Asked on Nov 28, 2016

Any advice for toning down a canvas painting?

Patsy McQuade
by Patsy McQuade
I have a painting done on canvas that is a bit too bright. I would like to tone it down some. I was thinking of spreading on a light gray stain gel. Do you think that would work? Would it look natural? Anyone have other suggestions? I sure don't want to ruin the artwork. thanks,,,~~Patsy
  25 answers
  • Shawna Bailey Shawna Bailey on Nov 29, 2016

    Have you thought about making a wash? You can water down acrylic paint (with actual water) and then lightly brush it on. You can "dull" your painting that way.

  • Jay3187996 Jay3187996 on Nov 29, 2016

    You could tint a clear glaze thay way you don't lose any detail.


  • Johnchip Johnchip on Nov 30, 2016

    You can actually use a shoe polish, I would suggets brown, tan or cordovan.

  • IFortuna IFortuna on Dec 01, 2016

    Is the painting oil or acrylic or watercolor? Was this an expensive piece of artwork? If you can post a photo of the artwork, it would help. I do oil painting restoration and I teach oil painting so I may be able to help even if the painting is not oil. I have worked in acrylics and watercolor as well. So, please give more info and a photo and I will give you my best opinion. : )

    • See 3 previous
    • Wuld like to change main colors of my canvas from greys ti browns. How can i do this. I hav never painted but love this canvas i bought but color scheme doesnt match my decor.

  • IFortuna IFortuna on Dec 01, 2016

    Also, I would not put shoe polish or any other product on the painting until it can be determined what the original medium is. It would possibly ruin the painting, devalue it, or cause damage that cannot be reversed. : )

  • Barb Barb on Dec 05, 2016

    I have the same problem with a water scene. The reflection on the water of the boats and cottages is just as bright as on the land. So I am anxious to see any replies you get to your question.

  • IFortuna IFortuna on Dec 12, 2016

    You can tone down an oil painting by using a transparent color. Rembrandt oils have a great line of these from transparent red to browns blues and blacks. If you can give me an idea what the predominant colors are, I can suggest a color and method. Oils are the easiest paintings to fix or alter and no one will probably notice.

    As for putting a watercolor in the sun, it probably won't work depending on when the painting was done. If it is recent, say within the last 30 or 40 years, most colors are not fugitive meaning they are permanent and will not fade even with time.

    If you want to put a glaze on a watercolor, you may want to spray it with a fixative made for whatever the medium this is such as oil, watercolor,pastel, etc. first. This will protect the painting underneath while allowing you to alter the surface and possibly solving the problem.

    Acrylics are also fairly easy to alter and without anyone ever noticing.

    Let me now and I will be happy to advise you on how to proceed. : )

    • Lanier Lanier on Nov 13, 2020

      Thank you for your help. I have a portrait in oil and the blue pinks are too vibrant. What color glaze would bring them down? Thanks again

  • Patsy McQuade Patsy McQuade on Feb 20, 2017

    Here are pictures of the painting. From Bali. It is on a canvas, and most likely oil. Any other ideas for toning this down? thanks,,,,,,

    comment photo
    comment photo
  • Patsy McQuade Patsy McQuade on Feb 20, 2017

    I want it to look like you are looking at the scene thru warm, humid, slightly foggy tropical air. Similiar to this other painting::

    comment photo
  • Linda Linda on Feb 20, 2017

    I know you don't usually frame a painting with glass, but what about using a "smoky" coloured glass over the could experiment with the colour before framing it.

  • Phaedra Phaedra on Feb 21, 2017

    I have some vintage oil paintings that are top coated with varnish or shellac. Originally this was done to protect them. Over time the varnish or shellac turns dark and yellows and has to be cleaned. I don't see why you couldn't do the same thing to a new oil painting and speed up the process with a tint. I would experiment on some white poster board first. I would also start light and build up just to be safe . Check to make sure you use the kind of varnish or shellac that can be removed at a later date as the varnish ages.

  • Margie Hood Margie Hood on Mar 01, 2017

    i agree to maybe put a frosty ar matte colored looking glass over it..that will be the safest way to do that..otherwise just live with it being too bright, or if you speny alot take it back to the painter sure they wouldnt mind doing what you ask for a low price if your unhappy with your finished product..question being is did you tell them you wanted it to look humid and watery as in a rain forest because thats as bright as a coloring

  • Patsy McQuade Patsy McQuade on Mar 05, 2017

    thanks for your opinion. If I could go to Bali and see if anyone could adjust it to what is in my mind, I would!! Beautiful place.

  • Eva Eva on Mar 06, 2017

    I'm a painter. Don't do anything to change the painting itself. You'll destroy the piece. Frame it and use gently frosted glass to tone it down.

  • Wini Bhalla Khurana Wini Bhalla Khurana on May 21, 2017

    I have made an abstract painting predominantly in shades of blue in acrylic on canvas ..i want to tone it down ..any suggestions

    • Kate Garrett Kate Garrett on Apr 07, 2020

      Go with a glassed in frame. Lightly frosted could work for a tinted effect, slightly grey would mute the look. Slightly brown could work for tone, over the whole piece.

      But think about the color wheel. Since your painting is mostly blue, you can literally "tone" down the blues with an orange tinted glass that would simultaneously create more interest in the contrasting parts.

  • Mary Ann Taylor Rosier Mary Ann Taylor Rosier on May 30, 2017

    My acrylic painting is too bright and I wanted it to Look like a morning dawn. Would a glaze help?

  • M. M.. M. M.. on Feb 19, 2018

    To tone down a too-bright painting, you can use Matte Medium (yes that's its name,not a brand name) available at art supply places. Try just applying a coat of it plain to see if it tones down by itself. Then try adding tiny amounts of grey for cool colors or beige for warm colors. It won't hurt the painting to have multiple layers of medium applied, in fact it's recommended as sealing and protecting the canvas. In the future, you can even paint over it with acrylic paints again.

    • See 1 previous
    • Heather Riehl Heather Riehl on Feb 16, 2019

      I know this is an old post, but not sure where else to find the answer. I painted this piece for a customer, but she has asked after the fact if I could soften the colors... not sure how to do that without redoing it (which I obviously want to prevent if possible)

      comment photo
  • Debra Cole Debra Cole on Sep 22, 2020

    I think it is pretty as it is. However, do you think she would like an antiquing glaze? I would seal it ( with matte clear spray) and rub an antiquing glaze over it. It would dull down the colors by contast.

  • Patsy McQuade Patsy McQuade on Sep 24, 2020

    How about a colored wax?

  • Tracee Tracee on Jan 20, 2022

    I’d love to tone down this bright blue… ideas? The photo doesn’t convey how almost neon it is… I’m not the artist. So I’d need basic instructions if you can share.

    comment photo
  • Libbie B Libbie B on Jan 20, 2022

    I've used a product called Zgel that is a coating you brush on that will add texture and a slightly frosted feel.

  • Not grey.

    Use a glazing medium and mix in a bit of the opposite color on the color wheel. On each part.

    also the birds are too white. If you paint parts of them with a glaze of grey and parts with a glaze of cream or pale blue, (the shadowed parts) you may find that the rest works.

    go slow. A bit at a time. The glazing medium looks whitish until it dries.

  • Martha Renard Martha Renard on May 20, 2024

    I know this is an old post. But maybe my response will help someone. Please use caution when people suggest try this or that. I have done this a number of times with both Acrylic and Oils, but they are my own work. I painted this background too bright on purpose so I could tone it down and paint over it. Done in Acrylics. Then I used the Matte Medium suggested in the post above, mixed with white acrylic. I paint it on with a sponge brush and wipe off immediately with a paper towel or rag. I had to apply twice in some places as it was still too bright. If the solution is too thick I spritz a little water on that area and wipe some more. Oils would be a different medium and of course you can use the color of your choice. Using a transparent is better for less color. Go slow and little areas at a time. I hope this is helpful.

    comment photo
    comment photo
    comment photo
    comment photo
  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on May 20, 2024

    Maaybe Tea or Coffee (no milk) might help tone it down. Could try adding it to Mod Podge.

  • Do you know if the painting itself is oil or acrylic, or what the medium was originally? If it's acrylic, you can use a clear acrylic, drop a few drops of acrylic paint into it, stir it up and use it as a glaze. If it's oil, that becomes a tad more complicated (though doable) as you'd need to use something oil-based.