Negative Space Painting

Today I was playing around with some watercolor techniques described in the book The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Landscapes by Gordon MacKensie.Watercolor Essential Notebook: LandscapesI saw an exercise that looked like it would be really simple to do– negative painting. Negative painting (or drawing) is just painting (or drawing) the space around the subject instead of the subject itself. This exercise was to paint the spaces between a group of trees. So I started painting with a light green color the spaces between the tree trunks and branches. Sounds simple until you start doing it. It would be so much easier to paint the tree trunks and branches and just leave the space between.  For some reason negative painting feels like I am doing it backwards. I think I am going to have to do a lot of exercises like this to train my brain to see this way!

After painting the spaces with the light green, I used a darker green/blue shade to paint the spaces of the trees behind my front trees. Using an even darker shade, I painted another layer of spaces behind the second batch of trees forming a third row of trees. It was not easy! Now in looking at my finished painting, I can see several areas where my spaces do not make sense. (Sorry, I was so wrapped up in painting spaces, I forgot to take pictures of the process.)Negative Painting 2Negative painting 1I think I want to try this same exercise with pencil and shade in the different values of my spaces. I need to master negative drawing/painting because according to Helen South,

A sound understanding of negative space drawing is critical for watercolor painting, as a watercolor is built through a progressive overlaying of negative-space areas, working from light to dark.

Have you tried negative drawing? It is a good exercise in observation. Find something in your house like a plant or chair or lamp. Don’t draw an outline of the object itself. Draw the spaces that are around the object. Have fun!


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