How to Do Negative Painting Using a Leaf

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15-10-2017, 11:00
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By doing negative painting, you'll cause an object or subject to emerge by painting around it. An autumn leaf, fallen from a tree outdoors or bought at the craft store, is perfect for this fun technique. This activity is also good practice in handling juicy, wet paint and working the paint into small areas. Just remember to paint only around the leaves. With patience and trust, the leaves will become visible and end up as the stars of the show.

Steps

  1. Set up your supplies and draw around a leaf.
  2. Use any size watercolor paper. An 11” X 14” piece of 140 lb. cold press, watercolor paper from a pad works well. Hold it in either orientation, sideways or up and down.
  3. Gather other supplies. Find a leaf that is neither too intricate nor too simple. Pick one that has some width and body, but not too many points. If, in your area, fall leaves don’t exist, use a silk one from the craft store.
  4. Assemble an assortment of brushes including a medium size one with a good point and a ¾ inch wash brush (or other soft brush.) Get a water container, a pencil, tissues and a work space that is well protected with plastic or paper. For a support board turn the sheet back and use the cardboard backing of the pad to support your work.
  5. Set up a fresh, clean palette of quarter-inch amounts of primary and secondary colors from a set of tube colors. Tube colors dry bright and intense, dilute well and always give good results.
  6. Place the leaf you’ve chosen on the paper. Draw around it in pencil six to seven times, placing it at various angles. Don’t overlap them.
  7. Tone the entire paper.
  8. Begin by under painting (toning) your paper to create a variegated, abstract surface. Ignore the leaves that are drawn on it. Dampen your paper using a soft brush and clean water. Wait a minute or two to let the water soak in. If the corners curl, tape them with masking tape that has been made into a cylinder with the sticky side out. Place the tape loops at a 45 degree angle to the corners adhering the top sheet to those underneath.
  9. Drop in autumn colors. The paper’s wetness is your friend. It will be what moves the colors over the paper. Pull a color onto the palette section and add a few drops of water to make it the consistency of milk. Overfill your brush and let the paint drop onto the wet paper. Use an assortment of colors; red, yellow, gold, blue and purple.
  10. Help the colors blend. If the paints refuse to move, you haven’t wet your paper enough, so drop in more plain water. You can also tilt your paper to help the colors merge. Place it flat to dry. Don’t over mix or use too many colors. Let it air-dry for a few minutes to set the colors. Wipe excess water with a tissue, carefully and only at the paper's edges.
  11. Finish drying with a hair dryer. This will take five or more minutes or until the paper feels warm to the touch.
  12. Create the first layer of leaves.
  13. Mix, thoroughly, on your clean palette, a puddle of orange watercolor. Make the puddle big and test it on a sheet of scrap paper. It should be thin and transparent enough to see the white of the paper through it and rich enough to maintain the integrity of the orange color. When dry it should remind you of a sheet of colored glass. Dry your test swatch and see if the color remains as bright as you thought it was. If not, add more pigment to your puddle. This is the only paint you will use from now on.
  14. Keep reminding yourself to paint AROUND the leaf shapes. Use a fully loaded brush and transport the orange from the puddle on your palette to the background behind the leaf shapes on your paper. Keep the paper flat and starting at an edge, guide and move the paint into all areas and the small places around and between leaves. Work for a continuous and even layer over all. When you have painted the entire background, dry the piece using a hair dryer. Get it totally dry, warm to the touch, to preserve the colors already in place.
  15. Step back and see what you have accomplished. Note that while you did not paint the leaves, by painting around them, you made them emerge. That is what negative painting is.
  16. Do the second layer of leaves.
  17. Use the same leaf and draw it again, six to seven times. Use slightly harder pencil pressure this time. It will be necessary to overlap the leaves already there.
  18. Using the same orange puddle, paint around the new assortment of leaves. Ignore all of the other leaves already on the page. Look only at the background and paint anything that is not a leaf. Use the same orange puddle, replenishing as needed Allow the piece to dry and step back and admire the depth you have created. Stop here if you choose.
  19. Do a third layer if you wish.
  20. Repeat what you did with layer number two. Repeat drawing the leaf again, in new places and configurations.
  21. Paint only those places that are not leaves and stop after three layers. If you need to refresh your orange puddle, try to have the paint be the same shade and consistency as when you began. Use your test swatch for accuracy and do the best you can. Prop the piece up when dry.
  22. Step back and admire your work. Hang for all to see and discuss how you painted leaves without actually painting the leaf. Everyone will be impressed!
  23. Have fun with markers and by spattering paint onto your leaves.

Tips

  • For extra oomph, purchase a bottle of liquid watercolor or colored ink. It is so strong, you will have to dilute it. Prep it as you did with the tube paint. Put some liquid dye on your palette and add drops of water. Mix really well. This will dry brighter than watercolor and add a lot of drama to your painting.
  • Don’t rush it. Not allowing this painting to dry thoroughly as your work progresses will only result in muddy layers. Also, using a good, pointed brush and taking the time to get in all the tiny places around the leaf will give you the best results.
  • Purchase a student grade set of tube watercolors. Tubes contain fewer fillers and mix more easily than dry pads of watercolor. They are necessary for making large, consistent amounts of paint. The better the paint the better the result. You actually use less of the tube paint since it is so refined and rich. If all you have is a pan of dry colors, by all means use them. Just keep wetting them generously with clean water to make a good mixture for painting.
  • Try your hand at other colors. The combinations are unlimited, so be creative and do the lesson again with different colors and leaves. Once you have the concept mastered, mix it up with two different shapes of leaves, but remember the mantra: Paint only what is not a leaf.
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