How do I do negative painting in aspen tree foliage?

"Wildflowers and Aspens on Bear Lake Road" plein air watercolor 7x10
“Wildflowers and Aspens on Bear Lake Road” plein air watercolor 7×10

Negative painting simply means “painting behind” something else to make the positive part come out in front. To me, it is one of the best methods one can use in a watercolor (and also oil)¬†because you can create many layers of “depth” in an area. In this watercolor, I began the foliage with a wet-into-wet wash of the lightest color, yellow, then let it dry. While it was drying, which doesn’t take long in Colorado, I spattered on Miskit where I wanted the wildflowers in the foreground. Click on the image if you want to see it larger.

Being Able to Spot a Problem!
How to proceed with negative painting

I first like to “sneak up on it” by starting with a midtone color instead of adding the darkest darks right at the beginning. Then, I can add darker and darker colors, while not completely covering the midtone I’ve just added, which gives more layers and creates more depth. In this way, I finally ended up with the darkest darks where I wanted them, behind the whitest whites of the major aspens. You might want to draw in your negative spaces first until you get the hang of painting them. Add as many layers as you can and don’t always use exactly the same color, for more interest.

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks because I’ve been involved in Plein Air Rockies, a big plein air event in Estes Park, Colorado. I had to turn in my paintings yesterday. I’ll make up for it!

My oil workshop in Rockwall, Texas, Oct. 27-28th, is full, but please sign up on the waiting list if you haven’t signed up and want to. Things do change for people! See my web site, www.cecyturner.com.

 

How do I balance my trees? A Step-by-Step painting

Here is an example of having to alter a composition late in the painting to make it a better one. My original concept was to have the two aspens standing alone. Here, I’ve drawn them in pencil on the watercolor paper and added some local color (I mixed a red, yellow and blue on the right tree and added some burnt sienna to the left tree).

"Two Among Friends" Step 1
“Two Among Friends” Step 1

 

Here I wet the paper around the aspens and add washes of yellow, red and blue and let them “mingle” on the paper. I also add a touch of mineral violet. It’s always good to include violet in a landscape!

Two Among Friends Step 2
Two Among Friends Step 2

I add a little more shadow color on the trees, more dark markings, start the log and pine tree, and add a few deeper greens (out of the same three colors) behind the trees, plus some more purple. All of these colors will have an influence, although I’ll cover some of them up later.

 

Two Among Friends Step  3
Two Among Friends Step 3

In this step, I further develop the background, adding the other pine and some darker foliage. This is when I begin seeing that things aren’t right.

Two Among Friends  Step 4
Two Among Friends Step 4

 

I’ve decided that because¬†I didn’t repeat the white trees anywhere, you are “stuck there” and the eye can’t move around the painting. That is not good! The trees are too isolated, so I pull out a small piece of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, wet it, take a couple of scraps of watercolor paper (you can use any stiff paper), put them on either side of what I want to lift, and lift out three small additional trees. Already, it looks better. While I’m at it, I lift out a little light green foliage for the aspens.

Two Among Friends Step 5
Two Among Friends
Step 5
Two Among Friends 10x8 Plein Air Watercolor
Two Among Friends
10×8 Plein Air Watercolor

Finished! I darken the top half of the tree on the right to make it less similar to the left one, put shadowing and detail on my new trees, add a shadow in the right foreground so that your eye goes to the left foreground and follows the light up to the main tree.

Being Able to Spot a Problem!
Being Able to Spot a Problem!

Being able to spot a problem and decide how to correct it comes through a lot of mileage with the paint brush! If you know something isn’t right but don’t know what, get a “second pair of eyes” to look at your painting. Classes, workshops, dvd’s, books, critiques – all of this helps train you to spot a problem and solve it yourself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it was helpful. Pass it along to your friends! Next post will be about negative painting.

Two spaces left in my Oil Painting Workshop October 27-28th in Rockwall, Texas. See my web site for details!