Creative Techniques: Negative Painting

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Negative painting is not an easy concept to explain yet once you catch on to the idea it becomes second nature. The easiest way to describe it would be as follows: when you look at an image through a viewfinder or a mat you might be looking at a tree in a pasture with a beautiful blue sky.

When you paint the actual tree you are looking and painting that shape as you see it. That shape is a positive shape.

Now negative space painting is where, rather than paint the object you see before you, you paint around the areas, or spaces around the tree. So, in this instance, you would begin by painting the sky up to where the sky meets the intended tree structure. At this point, you are outlining around the tree shape and the branches from the outside edge towards the inside. You would be using the sky to create the tree!

If the tree had roots and the roots could be seen on top of the grass, you would then start the grass color from an edge and work inwards. Where the roots would be you would work around those roots using the grass color. This would serve to outline the root shapes.

By painting in this negative space first, you reveal the intended positive space, without actually painting it. You can use both positive and negative painting within any one painting especially in semi-abstract paintings. The words “negative” or “positive” have no particular relevance, they simply are the ying and yang of painting techniques.

To get an idea of how this can work for a petroglyph/pictogram painting see my Seton Creek Site painting.