Can I leave the paint canvas blank?

This might be a bit of a silly question, but, in drawing, there is no problem at all in leaving part of the paper white.

Can the same be done with painting? The reason that I ask is that, obviously, it’s not a huge problem to paint a part of the canvas white. But often, it seems to me, by doing so, you loose a certain brightness. White paint always seems very dull and dirty to me.

So can this be done, and does anyone know about the conventional wisdom on this matter? I fancy that it might be a problematic practice, in that leaving something blank essentially creates a huge hole in the painting surface; which might in time make it more susceptible to cracking. Also I could imagine the hole expanding over time.


I know I’ve put titanium white over gessoed canvas and found the same - the canvas is always brighter than the oil.

I’ve seen some old master and academic style work in museums where the artist has really scrubbed paint leaving almost bare canvas showing through in places and then had different passages of heavy impasto in other areas with no ill effects but never noticed anyone doing actual patches of bare canvas as standard practice.

I can’t think of a reason it would be detrimental to anything, especially if you’re subsequently coating the whole lot in varnish or gasp liquin… I mean it might anger the OCD a little knowing you’ve left some space blank, but apart from that it seems like if it enhances the artwork giving you an extra range in your lights, why not? Be interested to hear of any caveats.

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Yes, I’ve just never heard of anyone doing it, but it seems a good way of extending the range of chroma.

I don’t think that there would be an issue in terms of appearance. At least with the acrylic gesso that I use (Liquitex professional), it is described (by Liquitex) as "Light-fast & Archival, Permanent and Non-Yellowing.)

I am not sure if an argument could be made in terms of paint film strength or integrity. I’ll do some digging.

The only issue that I would think might deserve some consideration is Support Induced Discoloration (SID.) However SID is a phenomenon that occurs with acrylic paints and mediums. Many common artist supports have impurities that can lead to discolorations but it seems that these impurities are brought to the surface with the use of water in regards to acrylics.

As an acrylic paint film dries, the water exits two ways: through the surface of the paint and through the back of the support, if porous enough. Canvas, linen, wood and Masonite are all porous enough to allow water to absorb into them. During this drying process, the water is actually in equilibrium moving back and forth between the acrylic paint and the support. The water extracts water-soluble impurities such as dirt, sap, starches, etc., from the support and deposits them into the acrylic film. The result is a discolored (typically amber) film, with the degree of discoloration dependent on the amount of contaminants deposited and the inherent level of impurities in the support.

According to Natural Pigments founder George O’Hanlon though–this is not a concern for oil painters as “SID is only an issue with acrylic paint applied over an acrylic ground or directly on wood and canvas. It is not an issue for oil paint whether or not the oil paint is on acrylic ground or not.”

So unless you are doing something on top of the gesso that might bring these impurities to the surface I wouldn’t think SID would be an issue. However, I thought I might mention it just in case.


Thanks very much for the advice Anthony, and don’t worry about digging any deeper on it. I had honestly expected that there must be some commonly understood no-no against this practice as I’d never heard of people doing it.

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No I think having a ground exposed in one way or another is more common than you might think. I use my ground to promote lightness and chroma quite a bit. I’m digging dammit. :joy::joy::joy:


I have done this often on Ampersand boards and not seen a problem after at least 6 years.


I’ve just added a new post regarding primers and grounds from the University of Delaware’s MITRA resource:

This still doesn’t address the surface integrity issue I am investigating per se, but it offers much good info related to the topic.

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Thanks Diane, good to know I’m not the only one. There’s safety in numbers!

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Thanks a lot Anthony, that’s my homework for the weekend. You can test me on it on Monday!

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