Benefits of a toned ground

Most of us are used to drawing and painting on white paper since our childhood. But that doesn’t mean white is a logical color to work on. I will discuss some great benefits of working on a colored or toned ground.

Light to dark and dark to light

When you work on a white canvas, the only way you can go is darker. On a colored (toned) ground, you can paint with dark colors as well as light colors. This way you can build your painting more easily.

When using a colored ground, you can build your paintings faster and easier, because there’s already an extra color or value present. When you work on a grey ground for instance, you only have to add some lighter and some darker parts and all of a sudden you have a three dimensional picture.

Painting on a grey paper. Left: dark values. Right: added some light values. Although it isn’t finished yet, you can see how fast it gets three dimensional, because of the presence of the grey ground.

Judging values is easier

On a white ground it’s difficult to judge values and colors. Even a very light color can look dark on a white canvas. On a middle grey ground for instance, you’re nog getting that tricked that fast. It’s easier to judge the values of the colors.

The same light grey rectangle looks much darker on a white background.
Judging colors and values is easier when you see them against a toned background.

But you can also choose a color that’s handy, if you’re painting a sky then you could make your ground blue for instance.

Also, there are artists who prefer to use a complementary or contrasting color as first layer. They use red or warm browns to tone their canvas when painting landscapes which contain a lot of greens for instance. This way you can get vibrant colors, because the colored ground will shine through at certain spots.

The warm red-brown ground color make the cooler (almost complementary colors) more vibrant
For this painting I used a blue color. That had two benefits: there’s some blue in the sky and car, so that helps. At the same time, there are a lot of warm red-orange type of colors in the scenery. Blue lies on the opposite side of the color wheel, providing a great contrast and more vibrant colors in the painting.

You’re totally free to use whatever color you like. The more neutral a color you choose, the easier it is to judge colors. So, whenever you’re not sure which color to use, you can always play safe and use grey.

And lastly: your painting will get a more professional look when you work on a colored ground. When you paint on a white canvas and you see the white of the canvas coming through at some spots, it gives the impression of an unfinished painting. A colored ground gives your painting a unified look.

A spots where I didn’t cover the canvas with paint, the toned ground shines through. This gives the painting a unified look.

How to color your ground?

Because you want to prime your ground anyway (even if it’s pre-primed), better kill two birds with one stone and add some acrylic paint to your gesso. In this blog you can read more about it.

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