#11 of 120 Paintings – Positive and Negative Painting


Ferns, watercolor, 3.5″ x 5.25″

I gave myself a mind-stretching exercise today, involving both positive and negative painting.  Positive painting is painting the shape of an object, which in watercolor usually results in a darker object on a lighter field.  Negative painting is painting the space around an object.  In watercolor this usually results in a lighter object on a darker ground.  My goal today was to paint shapes whose edges described objects in the positive on one side and in the negative on the other edge.

It may be easier to see in this photo I took after painting a couple of the shapes.

The top of the shape describes a fern, and the bottom space also describes ferns, although I think I could use some work on the negative shapes.

I will use this painting as a card, but its value to me was greater as an exercise in learning to think about the edges of shapes.

____________________________________________________________120 Paintings

“It takes 120 bad paintings to know something about painting.”  –  Larry Seiler as quoted by Jeff Mahorney in his blog

Each painting is small in format and should be completed in about an hour or less.

My goals are to improve my technique, to paint faster, and to gain experience with a variety of subjects.

7 thoughts on “#11 of 120 Paintings – Positive and Negative Painting

    • I think that the concept is more frequently used in watercolor due to the transparent nature of the medium. We usually paint light to dark, and have to save light areas since they can’t be covered up with white (unless one resorts to opaque pigments).

    • Thanks. I was preparing for the hydrangea picture. I remember being in one of my first watercolor classes and watching my teacher paint hydrangeas saying, “Negative, positive…negative, positive,” as she worked through the petals.

  1. Watercolor does require a different way of thinking than most other paints. Planning ahead is critical since the medium is transparent. People will say that you can’t correct mistakes, which is only partially true. Some pigments will lift back to the white paper and others stain the paper. I think more artists avoid watercolor because the water causes the pigments to flow and move on the paper. This becomes more predictable as one gets to know the characteristics of the individual pigments, but there is a large element of “learning to love plan B” involved with painting in watercolor. And learning to like not being in total control.

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