A Study in Negative Painting

White Matilija Poppies

Here is a small negative painting study I did a few years back. I painted several of these studies before moving on to a larger painting.

Matilija Poppy Study I © Annie Glacken

When designing this composition, I placed the large flowers in a circular pattern in order to move the viewer’s eye around the painting.

After sketching out my composition, I prepared three puddles of paint on my palette: Hansa Yellow Light, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, and Royal Blue.

Next, I wet the surface of my painting and floated in the colors trying to keep most of the main flowers white. I wasn’t too concerned if a little of the background color floated over the edge of the petals.

Matilija Poppy Study I-Under Wash

After the first layer was completely dry, I began painting around my main flowers, leaves, and buds in order to make them stand out. I used the same colors as my under painting.

I knew I needed to keep the value light as I had several more layers to go.

Matilija Poppy Study I–Layer 2

As I continued working around the painting, I added some more darker values and introduced some Winsor Violet.

Matilija Poppy Study I-Third Layer

In this final layer, in addition to continuing to darken some of my values, I painted my stems and leaves using a light blue glaze over the yellow layer.

I also began to describe the petals on the flowers. To do this, I painted a thin blue line next to the fold.  Next, I softened one side of the color I just laid down with water and left a hard edge next to the fold. You need to skip around and paint every other fold in the petal. If you were to paint a fold next to one that wasn’t dry, the colors would run from one fold to the next.

Matilija Poppy Study I–Final Layer  © Annie Glacken Watercolor

This was a fun little study to try.  To learn more about negative paintings, see these previous posts:

Using the Negative Painting Approach

Fall Leaves and Acorns

As always, the compositions in these exercises are copyrighted. Thanks!





11 Replies to “A Study in Negative Painting”

  1. Annie,
    Thank you. I’ve never quite gotten negative painting. This one makes perfect sense and I’m going to try it.

    • I am glad it made sense–you never know when you are writing out instructions if they are clear. I hope you give it a try and I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Thanks for the comment.

  2. This is probably my favorite example of negative painting ever. You have such a beautiful style; no one could mistake it for anyone else’s. I love the tip about placing the flowers in a circular pattern, and I appreciate you sharing your color palette.

    • Thank you so much Susan. You know when I first began painting, I was worried about “developing a style.” Then one day when I went to a gallery where my work was hanging, another artist said to me, “I knew whose painting that was before I looked at the signature because I recognized your style.” Funny how you develop a style without realizing it!

  3. Hi Annie, thank you again for the wonderful instructions. I also have hard time with negative painting, but your expertise really helps. Question, when you went back in with the violet for background, are you re-wetting background before applying new color? Thanks again. Betty

    • Betty, usually I will wet a background area beyond where I will lay paint. Then while it is wet, I float in the paint right next to the object I am painting around. Then because the area is wet, that paint eventually fades out to nothing. In other words, it is darker next to the object and gets lighter and lighter as it moves away from the object I am painting around. I would love to see a negative painting that you create. Thanks for the compliment and comment.

      • Oh I have this! It’s also called Indanthrone or Anthraquinone blue, right? My absolutely favorite, go-to blue that I use nonstop. Mixing it with an earthtone makes a smoking hot black also. I love it in your painting. It really makes those flowers pop. Can’t wait to try your technique. Tis the season for flowers! Thank you for sharing this tutorial.

        • I am glad you have it. According to Handprint.com: Holbein’s paint is equally dark and the most intense of all. Both are redder than other brands. Yes, I mix it with a little Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Quinacridone Magenta for a very dark black. Have fun painting flowers!

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