Beautiful Tonal Backgrounds - Acrylic Paints Tutorial
Written: February 2019
For All Artistic levels
Welcome to this Step by Step Tutorial of how to create effective tonal backgrounds using Acrylic paints.
For this tutorial I used the GOLDEN Heavy Body Acrylic paints and the support is the Ampersand Gessobord. I used one of my own paintings currently in progress for this tutorial as it needed a background and thought it would be ideal to show you how I achieved it. It is not necessary to use the same products I did but do be aware that different paints and surfaces may create different challenges and the finish will vary especially if using a weave canvas. Also know that creating tonal backgrounds with Acrylics will take some practice to achieve those smooth, transitional tones and so trying a few surfaces before you find the best one for you, may be required.
Sample tonal backgrounds
Tonal backgrounds are a mixture of colours where each colour blends seamlessly into another. Achieving smooth transitions using a medium like Acrylics can be extremely challenging unless you opt to apply with an Airbrush which, once mastered can offer some amazing results - however, this tutorial shows you how to create tonal backgrounds using only a paintbrush and the secret to achieving great results is by using as little water as possible.
Patience is a virtue...
Standard Acrylics tend to dry quickly meaning you usually have to work quickly too, so you may find achieving good results takes a little longer than you thought, however do not worry about this! Art is all about patience and perseverance and you may find this tutorial helpful in the short term, but adapt your own way of getting better results in the long run. There's no right or wrong way as such, it's all about practice! you may find the Open/Interactive Acrylics easier to work with as they do not dry as quick and are easier to blend. You can read about some of the differences between Acrylic paint brands HERE
I hope you enjoy this tutorial and that it offers a few great pointers to get you started on your journey to creating effective backgrounds for your own Acrylic paintings.
Where do I start?
2 Paintbrushes 1 x wide width brush 1 x smaller width brush - the size you need will depend on the size of the coverage area
Acrylic Paints - Colours chosen for your background will require variants of your colour choices.
Palette - A porcelain palette is easier to clean - A Stay wet palette keeps paints moist for longer working times
Kitchen Roll/Paper - have a couple of sheets of heavy, absorbent tissue/Kitchen roll to hand
Water jar - Ideally have 3 water jars available, one for light tones, one for dark tones and a 3rd for clean water
Take a look at the Acrylic Paints product Recommendations page for some ideas
Preparing the Foundations
Blending the tones
This was the 3rd and final layer that I applied to my background. You may find you need to apply 1 or more extra applications if your canvas has not covered well or your blending is not as smooth as you would like it to be. The good thing about Acrylics is they dry smoothly, so consecutive layers do not create a big build up unless you mix your paint with a medium like Molding Paste should you wish to create a textured finish to your tonal background. There are many possibilities which is why Acrylics are such an exciting medium!
I do hope you enjoyed this Tutorial, why not check out our other Art Tutorials too.
Bonus Tutorial - Graded Backgrounds
I thought I would include an additional point of interest for those looking to learn how to create graded backgrounds. The example I provide here has a background which overwhelms much of the portrait and it may be easier to create the background before applying the subject outline. There were 3 colour tones used here and I began by mixing each colour and placing into separate palettes, ensuring I had enough paint to cover the areas I needed to (I'd rather waste some paint than not have enough) This canvas is a square 12" size, so I used a 2" wide brush and loading the paintbrush with ample colour I began applying left to right (reverse if easier), always working downwards and making sure the canvas was fully covered.
I then introduced the mid green tone to the canvas starting just below the finish line of the blue to avoid muddying the colour on the brush. I then applied a layer of blue to join the two tones together and applied the green tone over the top so the two colours mingled together to create the smooth transition. I then applied the lighter tone of green below the darker tone of green (as with the blue) and repeated the same blending process with both green tones. If you find the paint is not as pliable as you would like, you may need to introduce a little water via a clean brush or even a spray bottle to aid blendability and always ensure you have fully covered your canvas before disposing of your paints, better still pop these colours in a seal tight container in case you need to patch up sections at a later date.
Other Articles that may be of interest:
If you wish to find out more about products used in this Tutorial or looking to start out with Acrylic Paints, you can click on any of the images below and take a look at one of our other Articles:
Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Subscribe to receive our Free Newsletter filled with the latest information from the Step by Step Art website which includes Mini tutorials, Art product recommendations, Articles on varied mediums, Special guest articles and Information on the latest 1 Day Art Workshops run by Karen M Berisford