Tutorial 2. The power of negative space.

For this second tutorial, I am using a Calla Lily as my model.    I have always loved its exquisite form, and have used it for many years as both symbolic and decorative imagery in my paintings.      



It is key to train the eye to observe both the subject and the negative space, that which surrounds the subject.    Often we try so hard to make something happen…..to paint a perfect (in this case) calla lily, or solve an ongoing problem.     When what we need to do is observe and record the negative space, which surrounds the subject, and voila…the answer is revealed. 

In Frame 1.  Working on white paper, I have sketched the calla lilly using a neutral colour (yellow ochre) however, if you wish to use a pencil, brush, felt tip pen, that’s fine.    Note that after sketching the form, I immediately begin to add colour into the surrounding area – the negative space.   I am using a mix of burnt sienna and prussian blue. 


 Frame 2.   I continue to add the mix of Prussian Blue and Burnt sienna into the negative space, which automatically reveals the lily.  Note that I am working on a dry surface.      To manipulate the paint, I use one of the most important techniques in watercolour painting.     With a clean, wet brush I pull the paint out to the edge of the paper.    This gives an element of control, and helps to avoid muddiness….the enemy of all watercolour painters. 


Frame 3.   As I pull out the colour with my clean, wet brush….I am able to bleed more colour into the wet background.   I bleed in some violet and turquoise, and at the same time use a kitchen knife to scrape out some of the colour.    This gives a sense of movement and breaks up the density of the negative space. 


Frame 4.  In this image, using some of the same colour that is in the background, I begin to indicate the shadows.    Very little pigment is used for this.     The white paper, in this instance, becomes the whites in the image.     In other words I leave areas that I want to stay white, completely dry. 


Frame 5.   Now I begin to strengthen the shadows and build up the colour in the Lily.   Remember, any area I want to keep completely white, I keep as dry white paper.      It is important to note, that I take the same colours I have used in the background to make up the shadows…..this is because, everything reflects upon everything else, and all things are connected.    It will also help to give the image a sense of balance and harmony. 


Frame 6.   I like drama in my paintings, and so I am strengthening the shadows using pigments that are in the background.   By doing this, the white of the lily becomes more pronounced….again giving a sense of drama.     I


For this image, I have used Winsor & Newton, Cotman series – Burnt sienna, Prussian Blue, Dioxazine Violet, Turquoise blue, cadmium orange, and Winsor & Newton artist’s great Green Gold (a pigment I highly recommend) 

I  used an ordinary kitchen knife to scrape out the paint.    Cutting off the corner of a credit card works very well.    Probably the best use for any credit card:)

Next week, I hope to  show some one minute videos, which might help you with some of these techniques and also talk about my book The Apple Exercise which incorporates all the different elements which will be shown in these tutorials. 

The Apple Exercise, is available through the products page on my website at http://www.janetweightreed.co.uk

A Bientôt

For now wishing everyone a lovely weekend. 

A Bientôt





12 thoughts on “Tutorial 2. The power of negative space.

  1. gini

    Oh, but you have sparked a desire Janet. I am still dusting off my brushes.. Today, the paints. This is so very informative. I appreciate your sharing . And the painting is Gorgeous!! just like you.. (credit card humor) hee hee

  2. ShimonZ

    A beautiful tutorial,,, and yes, I love the awareness of negative space. It allows us a much more intimate connection to what we are viewing or describing. A Very enjoyable post.


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