Watercolor Workshop: Negative Painting

Welcome back!

Now that you have experimented and gained experience with your watercolors, you are ready to start adding control to your images. This lesson on negative painting is perfect for watercolor beginners, parents, teachers and children. Stick to simple line drawings and encourage patience by practicing this watercolor technique.

As I am sure you have noticed, water and wetness play a large role in your painting. With negative painting, a clear delineation is maintained by carefully holding fast to the separation of wet and dry.

This is where patience comes into play with your paintings. If you work too quickly, your watercolors will bleed, resulting in soft lines. Using patience, clean, hard lines can be made.

For Teachers and Parents:

Link this lesson to science by discussing the diffusive qualities of water, the water cycle or evaporation.

You can even use pigments and wetness to illustrate erosion.

Negative painting is one of the tools I often use when painting illustrations. The clean lines lend themselves well to the pen and paint style of many children’s books.

To start, use a simple line drawing.

A simple drawing is a great place to begin.
A simple drawing is a great place to begin.

One of the many benefits of negative painting is that you can still apply your pigments using all of the methods available to you. You can choose wet on wet, wet on dry or use a variety of washes.

However, in this exercise you want to carefully avoid painting within your “drawing” or negative spaces. (There are other ways to mask the “white” of the paper but for this lesson we will simply develop our brush skills.)

After painting the layer, you wait. If I were to paint the next part of the image before the first part dried, the colors would bleed and my resulting picture would be blurred.

Adding the first layer.
Adding the first layer.
If you rush your painting, blurred lines will result.
If you rush your painting, blurred lines will result.

While you wait, practice these tips for patience:

  1. Paint more than one project at a time. If you paint 2-3 images at once, you can rotate through each as the others dry.
  2. Distract yourself by doing something else. Research has proven that a quick walk around the block will elevate your mood and help maintain focus.
  3. Meditate or practice yoga. Painting can be tiring to the body and the mind. Be sure to reward your creativity with self care.
  4. Practice your skills on scrap paper. There’s always room to improve.
  5. Take a cat nap. Sometimes slowing down is the best way to keep moving forward.

Okay! We’ve made it!

Now that the first layer is dry, you can continue. Layer by layer, complete the painting, maintaining the lines and details.

Finish by filling in the layers.

Negative painting allows you to be as detailed or as simple as you’d like while keeping hard lines.

In this image I used a wet wash.
In this image I used a wet wash.
Finishing the image, I use a variety of wet and ry techniques while staying within my lines.
Finishing the image, I use a variety of wet and dry techniques while staying within my lines.

Next time, we’ll start to add complexity to our paintings with the Power of Wet.

Start Your Watercolor Workshop


2 thoughts on “Watercolor Workshop: Negative Painting

  1. Thank you for your water colour workshop – I enjoyed watching it. I have just recently started working with ink and have found it a challenge and will take on board some of the methods you have demonstrated…thanks for sharing…warm regards Karen

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