How to create contrast in your paintings using a toned ground.

How to create contrast in your paintings using a toned ground. Toned grounds can often be a passive element to a painted creating a mid tone 5 to create unity for the painting as a whole. I wanted to explore how complimentary colours could be used to develop contrast and complexity. I have long been an admirer of the artists Bonnard, Monet and Klimit and how they use and understand colour to create light, depth, warmth and coolness, and I am exploring this through my current work.

What is a toned ground?

This is a thin wash like layer of paint thinned with a little medium place down as the first layer of paint.

You can use a rag or brush and you don’t need to be accurate it is better to let the edges merge in to others areas.

Make sure it is slightly desaturated.

To develop the idea of contrast use a toned ground which is complimentary to the final planned colour. For example use a red as a toned ground underneath leaves and foliage as this will make your greens even brighter.

Guide to my process when using multiple toned grounds

Tulips in March’ is a oil painting inspired by the flowers my son gave me for Mothering Sunday on March 2021. I have been exploring the idea of contrast, using size, shapes and colours to explore this in a simple domestic interiors and still life. I love the way tulips have a movement swaying and drooping their head and opening and closing their petals.

To explore contrast in the composition for Tulips in March I wanted the tulips to feel like they were moving and perhaps even moving out of the picture at times and in contrast there is a smaller bowl with a lemon cocooned inside.

I also wanted to experiment with the use of contrasting colours and create layers of colour to create a shimmering effect. I start my paintings with a pencil sketch on a primed board, I use a fairly short ground adding chalk to my mix. This enables the first thin layers of paint to absorb and be work-ably dry quite quickly.

Toned ground

I have started with a toned ground using 3 different areas of colour, desaturated violet for the tulips, hyacinths and teapot, yellow ochre for the table and alizarin crimson for the background and small bowl.

I choose violet to for the flowers and teapot because this is a cool purple and this would compliment the yellow tulips and pale yellow hyacinths and teapot. I choose yellow ochre for the table as the cloth will be a blue white with warm blue cast shadows and the yellow ochre will be a complement to this. Finally I used red for the background as I want this to be a light green.

In the pictures below you can see how again I have started with a toned ground which is the complimentary of the final planned colour. The oranges are under painted in blue, I then start with a shade plane in a cool red and build up through the colour wheel with warm and cool colours.

The following articles are really interesting if you would like more information on toned grounds:

How to choose a colour for a tonal gr