Negative Painting



At the school where I teach art part-time, I am asked to begin each year with a lesson on Nature Study in Dry-Brush Watercolor.  This approach to painting a nature study piece is one of the foundations of the Charlotte Mason approach to education that my school so beautifully exemplifies throughout the K-8 curriculum. Students are taught to “draw with the brush” as they depict in watercolor all the details and nuances of the bit of nature they have before them.

Since our theme for art this year is All Creatures Great and Small, we looked at bird feathers of many kinds in our classes to create these nature studies.  A common question is : How do I paint white? The palette of watercolors they use does not come with Chinese White, thankfully. This forces them to come up with a solution to this “problem”.

My challenge as a teacher is NOT to give them the answer. The very best way to teach is to allow the students to discover for themselves, as much as possible, how they might create “white” on the page in their little painting. In every class, without fail, at least one (usually more) student comes up with the answer: Paint around the white part, leaving the white of the paper.

In one of the upper classes, I reminded them that what they have discovered is called Negative Painting in the art world. A few students snickered! We had a fun time discussing how that description seems weird since it makes you think the artist is angry or upset in some way while he/she paints! We then had students remind us of the difference between positive and negative painting.  It’s fun to view these standard art descriptions from a kid’s point of view!!

The above painting is NOT feathers. I painted this on a recent day at the Ciener Botanical Gardens.  I wanted the challenge of “negatively” painting these tall white flowers against the backdrop of foliage.  I really wish I had looked on the little metal plate at the base of the flowers to see what they are called!! That would be in keeping with a true Nature Study. Oh, and using Dry Brush, which I definitely did not do here. Oozling and Wazzling is my favorite thing!!

This painting is now in my Etsy Shoppe for sale, along with a few others I’ve just added. There are two up-close cow portraits (Mr. Whicker’s cows are so paintogenic!) And there’s a daffodil piece that reminds me of spring.

I hope you can do a little “negative painting” of your own…hee! hee!

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