Confronted with a stark white canvas can put off the hardest criminals! Today’s ready primed canvases are a new phenomenon born from mass production methods. Traditionally artists never painted on white canvas. It is curious that the traditional brown colored palette has not kept up with these new developments. They are a throw-back to a time when artists painted onto canvas of the same color. The rational is that you don’t want to mix your colors on a brown-colored palette to find that the colors when placed on a white canvas change their optical effect.
Colors appear as they do by context. A red will appear more vibrant and pure on a white surround than on a dark brown one. The key is to mix colors on a palette that is the same color as the canvas you are working on. So if you are painting on a white canvas you need to have a white-colored palette.
The problem with using a white background is that white will always be the lightest tone in your painting. Always paint the lightest lights last. The problem with white backgrounds is that the artist will struggle to compensate for all the white areas. After covering the white canvas all the tonal relationships established are thrown out!
White canvas is very off-putting as it leaves nothing for the suggestive process to work on. To avoid this artists often paint over the white canvas with a thin wash of neutral color, either a grayish or brownish color. They lay the wash in loosely, leaving brush strokes to awaken the enliven the successive layers of paint. It is the interplay between paint applied loosely and successive layers that makes for a more satisfactory and alive painting.
The suggestive process can only work if you first feed it something to interact with.