Negative Space Watercolour Painting: Tips & Tricks

Negative painting | Ayush Paper

So, I attended a workshop by that crazy doodler in Pune (Vinita Varier). She happens to show one of her fantastic negative watercolor painting, which motivated me to publish this blog post.

-Ayush Surana

Negative painting step by step guide

  • What is negative painting?
  • Which is a negative space and how to use it?
  • Limiting and emphasizing negative space.
  • Tips and techniques to negative space watercolor painting.
  • Difference between wet on wet and glazing.
  • Ready to negative paint?
  • Negative painting exercise
  • Layering and water control tips
  • FAQ’s
  • How to get a 10% off coupon code.

What is negative painting?

Negative painting is an alternative approach to traditional painting. First, you paint the surrounding, and then the object. To understand how to make your negative space art, you’ll need to follow some basic rules that will help you quickly make incredible paintings.

Negative painting Mahima Tiwari
Trial by artist Mahima

What is negative space, and how to use it effectively?


Positive and negative space painting is a part of every painting.
Positive space is the subject itself (man, house, etc.), while negative space is the area surrounding and between the subject(s).


Positive space is what your eyes automatically gravitate towards in a painting or composition. Artists and designers usually try to draw the viewer’s focus to the positive space by balancing the negative space in the composition.

If you see a vase, then you see the white area as a positive space. The black area is the negative space. If you see faces, then you see the black area as positive, and the white area as the negative space.
Positive and negative space can form an essential part of your overall composition. You can use positive and negative space to create balance and rhythm in your art.

Negative painting Ayush Paper

Limiting and emphasizing Negative painting

Limiting and emphasizing negative painting | Ayush Paper

Limiting and emphasizing negative space also creates interesting compositions, so be creative and play around with shapes and space. As a rule of thumb, when looking at your painting, your eyes should naturally transition between shapes and recognize Contrast, but it shouldn’t be jarring. Rhythm is created through repetition, alternation, and pattern.

Create rhythm by:

  • I am using repetition and patterns in the shapes and spaces created by the positive and negative space.
  • I was alternating between positive and negative space in a certain pattern or rhythm. 

Tips & Techniques to Negative space watercolor paintings:

Traditionally you would focus on painting and detailing your subject and then paint your background. Here we flip the process by painting everything else other than your subject and focus on the area around the subject.

1) Masking while negative painting

To preserve lighter /white spaces in your composition, if you want hard edges, use a masking liquid. Regular masking tape also works well, but do not let it soak too much water. Ensure the chosen spaces are adequately covered and then continue painting without any worries.

2) What is Wet on Wet technique

While using the wet on wet technique, we pre-wet paper with water and then add a layer of paint that glides smoothly on the damp paper. Improvising this technique for negative painting, you can instead pre-wet the negative areas and leave the lighter areas dry. In this way, the paint will spread on the damp paper and cover the whole negative area.  

Make sure you cover the whole of the negative area so that you don’t get any hard edges. Adding layers can be done to add more depth and detailing to the painting. Keep layering while leaving intervals for the paint to dry in layers.

Do not detail the positive spaces too much, as the negative space will already draw enough attention to the positive space. Over detailing can lead to the loss of balance in the painting and make it confusing or tiresome for anyone to see.

What is watercolor glazing technique:

Glazing or layering colors is an essential technique in watercolor painting. When you paint, the transparent layers of paint build up, one on top of the other. This technique modifies the values and the color of the final painting.

The viewer’s eye mixes the colors, and it produces a more luminous and glowy effect than mixing colors beforehand and applying.

Glazing builds up semi-transparent layers, giving it a very gradual yet pleasing and controlled, finished look to the painting.

Difference between wet on wet and glazing

Proper Contrast & Depth

Contrast helps enhance the feeling of depth in an image, so instead of sticking to typically contrasting colors, white and black, also use washes of gray. Washes of gray will give the painting a more three-dimensional look, but if the desired look is flat and 2D, then this can be limited to three or four shades maximum.

Using different tonal values is also essential. Using colors like white and black offers more Contrast than grey and black.

Values help to show three-dimensional form by painting shade, shadow, and highlights.

Proper Contrast helps create a focal point for the viewer to focus on in the painting, somewhere for the eyes to rest.
By painting in the negative space first, you can show the positive subject without actually painting it, hence increasing the Contrast.

Depth is one of the essential visual elements to make your painting exciting and stand out.
To create an illusion of depth, use the method of continuous layering of colors and using a color palette with gradual shades of the primary colours.

Negative painting layering and glazing | Ayush Paper
Layering and glazing by Artist Shiri

Ready to negative paint??

1) Plan it out 

It is essential to ensure your painting meets the requirement of your imagination. Proper planning can go a long way—doing rough sketches first until you are delighted with the composition.

Keep analyzing to find whether the positive and negative spaces are balanced. Once you finalized the sketch, then you can begin planning the color palette and even test out the Contrast between shades beforehand.

2) Practice beforehand


Before attempting your negative space art, try to understand how to use positive and negative space properly.
Find negative space paintings online and train your eye to notice the negative and positive spaces.

Practice sketches and ideas on small pieces of paper beforehand to become more confident with negative space art. Observe the Contrast used and the use of color schemes. Is it a 2D flat painting or a painting that enhances depth to create a 3D image?

3) Paint!


After understanding the theory of negative spacing, attempt your art.
Employ the techniques you researched and have fun creating a pleasing composition.
Light washes can be used on the lighter areas, while more pigmented liquids could show the Contrast between the two.

Negative painting exercises

Tips on controlling water to paint 5 layers on lightweight paper 

We collaborated with Artist Diwita who’s created this negative painting exercise/ tutorial for you. We have selected Ayush paper’s 140 GSM sketchbook for this video. Follow this exercise and improve your watercolor painting

Materials used:
1) Camel artist watercolor 18 shades
2) Size 10 and Size 2 round brush
3) Ayush Paper 4×4 inches sketchbook (140 GSM)
4) Basic mixing palette
5) Masking tape

Layering and water control tips

While using watercolours for your negative painting, it is important to be very controlled while adding water onto paper. Limit the amount of water only for it to be enough to dilute the pigments.

Negative painting tips and tricks
  •  Begin by layering down a thin, dilute wash onto the paper
• Begin by laying down a thin, diluted wash onto the paper.
  • Always wipe off excess water and focus on increasing the pigment gradually as you layer on more washes.
  • Redraw/darken the outlines of your sketch and add a pigmented layer to further darken the negative space. The contrast between the negative and positive space should be gradually visible.
Negative painting tips and trick-3-min
  • Continue adding on layers until you are satisfied with the depth and the gradation from light to dark.
  • It is extremely important to allow each layer to dry before applying the next, or they will get smudged. If too much water is used, it will form puddles and prevent paint from evenly colouring the paper.
Negative painting tips and tricks

FAQ's

This depends on what technique you choose to use.
In the case of wet on wet, after letting a layer dry, you can go back and add a darker layer of the shame shade, or just a more pigmented layer.

In the case of glazing, two different shades are used on top of each other in a semi-transparent wash to gradually build up the color to give it more of a glowy effect.

Choose a few key colors in a particular color scheme and then develop your palette by making tints, tones, and shades of each color by mixing the color with white (tint), grey(tone), or black(shade).
In this way, you will have your personalized color palette according to your composition.
Complementary colors (red, & green, purple & warm yellows/oranges) tend to work very well in negative painting, but of course, you don’t have to stick to just this.

No, you don’t have to. Masking is an optional step and technique to be used only if you wish to have hard edges in your painting or to be extra careful while preserving lighter spaces. If you want a more gradual, not heavy contrast between positive and negative, you don’t have to use masking and can experiment without it.

No!

Glazing is one of the most important technique to create a negative painting as it involves layer over layer.

Positive and negative spaces form an essential part of your art work. Using positive and negative spaces helps you create a balance and rhythm in your art work.

Rhythm is created by repetition and patterns in shapes. 

We hope you found this informative and enjoyed learning more about negative space and how to use it in your art!

To make this blog more enjoyable. Re-creates from the above video. Email your art-work on [email protected] we’ll feature your work under this blog post and share a 10% off on sketchbooks coupon code with you 🙂 (Limited period offer)

If you have more tips and tricks, comment below and tag us in your negative space art! Happy painting!

Artist that have tried negative painting from the tutorial

17 Comments

  1. Hey!! This so detailed and brilliant. I specially love the step by step pictures. Trying this soon!!
  2. This is so cool. Beautiful watercolour painting. You have explained this technique in complete details. Thankyou for this amazing art. Will practice this art and then share it with you.
  3. Amazing content Ayush! It's really important to have the knowledge of negative and positive space when u paint! Loved the step by step process! Looking forward to showcase something out of this info! Goodluck! keep blessing our feed with such art knowledge :)
    • Garima Ji! Thank you so much for spending time and going through the blog post. Waiting to see your creation.
  4. I recreated this watercolour painting, after reading this blog on negative space watercolour painting and watching youtube tutorial done by inklot by Diwita. It was fun to learn a new form of painting. It took me 4 hrs to paint. Materials I used here are: A5 size 190gsm paper ( didn't had paper lighter than this) Watercolour prussian blue and black Roundtip brushes #8, #3, #1 Masking tape At first it was difficult to control the amount of water, but after 1st layer of colour, it was easy. Adding more pigment to darken the oulines of your last layer, gave a new perspective to my drawing. Difficult part was to allow each layer to dry completely, before applying new coat of colour. At some places, where colour didn't dry properly, next coat of colour bleeded. For last layer of colour, i mixed a hint of black to prussian blue to give it a darker colour. I enjoyed every bit of it and planning to paint more of these soon. @kshitij and shikha_artstudio
  5. I just tried this painting and it really relaxes our mind...!!! It's a great form of building concentration and also I m sure u guys will enjoy the magic!! The tutorial is very simple and clear, beginner friendly and many watercolor tips and tricks are shared . Do watch it and try it out guys.
  6. The best ever website I've ever gone through ♥️? each and every description of the materials and the informations are most appreciable♥️ keep going♥️?

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