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Do you use a toned surface?

I’m curious to know if most oil painters here tone their painting surface before they start a painting, and if so, do you use a medium value neutral or do you have a favorite hue or combination of colors? Do you use one color or combo for “sunny” subjects, and another, for instance, that you use for pastoral scenes?

I do sometimes. If I do, I use the complimentary color as a background, I think it looks the best! Especially when little bits show through.

I used to tone with a wash of burnt sienna. Then I took a course where we painted on white and blocked in the underpainting in thinned down very bright colors. Lately I’ve been toning again (after watching a Carol Marine tutorial) so for a rose I used a wash of red. I was out painting a stream in the woods that had brownish undertones so I did a wash of brownish-orange. It helped tone down the greens in the background too.

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I almost always do- occasionally I forget and then curse myself for it. It’s much easier to judge lights and darks when you’re starting out on a mid-toned surface. Usually I use Burnt Sienna acrylic, and prepare a whole stack of panels at once. I really love the way this colour complements greens, which are usually abundant in my plein air paintings.

If I’m painting on paper, I do it right before I start the painting and often use a muddy red, blue or a roughly-mixed greenish colour, as I rarely keep Burnt Sienna on my palette for the actual painting process. How much the colour shows through at the end varies, as I keep experimenting with my technique.

It’s something I keep playing with, though, I wouldn’t consider myself too stuck in my ways yet… Just as long as I’m not painting on a white surface!

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I don’t use a toned surface very often but the first layer of my paintings are looser and faster than they used to be. I’ve seen the benefit of having something on the white surface to inspire/reflect my thoughts…less frustration and more experimentation seem to be the result.

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Good thoughts about choosing a ground color.

I almost always tone with Winsor Red. I learned this at a workshop and was taught it adds a vibrancy to cools or warms. That’s exactly what I have found. Since I live and paint on Cape Cod, I love what the red undertone does to skies and oceans.


Sounds interesting. Could you post a painting where you used a Windsor red undertone?