Creative Plan

I have very little experience with negative painting, if I have practiced it, it would have been done unknowingly. It confuses me even more when I want to incorporate it into a picture that’s complex and cant work out if I am actually using a negative painting technique or I’m just… painting, like normal.

Needing clarification I went online and did a search. There were a lot of lovely examples but they were all very similar. The majority were like a scattered leaf or flower pattern sitting on a darkened background.

In these designs its very obvious what a great effect it can achieve, but I needed to see or know how to use it in other ways. For instance, how to use it when painting landscapes or if they’re my own designs how complicated can I get with them.

First attempt

So I created a basic pattern. I could have followed the examples I found online but I like to come up with my own. It’s something that can either benefit or impair me (I haven’t decided yet). I feel like if I copy someone else’s work I may end up just copying it verbatim and not actually learning the technique itself. 

However, my head can over complicate these exercises and make it even more difficult for me to get from A to B. But, hey ho… that’s me.

It’s important for me that this blog isn’t just about uploading the good stuff but the train wrecks as well. Making errors, and allowing for them to occur, are an integral part of my learning processes. 

Yes, I could attend classes or watch tutorials to avoid making mistakes but if I’m pre-warned of all the pitfalls it doesn’t sink into my brain as much as when I completely stuff up a picture and then have that “A ha! Now I know where I went wrong!” moment. It’s like baking a cake and mixing up the salt for the sugar –you only have to do it once to never make that mistake again.

Soooo…here’s what went wrong…

Mistake 1 – Make better instructions

I prepared all the layouts and worked out all the colour schemes a month earlier but had forgotten my method of attack. My instructions to myself were a little on the obscure side or so overly complicated it didnt make sense anymore. Keep it simple stupid.

Mistake 2 – Water it down

It became clear very quickly that after painting in all my base layers that there was too much paint. At the time it didn’t feel like too much colour, but once I started painting in the second layer on top it began to pull off a lot of the pigment underneath. The results were really blotchy and so hard to manage.

Mistake 3 – Follow the shape

A rookie error – I should have brushed on the paint following the contour of the shape rather than just blocking in each section. Its not the worst thing to have done but it makes for a tidier end result.

Mistake 4 – Colour blending

In my head I wanted to “subtly” blend in a darker colour over the brighter ones to create a lot of spatial depth. Put simply – it didn’t work. Whether it was because my initial layer had too much paint on it or it was just a really, really bad idea to begin. 

The results were so inconsistent and really difficult to control. That was probably the moment when it broke me.

Second Attempt

However, not wanting to be defeated by this I gave it a second chance. I kept the same exercise but simplified my approach. It was much better second time round though there were still lessons learnt. 

This is what I mean about going off using my own “road map” and getting lost or making a few wrong turns, the next time I take this journey I’ll remember where I went wrong, mostly….

Lesson 1 – Don’t complicate things

One of my favourite sayings is ‘Less is More’. It’s a shame I didnt apply it to this exercise. I added way too many elements as well as colours and it was part of my undoing.

Lesson 2 – Sample colours

Across all examples I minimised the number of colours for each design and made sure they were closer in tone. The first few layers were with the same colour but of different intensities which helped give the pictures some unity. However, that was only going to work to a certain point, so I had to introduce a second colour.

Although my colour choices were fine, next time I would do some colour testing beforehand. I do have a colour wheel that shows me what all my colours look like dried, but I need to line them up side by side to see how well or bad different combinations work together, like using colour swatches when picking out colours to paint a room. 

Lesson 3 – Drying time.

Not only did I water down my colours more, being so nervous about stuffing it up again I gave ample drying time before adding the next layer.


A much more pleasing ending that at least showed me the potential of where I can take negative painting and come up with some nice designs. Though time should be spent beforehand deciding the right colours and saturation for all the different layers.

Negative in Life

This next exercise was looking at ways to apply negative painting to real scenes rather than conceptual design pieces.  Again I dug through my old photos to find some examples. To make this task easier on me the selection was based on images that showed strong contrast between light and dark shapes.


Sometimes painting outdoors overlaps with negative painting becasue the inital step is laying down the light colours first, then it’s all a matter of shaping it with darker colours. The other really cool thing about this approach is that your base is a colour rather than the white of the paper, which most watercolourist might default to. Laying a soft colour down first can instead achieve a lovely atmospheric effect.

Leopard Seal

This one was a lot easier to execute because the scene is completely silohuetted making it much easier to copy.

Even though the shapes are distinctive and quite dark in tone there are still varying levels of “darkness”. The tendency would be to just paint it all in a “colour by numbers” fashion but that would probably flatten the image and not look as effective. 

I had to be conscious that the darker tones should be closest to me and that the ripples near the horizon must be lighter as well as being smaller and thinner, meaning I had to use a smaller brush (sometimes I can be very lazy and not bother changing brush sizes – it’s a very bad habit).

Abu Dhabi

This painting is unfinished because I gave up on it. It was slowly coming together but maybe I was physically tired and ran out of steam.

What made it difficult was that I needed to work fast because I wanted the jets of water and the reflections on the ground to have soft edges. This created a lot of wet sections across the picture which made the whole paper shiny or reflective so it was hard to see what I was doing. 

It looks nothing like my photo but after reveiwing it a few days later its not the train wreck I imagined. My brushwork at the time was very fussy and like an open wound the more I played with it the worse it got. Had I been more patient and thoughtful, and stuck around to add details, etc. it might’ve turned out okay. Better game plan next time.

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