Painting on an easel showing how to tone your surface

Toning Your Painting

Why and how it can help you build your drawing

The reason for toning your canvas or boards can have several outcomes: it depends on what your desired result is. It is most definitely a personal choice and not a rule. Some want to knock down the value of the white, others want a color showing through on their finished piece.

The ground tone can help unify the final composition if you let specks of it peek through in your finished piece. For me, I have two distinct reasons I tone my painting. 

Firstly, so that possibly the underneath tone becomes a part of my finished product. secondly, I like a process I refer to as toning and sculpting my drawing by wiping away. The second option is probably why I use a tone more often than not. 

In conclusion, if you’ve been reading my emails and watching my YouTube videos, you know I like to wipe away and bring out my drawing, revealing light areas, what I call "Toning and Sculpting" your drawing. Watch this video to see my process!!

There are no rules regarding applying an under wash. I believe each artist should do what works for them and is inspired by the process. However, there are a few reasons why you might want to consider toning your painting, or as I call it putting an under wash on your surface. 

Toning your painting before starting serves several purposes

Sculpting My Drawing: My main reason for toning my painting is that I enjoy a process that I refer to as sculpting my drawing. You will find the demonstration in the video above.
Neutral Background: Applying a thin layer of a neutral color, like a muted gray or earth tone, provides a base that reduces the starkness of a white canvas. This can help you better judge values and colors as you work. I don't always use muted colors, it's a personal preference. 
Uniform Base Color: Toning creates a uniform surface color, minimizing distractions. This can be especially helpful if you plan to leave parts of the canvas unpainted and can also help in plein air painting, avoiding the bright sunlight bouncing off the white canvas into your eyes.
Enhanced Mood or Atmosphere: The choice of tone can set the mood or atmosphere for your painting. Warm tones may create a sense of warmth or sunlight, while cool tones can evoke a cooler or shadowed environment. I often let pieces of my underwash show through, which creates beautiful color harmony.
Easier Color Mixing: Painting on a toned canvas can influence the colors you perceive and mix. It can make it easier to achieve harmonious color.
Time Efficiency: Toning your canvas in advance can save time during the painting process. Instead of covering the entire canvas with paint, you can start working on your subject immediately if you know how to control your mixtures and can avoid muddy colors.

Overall, toning is a personal preference, and some artists may prefer to work directly on a white canvas. However, many find that toning provides a helpful foundation for their creative process.

Answering Questions

After watching the video, you may have some questions about toning your painting. Let me walk you through the process with a different image and explain in more detail. This painting is also a large thunderhead, hovering over the Grand Canyon in Arizona. 

First I draw on my composition with vine charcoal. I make sure I’m happy with the drawing. I then set the drawing with a spray fixative “Krylon Workable Fixatif” (see link below if interested). Let the drawing dry for about 15 minutes - it dries very fast. Caution, you don’t need to flood the surface, just a very light quick spray of it. Next, I decide on what under base color I want to use to tone my painting. 

Now I'm ready for paint

The more you do this, you will find the base tone that fits your style. In the image below, I have used a Transparent Oxide Red by Rembrandt that has been tempered with a touch of orange and a hint of any dark hue, such as burnt umber, black or a touch of Ultramarine Blue. 

Thinning down the wash to a very runny consistency with Gamsol and with a large bristle brush, I paint over the sky first. Working quickly, I begin to wipe out my lights and sculpt my drawing. 

Moving on to other parts of the painting, I follow the same process. On smaller sizes I will tone the complete surface, but with larger pieces I sometimes work in sections, like first the sky and then the foreground. The reason being, I want to wipe away the wash to sculpt. If the paint starts to dry it's not quite as suitable. 

Important Note

I do not start painting on it while it’s wet. If you try to paint beautiful cloud colors over this wet wash, it will go muddy. I wait for a day before I begin painting. I can start blocking in my very dark foreground bushes and trees to anchor my scene, but the sky must wait 24 hours. 

In this photo I am working on an Ampersand Gessoboard. They take a bit of getting used to as they are very smooth but work great for the wipe away technique.

Toning your painting

Linda Glover Gooch and Masterful Painting LLC participates in various affiliate marketing programs. This site contains links to retailer sites, which means I may get paid commissions on products purchased. 


In both paintings, the video above and this still shot the painting surface is: 

Ampersand Cradled Gessobord. GET them here!

Spray Fixatif:  

Krylon Workable Matte Fixatif. Find it here!

There are several types of Vine Charcoal. I prefer the soft to draw with. I use this brand: 

Grumbacher Soft Vine Charcoal. Find it here!

Want to know more about the colors I use?

Learn All About My Palette!

Here's your homework:

I've now given you two good examples to work from, a video and written instructions of the process. Now it's your turn! Go try it out and let me know in the comment section below how it went! Implementing a new process and practice is the key. Maybe you already do this? Let me know... tell me about it below in the comment box! Happy Painting my Friend.

Some Great Creative Resources for You!

If you liked this post, you may also like How To Paint A Panoramic Cloud Painting.

Here are more videos about toning your painting and using a underwash to sculpt your drawing so you can continue to learn. Once you start learning how to do this process you will see just how fun it is!

Enjoy the videos and remember... Stay at the easel!

Linda Glover Gooch
Linda Glover Gooch

I hope you enjoyed this post. Besides being a Professional Painter, my Creative Journey has taken on a life of teaching, inspiring and helping others find their voice, grow and become skillful with their craft. Watching others gain the knowledge through practice and detailed instruction is a great reward. For the Collectors: My goal is to capture their vision, their imagination and take them to a place, a moment in time that touches their heart and soul.

    2 replies to "Toning Your Painting"

    • carolyn

      Thank you so very much! You are the best teacher I have ever had and just keep sharing with those of us who have purchased your videos. Very much appreciated. Every time you post more insightful instruction, I just can’t wait to go back to the easel and paint. You help keep our brushes moving!

      • Linda Glover Gooch

        Hi Carolyn,
        I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your very kind words! I’m so glad to hear you are finding value in these blogs and my instructions are helping you and encouraging you to “GET to the Easel” 🙂 That is terrific. Love the feedback and it feeds my creativeness as well. Thank you so much!!

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