Saturday, 15 December 2007

Troubleshoot your oil painting with tonking


The Problem: too much paint too soon

There are times when you apply too much paint on the surface of the canvas. In this case, two things may happen:
  • You loose control of your strokes. You cannot apply new paint on the existing one because it just “slides” on the surface,

  • You start to muddy your colours.
Ways to fix the problem
Three radical options:
  1. You can scrape the excess paint with a painting knife. The drawback is that you are going to loose the shapes you painted and, while scraping, you will mix the colours on the canvas. This can be a good method if you had a “false start” and want to start from fresh.

  2. You can wipe the excess paint with a cloth wrapped around your index. This can work for local problems, but you will go back to the bare canvas and will need to paint the area again.

  3. You stop there and wait for the painting to dry. This is a safe option, but it may not do the job. The excess paint will create texture and you need to decide whether this fits your purpose. In addition, you may be at an early stage and you want to carry on.
This is where tonking can help.


Tonking is a method to remove excess paint on an oil canvas. It is done by blotting some newspaper sheets on the surface of the canvas, gently pressing the paper onto the wet paint and then lifting the paper. The excess paint will be absorbed by the newspaper sheet and you are left with a workable surface again.

Thick paint has been applied onto a canvas board



The paint is full of medium and becomes difficult to work with




I put a sheet of newspaper on the surface and press gently



The paper is then removed
    After tonking, the canvas is left with a thin layer of paint that can be worked from

  • Tonking works very well when the problem is all over the canvas or on a subtantial part of it.
  • Newspaper sheets work best because the paper is absorbant and will take the excess oil at the same time as the excess paint. You may also use paper towel but beware of the pattern on some of these papers. Don’t use paper tissus which are too thin and will not peel off cleanly.


  • You will loose some of the fine details if you are at that stage of the painting. So, you will need to work again on the painting after tonking.
A little bit of history

The word “Tonking” comes from the name of Henry Tonks, (born in Solihull, 9 April 1862; died in London, 8 Jan 1937).

Henry Tonks was an English painter and draughtsman. From 1887 he studied at Westminster School of Art. Between 1893 and 1930, he taught at Slade School of Art in London. Rex Whistler was one of his students. He originated the tonking technique.




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1 comment:

Yehudi01 said...

I love the art that you have on your blog! My wife loves to paint, and so I anticipate she'll be coming back again and again! Have a great holiday season!