Layering Leaves by Negative Painting in Watercolor

An easy & fun way to practice negative painting is by layering leaf shapes one on top of the other. In a previous post I showed you the simplicity of negative painting    ( ). Now I’ll do a painting with a variety of leaf shapes showing how I’ll create depth within the painting.


I start the painting with a colorful wash. Don’t be afraid to make your wash full of colors and textures. Use your favorite colors or try experimenting with colors you rarely use. We all have those tubes of paint we purchased but haven’t fallen in love with. Squeeze  some of those paints onto your palette and play with them. This is also an opportunity to see how your colors mix together or a good time to use new pigments to see how you like the colors. I recently purchased a variety of new Quinacridone colors that I love playing with. The wash I start my painting on are  thoroughly dried before I proceed with adding the leaf shapes.


Golden Fall


Golden Fall2______________________________________________

The leaf shapes can be traced from a real or artificial leaf or drawn free hand. I then choose a color slightly darker than the original color of the first wash. I paint the negative shape around each leaf shape. The new wash will be blended to the outside edges of the paper. You can see the salt I added to my second wash which will add more texture at this stage of the painting.


Golden Fall3


Golden Fall4


Golden Fall5_____________________________________

When you complete a layer of shapes and it is fully dry draw the next layer of shapes placing them “UNDER” the 1st layer.  NEVER PLACE THE NEXT LAYER ON TOP OF ANY PREVIOUS LIGHTER SHAPES OR LEAVES & NEVER PAINT OVER THE LIGHTER SHAPES…ONLY AROUND THEM. The only time I will paint any surface leaves will be to detail them or help separate them with shadows.


Golden Fall6


Golden Fall7


Golden Fall8

Here’s a closer look so you can see the details I added to some of the leaves.


Each wash I add gets darker. Don’t be shy using a juicy dark mix to create depth. Let the viewer see how far you can push the background within your painting. Do add some details to the leaves being careful not to make them too dark or they will no longer sit on the surface of the painting.

I also added vines or branches to the painting using the same negative painting technique, I just painted around them to make them appear. I splattered the completed painting with a beautiful gold watercolor paint by Holbein. I love using Holbein’s  gold & silver paints to add a bit of light to my paintings.


Golden Fall9________________________

This painting was fun, filled with exciting colors & shapes. Try negative painting and shift the way you see an object. You can always paint a leaf, now challenge yourself by painting the space outside the leaf and let the leaf appear as the light or unpainted object on the paper.

Once you start seeing objects in the negative you’ll love painting outside the lines.


Paint with Me


~ by Lorraine Rimmelin on January 5, 2014.

9 Responses to “Layering Leaves by Negative Painting in Watercolor”

  1. […] This is a link to an excellent step by step demonstration of painting maple leaves this way.  Negative Painting of Maple Leaf […]

  2. When I saw your negative painting in watercolour it struck me so that I had to try for the first time myself!! Your work is inspiringly beautiful! And combined with my favourite, fall leaves, I fell in love!! My one question is, however, how do your edges stay so nice and sharp? With an already dampened surface some of my colours tended to bleed past where I wanted.
    Thank you for sharing your talent and knowledge!! I look forward to mor practice!!

  3. I am so glad you tried this painting process. In order for the edges to remain crisp and sharp (called hard edges) you must make sure the paper is completely dry before starting the next layer of leaves. Let me know how this advice worked out for you, Lorraine

  4. I’m so confused. This is so beautiful and I want so much to try this, but the layering process hurts my brain to think about. It seems backward to me, (a complete novice). Is there a video I could watch that would show this process?

  5. Hi Stephanie, The process of negative painting takes practice & patience. The brain does have to adjust to seeing the negative space. I like the way it makes me feel when I am fully engaged in negative painting so don’t give up. The easiest way to practice this is by doing the leaf exercise BUT use simple circles instead. By eliminating all intricate edge shapes it is easy to follow the layering process using circles. You can search on YouTube for videos of negative painting. I hope this encourages you to try this technique again. Good luck and let me know how you do!

  6. Thank you so much for this, I have just finished the first trial when I have realized I haven’t read attentively your explanations- I did not add the shapes under, but above and on the light shapes, which was a mistake. But going back to your explanations I saw that you have mentioned that which makes your material very good to put into practice – it is the first that I have found on the net that really explains the layering part. So thank you for sharing this!!

  7. […] Image source […]

  8. Great content in this post. I’ll get into carrying out a lot more of some of this. Thanks for the knowledge.

  9. Thanks Chauncey, enjoy the painting process and let me know how your art turned out, Lorraine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: