Why should you tone the canvas?

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Toning the canvas before you paint can be a huge help. I don’t always tone the canvas, but when it comes to painting animals, portraits and still life I prefer to. You can tone the canvas for landscapes as well, and that too can be extremely beneficial. Let’s talk about why and what colors to choose to tone a canvas.

1. Toning the canvas helps you see your color values a lot more clearly. – When you tone the canvas with a midtone you automatically set yourself up to see values a lot better. When you are faced with a white canvas you are already going to see a drastic contrast with any colors you put down, even if the color value is relatively light. The white is going to make everything appear darker than it really is. When you put those same colors down on a midtone, you can already see how bright or dark it is based on the value of the toned canvas. This allows your eye to see a much better range of values, and helps prevent you from going too dark or too light too quickly with your colors. Sometimes we get caught up in what I call midtone limbo with our paintings. That’s when you don’t seem to have a lot of lights or darks in your paintings. When this happens, depth, contrast, atmosphere all fall short. Starting with a toned canvas will help this dramatically.

2. White specks remover special – Toning the canvas helps you get rid of the dreaded white specks. The area on your painting where you just didn’t put enough paint and the canvas is showing through. When you tone the canvas you help eliminate this problem. If you accidentally have a spot where there isn’t enough paint, the toned canvas shows through rather than the white canvas. It’s much harder to see the toned canvas showing through than stark white little spots.
3. Mess up all you want – Toning the canvas first, then laying in a toned compositions (using the same color), allows you to work out proportion before you get serious and put down your real colors. If you have trouble getting things to look “right” why not use a tonal approach first, then once you get it to a happy place start throwing in those awesome colors.

4. Warm it up, cool it down – Most colors have a translucent quality to them. Even the darkest colors usually have some transparency. There are a few colors out there that are extremely opaque, but most allow some color to show through. Toning the canvas with specific colors can aid in warming up all of your other colors, cooling them down, etc. Be careful with what you choose though, because if you allow some colors to show through complimentary colors you may end up getting a muddy muted painting (but maybe that’s a good thing if you want it to look that way). That’s why choosing your toning color can be really important. If you were going to do a painting with a lot of greens, you probably wouldn’t want to tone with red. Compliments mixed together = muddy and gray. Again, with painting there are no real rules. Muddy, muted paintings can look awesome, so maybe it’s something you could experiment with. I digress. Choosing neutral colors, gray colors etc to tone with is the safest way to prevent anything getting too muddy.

You can, however, add a lot of layers to make paint more and more opaque, so if you do run into mud, just keep layering until it clears it up.
5. One extra layer – I’m a layering addict. I advocate adding in as many layers as you can. I feel as though your painting looks more finished when there is more paint on there. You also get all of those nice little subtle shifts of colors because of the translucent nature of paint. And your painting will look more expensive, because it is more expensive to put lots of paint on there!!

:). Toning the canvas just adds one extra layer of paint to your painting, and each layer makes the surface smoother and smoother.

Toning will give you a lot of advantages. It’s an extra step, and it takes more time, but if you have the time (like we do right now), try it out.

Hope you are all doing well! Happy creating!

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