or gesso, mix some paint with it and paint it right on. But, that would dry opaquely…I don’t want it to do that. What I want to do, instead, is to tone this with with a transparent ground. Toning with a transparent ground will allow light to reflect up through the colors of the paint. That will help give a luminosity to the finished painting.

OK, let’s get started! I choose the color, based on the colors in the final painting. As a general rule, I like to use earth tones because they dry quicker, and also, because they are a nice, neutral tone – they are unobtrusive. For this painting, I’m using burnt sienna, but you can use burnt umber, raw umber, raw sienna, venetian red…some artists will combine ultramarine blue with raw umber, and that works pretty well.

I thin down the paint before brushing it onto the canvas. I like to use a combination of 50% to 50% of my favorite medium. But, it’s perfectly OK to just use solvent. So, you would use gum turpentine or odorless mineral spirits…which I prefer, because it’s less of a health hazard.

Now, you want this to be very thin – I’d say 60 to 70% solvent. If you get it too thick, when you apply it to the canvas it will end up being too dark, and you’ll lose that luminous quality that you’re looking for. I apply the thinned down paint to the canvas with a brush, but you could skip this step and use a rag instead.

OK! I’m finished! And, I will let that dry for a few minutes, and then I will take a clean, dry cloth and use that cloth to rub off the paint I just applied. I keep rubbing until it’s a nice mid-tone, like this. And, you can see the beautiful, luminous quality already. Now, if I get too dark with it, I’ll go back with turpentine and rub the turpentine on there and make it lighter, because it’s better to be too light than too dark!

There you have it – a toned canvas! And, as you can see, I like to smooth mine out a lot. Some artists will leave streaks – it’s just a matter of personal preference. Another thing some artists will do is tone their canvas with acrylic paint, because it dries, you know, immediately. I don’t see anything wrong with that, but, some people say, well acrylic paint hasn’t been around very long and we don’t know how stable that surface will be. You know, will the painting last for a century? Regardless, I’m a purist – I like to tone with oil paint. So, I need to let this dry for 24 hours, preferably 2 or 3 days. Then, I can start my next painting! And I will be chronicling that for you guys, so, I’ll be back!



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