Posted June 11, 2020 by Kerry McFall
I recently saw a post (from Michelle Collier on Facebook’s Sketchbook Skool group) about “negative painting techniques”. I was fascinated, so down the Google rabbit hole I dove, and began experimenting with what I have now come to think of as painting inside out. It makes perfect sense currently, where everyone on the planet is at Sixes and Sevens (a British idiom for a state of total confusion). We are re-thinking everything on every level: breathing, touching, going to work, cultural norms, racial stereotypes, rules of encounter, all of it. We are re-learning lessons from the past, trying to understand how we got to this, hoping to re-build and build it better. And yes, it is overwhelming.
So, be good to yourself every chance you get. Case in point: I saw a big bag of fresh cherries at the Farmer’s Market down the street – it’s been re-worked for Pandemic Suitability, of course, but the cherries are still cherries, plump, colorful, enticing. I ignored the sky high price, and bought the whole bag, knowing that although the cherries themselves would be gone very soon, I could paint them, and come winter I’ll be able to go back through the pages of my sketchbook and enjoy them over and over!
New (for me) Technique : Negative Painting
I usually start a painting with a sketch that roughs in all of the details, then I paint the focal points, and finish with the background. Negative painting technique says ‘no’, do it inside out… Start with the colors of what you want to paint, like cherries or leaves, just the colors, not the shapes, not the shadows. Leave that pencil alone, pick up a big fat brush and get it juicy with color. Slap it down, let it do its thing, trickle and run and meld. Now go do the dishes (you know you need to anyway).
(The small dark cherry up at the beginning of this post is what developed from the middle blob on the right side of this first layer.) Once you’ve finished the dishes and your paint is now dry, maybe pour a glass of wine, and begin to pick out the edges of where your main shapes aren’t, aka ‘negative space’. Go loosely, lightly, with a colored pencil maybe, drawing the shapes between the cherries or the leaves or whatever. Soon the positive shapes come together from the outline of the negative shapes… then dip your brush in a darker color for the background, or dig out a big fat marker, or use the side of a colored pencil, and fill in that negative space. Magic happens, and your cherries pop off the page!
This is when I struggle with knowing when to stop… I tend to overwork things, adding a shadow here and a highlight there, and fuss and bother about this and that, but it’s all part of the process, the process of learning, the art of relaxing and letting the cherries take you away from the 6’s and 7’s… Hmm, I just had a mental flash from an old Calgon bubblebath ad, “Calgon, take me away!”