Archive for January, 2011

Negative Painting

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

As an optimist, I like to keep things upbeat and positive. So what’s all this about “negative painting”? Good question.

081104 Tree Lights

Negative painting refers to the practice of painting around an object or shape (sometimes referred to as the “positive” element) rather than painting the object itself. The technique is frequently employed when a light subject is depicted against a darker background. But it can also be used when an artist wants to reserve an area to be painted separately, at a different time, either before or after.

You can see examples of negative painting in many of my paintings, especially those of light-colored animals or flowers. In the painting “Tree Lights” (#081104), shown above, the negative shapes between the plant quills served to define the shape of the bromiliad that has grown on the side of a tree trunk.

The plant’s quills were barely tinted with paint to suggest their local color and the light shining through and glinting off the surface of the plant.

Red Eyed Hibiscus

In “Red-Eyed Hibiscus” (#090803), negative painting was used around the edges of the white petals to define their shape. Contour shading and the red of the eye were added to the petals afterward.


Saturday, January 1st, 2011

When eliminating elements from a photograph, the artist should be careful to eliminate corresponding reflections elsewhere in the composition, such as in puddles, color bounced off nearby opaque surfaces, and in polished or otherwise reflective surfaces.

Lucca Rain

In “Lucca Rain” (#101103), I omitted several elements from the original photograph to simplify the composition. I had to also be careful not to copy their reflections, as it would have been confusing to include reflections, for instance in the puddles in the foreground, of elements that did not appear.

Reflectivity should also be taken into account when changing the appearance of the sky —an overcast sky casts softer shadows than a clear or partly cloudy sky does; contrast is lower, and (in general) colors appear more muted. Exceptions are those elements that appear more highly saturated when wet or when juxtaposed with the other, more muted tones surrounding it, such as tree trunks (which often appear darker when wet) and brightly colored clothing.

There is a strong temptation to limit use of a contrasting color to the focal point in the composition. However, it is a mistake to introduce any color, particularly a saturated one, into a composition without reflecting that hue elsewhere in the painting—whether in direct, mirror- or water-type reflection or through bounced color. The hue can appear more muted in shadowed or obvious reflections areas or be repeated at any level of saturation in minor elements elsewhere in the composition. This helps to unify the painting and keeps the contrasting color in the focal area from appearing out of place.

The reds of the woman’s jacket and umbrella in “Lucca Rain” are repeated faintly in the asphalt underneath the row of trees to her left and are reflected to a lesser degree in the puddle beneath her feet. An underlayer of red was also used in the roof dome above her.