Updated: May 15
Starting can often be the most intimidating and challenging part of painting. You might know where you want to end up, but how you get there is less easy to answer. If you’re searching for advice about the best way to start your painting, we're sharing our personal process and the unexpected color we love to tone with: pink.
At the very core, painting is about creating something no one else can by calling upon the unique parts of who you are as an individual. The best painting you can make is the painting that you most enjoy. In some ways, technique is all about how to get closest to creating a painting you’ll love. We’ll be sharing our approach and preferences in hopes of helping you find the techniques that will help you create the artwork you envision.
If you’re searching for some additional technique tips for taking your paintings to a new level, you’ll enjoy this breakdown of the all prima approach to oil painting. Looking for more ways about where to start? We’ve also got the basics about stretching your own canvas like a professional.
Let’s Talk Toning: The Basics
There’s nothing more intimidating than a vast, blank canvas. While priming and toning your canvas can feel like chores that get in the way of painting, with the right approach, you can transform your prepping process into a ritual that’s just as enjoyable as painting (or at least a little bit!).
What is toning?
Toning a canvas means applying a thin layer of colored paint to your canvas before beginning your painting.
Do you need to tone your canvas?
First things first: why bother toning your canvas at all? We’ve both painted without toning our canvases previously, but the difference was evident once we began toning. Besides softening the intensity of staring at a bright white canvas for hours, there are a few major reasons why toning the canvas has become an indispensable part of our painting process.
Why Toning Can Improve Your Paintings
Not every artist tones their canvas or even feels this step useful. Part of the beauty of art is how idiosyncratic the artistic process can be. For us, toning the canvas has become a step we wouldn’t start a painting without. The next few points will give you a better idea of why this step might be a benefit for you too.
Improve Your Process
Have we mentioned how tedious it can be to stare at a blank, white canvas for hours? You have to spend a significant amount of time with your canvas, so why not make that time a little more colorful. While we don’t tone our canvases with pink just for the fun of the color, we definitely appreciate the difference that staring at a vibrant color we both love makes. Don’t underestimate the effect that enjoying your time with an unfinished canvas can have on your work.
Improve Your Color Perception
The technical side of toning a canvas plays a far more significant role in why this step has become integral to our work. Toning your canvas will take you from the jarring effect of a stark white background to a more grounded starting place with mid-tones. The bright white of a blank canvas tends to shift our perception of colors because of the stark contrast it creates against most colors. By starting your piece against mid-tones, you’ll give yourself a better position to assess colors from.
Many qualities that make a painting come alive—depth, contrast, and so on—are greatly affected by the application of light and dark colors within your painting. By starting against mid-tones, you’ll have a more accurate perception of color range, helping you get closer to creating the painting you envision.
Stop Worrying About the Dreaded White Spot
The dreaded white spot that stares back at you from your precious painting: a painter’s ancient enemy. Another simple benefit that comes from toning your canvas is doing away with ever having to worry about accidental white specks in your work.
Better than just making the problem of white spots disappear is what replaces those white spots. When you tone your canvas, you can choose to let some of that mid-tone come through in your painting. Since we choose pink for toning, we occasionally allow specs of pink to show through, which adds an element of warmth throughout the painting.
Using the same color to tone the canvas also has the added effect of creating cohesion between each individual piece. Since we both tone our canvases with pink, we also build cohesion between our separate bodies of work as well, imbuing our pieces with a nearly invisible link that helps unite our work.
How to Tone Your Canvas Before Painting
If you’re considering adding toning to your painting process, you won’t have to worry about adding a laborious step that will keep you from getting to the fun part for long. Toning a canvas is incredibly simple and can be done with or without a primed canvas using our particular method.
Our formula for toning the canvas only requires gesso and acrylic paint in the color of your choice (pink for us!).
For a Primed Canvas
If your canvas is already primed, you can apply a single coat of toning. All you have to do is cover your entire canvas with your toning color and you’re ready to start your painting.
With a primed canvas, you can use our gesso mixture or simply apply a thin layer of your chosen color in either oil or acrylic paint to the entire canvas.
For an Unprimed Canvas
Priming the canvas is an important step that seals a canvas to prevent it from degrading over time and becoming brittle, particularly when working with oils. We mix our toning color with gesso to prime our canvas simultaneously. If your canvas isn’t primed, apply two layers of our gesso mixture to the canvas and you’re set to start.
Welcome to the World of Toning
This guide gives you the basics of toning as well as our personal approach to help you find the right process for you when it comes to starting your paintings. Toning has become an enjoyable part of our process, both for its technical benefits and for the fun it adds to starting each new painting.
If you haven’t tried toning your canvas, let our guide help you experiment with your artistic process to find the approach that brings your vision to life.