Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tonking an abstract?

abstract in acrylic by atul pande Light
abstract in acrylic by atul pandeWaves
I read recently about a technique called 'tonking' (named after an art professor, Henry Tonks) which has traditionally been used in oil portraiture to smooth out the underpainting and remove the brushmarks. The basic tonking technique involves laying an absorbent piece of paper (newsprint, paper towel, etc.) over the wet painting, pressing down lightly and lifting up.

I tried a variation of tonking on the two small abstracts, Light and Waves, which I am not sure are entirely finished but I decided to post them anyway. For Light, I applied layers of black and blue thick color with a knife and allowed it to dry. The texture from this first layer allowed the next layer to be spread with uncontrollable variations. While the paint was still wet, I placed a folded sheet of newspaper on top of the canvas, pressed down evenly with my hands and lifted the paper off. Unlike tonking for portraiture, I was aiming to create texture -- and I got it!

For Waves, I squeezed paint (white, light and brilliant blue) directly on to the canvas and spread it with a knife until I got a wavy effect. I then placed a piece of plastic wrap on the wet paint, pressed it with my hands and lifted it off. The texture that appeared looks like tree branches hanging over a seascape.

I may work over these pieces to add some highlights but thought the use of tonking on abstracts might be of interest. Tell me what you think.

Light, Acrylic on canvas board, 5" X 7", Not for sale
Waves, Acrylic on canvas board, 5" X 7", Not for sale


  1. Great job with both of these. In watercolor one of the different effects you can get is using saran wrap on the wet paint, but instead of lifting it off, you have to be patient and allow it to dry. I did this in the turtle/koi painting I did for the water effects.
    Your blog site looks different - nice!

  2. I think it's too much work with unpredictable results. I'll be happy if I can make a good painting with a simple brush. --Having said that, it IS in fact a really cool effect!! (: Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Bunny and Diane: Thanks for the comments. Yes, the effects can be unpredictable, but I believe that is an integral component of abstract art. The ultimate question is: does the piece express what I want it to?

  4. Interesting technique - I like both these paintings!
    So after a few days have passed is it expressing what you want it to do?