Sunday, February 27, 2011

Negative Painting with Watercolor

Negative painting is one of the most exciting approaches to watercolor painting I know! It is a unique approach of painting around an object to define it in your composition. When working in watercolor we have challenges that other mediums do not. It is what we don’t paint that becomes the most important.
I begin a negative painting with an underpainting of 3 colors. To determine which 3 colors I will use I make color swatches. The swatches will contain a red, blue, and yellow. The colors do not need to be true primaries. When I mix the colors it is important to have the 3 colors be the same level of wetness to encourage good mixing on the paper. I am looking for colors that mix well and create an underlying feeling of the subject colors. Cadmium and opaque colors do not work for negative painting. The 3 colors I selected are Quinacidone Gold, Cerulean Blue, and Carmine. Once the under-painting is complete I can add additional colors but I well use the 3 original colors through out the painting process.
Steps to Negative Painting:
1. Draw design. Be mindful of the space and shapes between objects (negative space).
2. Wet paper with clean water and introduce the 3 paint colors. Tilt paper or use a spray bottle to help paint move and mingle. Don’t over work the surface with a paint brush but encourage the paint to mix on the paper. Let Dry.
3. Start glazing. Paint hard edges against subject and soften edges with water as you move out from subject.
4. With each glaze you’ll add new shapes and darker values. Completely dry between each glaze.
* Pencil in new shapes between glazes if you are getting lost.
*Don’t get dark too fast.
If you are interested in learning more about negative painting I have a 3-day workshop May 20, 21, & 22.
Happy Painting!


  1. Very helpful. I tend to think of negative painting as a one step process. This clarifies it much more for me.

  2. Glad I was able to clarify the process.
    Some artist might approach it differently but I find building new shapes with each glaze of paint works best.