Most paintings are done in the positive space, that is, you paint the shape of the subject. I recently read about creating entire paintings the opposite way, instead of painting the shape of your subject you paint the space around it or the negative space. You build up depth by increasing the tonal value around your subject. This is not a new technique, in fact I use this method when I paint leaves. Instead of painting the veins of a leaf I paint the shapes around it. I like this because it allows me to create finer lines than I could with a paint brush. So if this works for small things like leaves why not try it for a whole piece.
In my first trial I chose three colors (quinacridone rose, permanent magenta, and alizarin crimson). I wet my entire paper and applied a very light wash of the rose and let it dry. This layer was very extremely light, in fact it is hard to tell any paint stained the paper. Once this layer was dry I sketched a simple flower shape, setting it off-center of my paper. Using the same rose wash I painted around the petal shapes and let this layer dry. I drew more petal shapes making sure that some petals touched to create interesting shapes. I mixed up a stronger wash of the rose and painted around the second layer of petals. Once this layer was dry I drew in another layer of petals and painted around them with a mix of the rose and magenta. You can see the pattern forming – each time I add another layer of petals the paint becomes stronger in value. I added two more layers, one was a mix of magenta and alizarin crimson, and the final layer was alizrin crimson with just a touch of the magenta.
For my second piece I drew a simple leaf shape on scrap paper and cut it out to use as a stencil. I placed my stencil on the paper traced around it and then applied a barley tinted wash of viridian green, phthalo turquoise, and burnt umber to the entire paper. Once it was dry I added another set of leaves to the page and painted around the shapes with a slightly darker mix of my three colors with more green than the other two colors. I added three more layers of leaves and paint. On the final layer of paint I made the value darker and bluer by adding some indanthrene blue to make this last glaze recede further into the background.
There are a few things to keep in mind when trying this technique.
- Make sure each layer of paint is thoroughly dry before adding the next layer. You want crisp edges next to your shapes, if the paper isn’t dry the layers can bleed into each other.
- Pay attention to captured negatives (those little spaces that form when one shape crosses another), they are little jewels that really help with the illusion of depth.
- Build up your painting gradually so that you get a nice progression from light to dark.
Until next time…think positively about negative painting!