Standing there staring at the stark white, blank canvas. Is this a familiar scene? It was for me until I started using a colored ground, (toning with a color) on my canvas. It was amazing how much this one technique improved my paintings. Now, I never start a painting with the white of the canvas.

Benefits of toning your canvas

  • can create visual energy
  • painting on a ground can be faster
  • can help you to paint looser
  • unifies, creating a nice color harmony in your painting
  • makes judging your lights and darks much easier

Colors used for toning your canvas

Traditional colors that artists use as grounds.

  • neutral grays
  • yellow ochre
  • burnt umber
  • raw sienna
  • burnt sienna

These colors are wiped with a cloth before dry to create a light, more even stain on the canvas.

Red is one of my favorite colors to use as a ground. I love the energy it infuses into my painting, especially when you are using a limited palette.  The red is also a mid value making it easier to judge the values of your light and dark colors. (I do not wipe it down. I like the solid red peeking through)

In the close-up picture below you can see the hints and flecks of red showing.  This adds to the visual energy of the painting and creates unity in the look and feel of the piece.

close up of red colored ground article Krista Hasson

You can use any color that you like to tone your canvas.  If you are not sure what color to use, here are a few guidelines you could follow when you first start toning:

  • if your painting is cool, use a warm ground
  • If your painting is warm, use a cool ground
  • use the complementary color of the dominant color in your painting
  • red tones are good for green landscape
  • green tones are good for portraits
  • Warm orange tones are good for water scenes

If you don’t already tone your canvas, I recommend that you try it. Experiment with some of your favorite colors!

Paint some smaller paintings first so you get a feel for how it looks. Then move to larger pieces once you find the tone for you. Happy toning.

Cheers,  Krista

PS: Sharing is always appreciated!