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Question About Staining Canvas - Alternatives to Alkyd Fast Dry Oil?

Hey everyone.

I'm currently in the process of getting all the materials together and setting up my studio to start the DWP course :)

After watching nearly all of Mark's videos, everything's making sense except for staining the canvas. 

I was hoping that someone could explain the purpose of staining the canvas the brown colour, and whether or not there are any suitable alternatives instead of using the Winton Alkyd Fast Dry Oil Colours which aren't available in my city and are expensive to buy and ship for such small 37ml tubes.

Thanks for any help or advice :)


  • @movealonghome ; Welcome to the forum.  The short alternative answer to the staining problem is either a coffee or tea stain, though I have never tried it personally except in crafts projects.  :)   Summer
  • dencaldencal -
    edited April 2017

    Welcome to the Forum.

    The benefits of toning a canvas are:

    Creates a receptive surface for oil paint.
    Assists in sealing and separating the cotton/linen fabric from the oil in the oil paint.
    Adds tonal depth to transparent paint in the top layer.
    Allows the eye to mix and apply correct values without being influenced by a white surface.
    Reduces glare from studio lighting.
    Contributes to a balanced harmony in the limited palette.
    Eliminates the white pinhole problem evident in untoned canvases.
    Can be left to show in the final painting in small patches and not be a distracting white error.

    If your canvas is oil primed you will need to use some form of oil paint (alkyd, artists oil, water mixable oil) to allow the prime coat to cure properly. On the other hand, if your canvas is primed with an acrylic gesso an acrylic paint is a great toner choice.

    I like black the best as a toning value. There is something wonderful about having a pure black in some shadow values or as a mysterious portion of the background. When the black is varnished it becomes glorious.

    If your painting on large canvasses as l do with pastels or oils, a black or dark grungy toning does half the work for you. Incorporating the toning as the background at the outset means l can create it as a deliberate design element rather than an accidental afterthought.


  • Water mixable oils should work if you can get them in your city.
  • Thanks for the replies - found the other threads on this topic as well.
  • Another reason for toning is that it immediately helps value judgement.  A stroke of paint -- no matter what color or value -- looks darker than a white canvas.  A stroke of paint on a mid-value toned canvas looks either darker, lighter or the same as the value of the canvas.  A general rule of thumb in oil painting is to start with the darks, and move toward the lights.   Your darkest dark on white looks too dark and so do your lights. 

    I usually tone my painting surface with a mix of raw umber and ultramarine blue, which gives me a fairly neutral gray.  I wipe it away until I achieve this neutral gray.  It dries overnight.
  • You can use a clear acrylic gesso with some acrylic paint mixed in (whatever color you want to tone the canvas).  
  • edited June 2017
    Burnt umber acrylic paint unless it's oil primed already.
  • By the way, if you're going to stain you're canvas I recommend using a palette with the color that you stain you're canvas with.  That way you're won't be manipulated by color or difference.
  • I did Marks method and stained a bunch of canvases but accidentally made them a bit too light and splotchy- may have been the brush- compared with my palette tables- hopefully doesnt cause me too many issues- thinking its not worth it or advised to apply another layer darker
  • rstallrstall -
    edited June 2017
    wondering if one of those tight foam rollers might be good for application- saw them mentioned in other posts- then no cleanup needed
  • dencaldencal -
    edited June 2017

    Yes. High Density Foam rollers will give a smooth, slight orange peel texture, finish.

    This surface image is of a triple primed (rustoleum), triple gesso'd, HDF roller smoothed and lightly sanded bass wood cradled panel.

    The toned canvas you posted looks fine, not at all critical. My preference is the darker the better.


  • Thanks Denis! yeah time to paint!
  • Richard_P said, "Water mixable oils should work if you can get them in your city."
    My question, So there is no downside to using a water soluble oil paint for the stain? I stained my first canvas's yesterday and did not like the ordeal of using mineral spirits. I have great ventilation ( installed Squirrel fan and vent left in place from my glass studio, but just cringed at the XXX!
    TIA Cadia

  • I don't think so Cadia. There are no solvents involved and for just making a stained canvas it should work perfectly fine.
  • Cadia

    Suggest staining or toning the canvas with mineral spirit outdoors.

    Using WMs for staining or toning will need a longer drying time.

    Acylic makes a good, fast dry, stain/tone.


  • Definitely do it outdoors. Acrylic would be a faster alternative and cheaper than WMO but you can't use them on top of an oil primed surface.
  • cadiacadia -
    edited October 2017
    Thank you Richard- 
    winters are too nasty here to count on doing it outdoors! Ill use up what I have and try the other too!
    My ventilation set up is VERY good, I just need to get over the chemical paranoia!!!
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