Pros and Cons for Toning Your Canvas

Featured Painting: Aspen Dance“ 8″x10″ oil on canvas panel ©2012 Becky Joy

Some artists do it and some don’t.  Toning the canvas that is.


  • You may simply not like the stark white surface when starting or find it distracting.
  • It can help unify a painting, especially in the early stages before all the areas are covered.
  • You may like some of the toned color peaking through.
  • A toned canvas may make it easier to paint some subjects. (I regularly tone a canvas when I am painting a tree that has fine branches, leaving some to show through.)
  • You want to set a mood.
  • The white canvas is cold in color. That may distort some colors for you. They may appear warm next to the white until the canvas is completely covered.
  • You may have more spontaneity with a toned canvas.
  • The brightness of white may give a glare when painting outdoors.
  • Some artists feel that with a toned canvas they can’t record accurate color when putting paint to canvas.
  • The whole canvas is covered in different background colors with the blockin. So, why bother with toning.
  • You may lose some spontaneity with toning.
  • With transparent paints, the white of the canvas can make the colors more vibrant and glowing.
  • Some artists like some of the white canvas peaking through.
  • You have the choice of several different think washes of colors over different parts of the painting.
There is no right or wrong. This is a choice for you to make, but don’t make it a hard and fast rule. Sometimes you may tone a canvas and other times not. Experiment.
The featured image has a toned canvas. I knew that I wanted some ground to show through the grass and foliage. I thought the easiest way to paint that would be to tone the canvas with a cad orange.  It gave depth, saved some work and I think, gave the painting a fresh painterly look.

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