by CHERYL KLINE
"Imprimatura" also known as: "First paint layer" dates back to the middle ages and became a common practice during the Renaissance. Most artists today simply call this "toning your canvas."
I tone my canvas because I want to get rid of the pure, white of my surface. I cannot compete with this intense white especially when I am trying to establish values.
When instructors tell you to "tone your canvas," ask them what color. Make sure that you merely stain the canvas and do not apply it so thick that it is no longer transparent, you actually want a wash of tone to see through to the canvas or board. It will usually be a medium value meaning in the middle of the value scale, not too light and not too dark.
Since I paint in oil, I will tone my canvas in oil paint if I have an extra day for it to dry completely before using it. Or, I can thin the paint with mineral spirits and let it dry in the sun for about 1 hour. Otherwise if I am in a hurry, I tone my canvas with acrylic paint and set in the sun to dry for 10 minutes. I actually like the "tooth" that an acrylic ground gives the surface to work on. Just make sure that if you do use acrylic as your Imprematura that your surface was not gessoed in an oil based ground otherwise the acrylic will bead up and not penetrate the surface.
A grey toned canvas will give you a cooler, neutral tone to work on. This is one that I prefer to use when I paint portraits. Allowing this first paint layer to show through the other layers of paint adds depth to the shadows and middle tones.
|Burnt Umber and Thalo Blue|
Another warmer mixture is Burnt Umber and Thalo Blue. Sounds crazy but if you use just a bit of the blue with the Burnt Umber, you get a greenish, warm brown. Rub it in to reveal the weave of the canvas or the board surface and you'll have a nice ground to paint on.
Raw Sienna or Yellow Ochre with a hint of Ivory Black makes an excellent neutral sandy tone. This is one I like for plein air painting and if you save some of the color to show through subsequent layers, it makes a nice glow around the objects.
Venetian Red or any of the earth reds like Sinopia or Red Ochre are more difficult to navigate. The red is so intense that you will be fighting the color in the first stages of painting. However, having bits of red showing through or under a green or blue can be really exciting.
Before you choose the color for your underpainting, ask yourself if you want this color to show through the other layers and if so, do you want a warm tone or a cool tone. Toning the canvas is a great way to "warm up" getting started and to not be intimidated by the virgin, white canvas in front of you.
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