Positives and Negatives

Subject matter like this stable scene is very inspiring to me, simply because I love horses. But from an artistic standpoint, there’s more to it that made me want to paint it.
We have a brightly lit backdrop and horses with riders in the deep foreground shadows which creates contrast and lots of positive and negative patterns.
As a painter, that’s what I am looking for. It is almost more important than the subject itself: Light, shadow, positives, negatives and pattern. What exactly do I mean by P&N?

If you have a shape, any shape, it has an outline thus creates the space that makes the shape. It is filled with a certain value and color. It distinguishes itself from other shapes by value, color and form. Most people see only positives, for instance the tree on a hillside or a vase on a table. Artists see differently. I look for patterns. I am more interested in what the shape does than what it actually is. Sure it’s a horse, a vase or a tree. But how does it interact with shapes around it? What is it’s overall effect on the compo, the design, the line work, the energy it creates.. These are the important parts!

A tree has lots of branches, foliage etc. and we can easily see the sky showing through all the gaps and openings. There’s your negative space!
Oil painters often layer the sky into the tree and get the branches like that. Watercolor painters paint the sky first and are careful to leave gaps within the tree to get the same results. Or else, you work a darker value around and get the branches to appear that way. If you have problems ‘seeing’ negative space, try to look at a picture in black and white. The values will be easier to spot as well!

So, the enclosed spaces and openings between the branches of a tree are ‘Negatives’. Negative space doesn’t mean ‘ no pigment there’. It just means there are gaps with a big value discrepancy. (foreground dark, background light or vise versa!) In painting, it often develops a focal point!

If you want to see a true master of negative painting in watercolor, go visit my friend Brenda Swenson’s blog, take a look at this post ( http://brendaswenson.blogspot.com/2013/05/negative-painting.html)
I posted her floral painting above. Can you see the negative space that makes the stems and petals? A great example of the art of negative painting!

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4 thoughts on “Positives and Negatives

  1. Brenda Swenson

    Frank, Thank you for the kind words! It means a lot hearing words of praise from a fellow artist and friend.
    Happy Painting!
    Brenda

  2. bob witte

    this is a great little lesson, frank. well written and helpful.

    your black and white photo above reminded me that i like to take a photo of an almost finished painting and render it b+w on iphoto (or photoshop) to see the values better and make sure it reads as well as i think it does or (more often than i’d like to admit) doesn’t.

    hope you and yours had a great thanksgiving.

    1. frankeber Post author

      Great comment, Bob. It takes a lot of practice to see values right. Maybe years and years..it’s the most likely culprit when a painting doesn’t work!

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