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Painting in the Negative

Painting in the negative can have a very positive outcome. Well if this seems a bit confusing it really can be quite simple if you have a plan. Often artist, including myself, begin a painting by looking at the main subject of the composition. If we are painting a house, a barn, or an animal, we begin drawing or painting the curves and lines that match that particular subject. If we paint in this way, we are positive painting. So if this is positive painting, then what is negative painting? Painting in the negative is another technique that can produce quite nice results and may be very pleasing to you and others. It just requires a little different approach and thought process. Rather than looking at the shape of the main subject, try noticing the shapes surrounding it. This can be an easy technique, but it does require a plan. Color will easily be applied in the wrong areas if you aren’t prepared beforehand. The white of the paper in watercolor or the underpainting must remain visible. In other words you leave the subject you are trying to paint untouched and only paint the shape or shapes that surround it. Negative painting is a very interesting way to take an ordinary subject and present it in a very unique way. So exactly how is this achieved? First of all you must plan ahead in your composition. One way to accomplish this is to draw in your shapes ahead of time very lightly before beginning the painting. Then begin painting by placing the paint in the negative areas around the subject. Here are a few specific examples. Let’s say you want to paint a flower such as a daisy. First you would sketch the daisy with your pencil. Then rather than painting the daisy, the shapes surrounding each petal would be painted leaving the actual flower with no paint. Afterwards, the addition of some shadows to each petal could give added definition. However I find that just a hint of detail can give the best result. Another example might be if you wanted to paint a fence. First you would sketch out the shape of the fence, again using very light pencil strokes that can be easily erased. Then paint the shapes around the fence, in-between the boards and post, leaving the fence with no color, just the white of the paper or canvas. Painting the fence in the traditional way could have been dull and uninteresting. However with this technique, an ordinary subject can become very unique. The painting of my horse, Kasper, is an example of negative painting. I simply painted the negative shapes around the animal, leaving the positive horse shape white. Then after this was complete, I added a small amount of color inside the horse’s body to give a slight indication of the neck, face, and body. Very few details are given, but enough to let the viewer know that this is the backside of a horse. If you haven’t attempted negative painting, you should definitely give it a try. You just might be very pleased with the end result! Instead of having an ordinary painting or drawing, you will end up with something very creative and hopefully very pleasing to you and others.

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