Negative Painting in Watercolor for Beginners: Ginkgo Leaves | Imelda Green | Skillshare

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Negative Painting in Watercolor for Beginners: Ginkgo Leaves

teacher avatar Imelda Green, Illustrator / Graphic designer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (26m)
    • 1. Welcome To My Class!

    • 2. Gathering Your Materials

    • 3. What Is Negative Painting?

    • 4. 2 Easy Watercolor Textures

    • 5. How To Work With Color?

    • 6. Starting Your Painting

    • 7. Adding Extra Layers

    • 8. Finishing Touches

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About This Class

In this class you’ll learn how to do negative painting in watercolor. Negative painting is a magical watercolor technique, that even beginners can master easily.

In this class I will start by explaining what materials I use for watercolors. We will then proceed to learning about two basic watercolor techniques, the wet on dry and the wet on wet effect. You will need both of these to create flowing watercolors in negative painting.

I am going to explain about how you can choose suitable colors, so you can create other pieces as well as the class project.

We will then use this knowledge to paint a finished piece with ginkgo biloba leaves in 4 layers.

By the end of this class you will gain all the technical and creative skills you need to create beautiful pieces in negative painting.

This class will be valuable for both total beginners and hobby artists to professionals working in the visual field. No experience is required but being familiar with watercolors and color theory will make the class easier to follow.


  • 3 sheets of heavy-weight watercolor paper (300gsm or higher is best)
  • a round, pointed watercolor brush (size 10 or similar
  • watercolor paint
  • a jar of water
  • a paper towel to control wetness in your brush
  • a palette to mix colors in
  • a pencil and an eraser
  • some masking tape
  • a hairdryer (not essential)
  • a printed version of the stencil that I attached to the course (not essential) (I printed it in 9cm x10cm


I hope you can join me in this creative journey — see you in class!



Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Imelda Green

Illustrator / Graphic designer


Imelda is an illustrator specializing in watercolor, based in Budapest, Hungary. She's been working as a full-time freelance illustrator since 2018. Since then, she illustrated children's books, planners, and many other projects, but it has become her artistic phylosophy to consider the process of painting far more important than the actual result.

This is how she started teaching in-person watercolor workshops, which she is now also transferring to an online experience, so she can share the joys of painting with as many people as possible.

She also runs a blog all about watercolor and illustration, where she helps creatives get rid of the pressures society places on the word 'talent'.

Imelda enjoys painting botanicals, food and many other subjects, while she also f... See full profile

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1. Welcome To My Class!: Hello and welcome to this class where we are exploring negative painting in watercolor. My name is Melda and I'm a watercolor illustrator. I started diving deeper into the watercolor techniques five years ago, and I've been working as a full-time freelance illustrator since 2018. Since then, I illustrated children's books, planners and many other projects, but I consider it my mission to break down some of the myths society has taught us about talent. It has become my artistic philosophy to consider the process of painting far more important than the actual result. This is how I started teaching watercolor workshops so I can share the joys of painting with as many people as possible. Watercolor is a wonderful technique that even beginners can master easily, but it can speed up the process considerably if someone explains how this medium works. In this class, we'll be covering some of the materials used for watercolors, what negative painting is, and how to work with different textures and colors in watercolor. With this knowledge, we'll be painting an entire piece of ginkgo leaves in negative painting using the template that I attached to this course. You don't need any prior knowledge to complete this course. So if you've always wanted to try negative painting but were afraid that things might go wrong, this class is for you. This is not a place to worry about lack of talent or manual skills. This easy project will make sure that you get into the flow state while you play around with color. If you're ready, let's jump into painting. 2. Gathering Your Materials: First of all, let's talk about the materials you need to get started with negative painting. You can find a PDF in the class resources section where I listed all the materials that I'm using. Today I'll be using Cauchy Norris Analynke watercolor paint, three sheets of A5 size watercolor paper. We'll be practicing negative painting on the first one, experiment with colors and textures on the second, and complete the cause project on the third. I'm using Fabriano's 300 gram cold press watercolor paper. You'll need a size 10 synthetic round watercolor brush, a plate to mix colors in. I'm using a plastic one here, but a simple kitchen plate is perfect for this, some water, a paper towel, a hair dryer if you want to speed up the drying process, but this is not essential, some masking tape to stop the paper from buckling, a pencil for sketching, and an eraser to remove the sketches when the painting is done, and a stencil which you can find in the class resources section. I printed this in 9 by 10 centimeter size and cut it, but if you use a larger or smaller paper than A5, you can print it in a different size. Now you don't need these exact same brands to complete this class, but if you want to reach similar results, make sure that you use watercolor paper, watercolor paints, and a watercolor brush. These materials react to excess water different than other types of art supplies. Using watercolor paper will make sure that the paper doesn't soak up the water immediately, so you can use effects like the wet-on-wet technique. We will be using a lot of a water which can make your paper buckle. Now, the heavier the paper, the best. This is an issue. This is why I chose a 300 gram paper. Apart from choosing a heavyweight paper, I am also going to tape it down onto the table using masking tape, which also helps with this buckling issue. Depending on the brand of tape you use, you might want to tape it down onto the table first before you put it on your painting otherwise, it might tear up the top layer of your paper while you remove it later. As for brushes, a watercolor brush is much softer than other brushes, and it is designed to hold a maximum amount of water this is why I'm using it today. Just a few words about the paint that I'm using. This is just regular watercolor paint that includes Annalyn, hence the name Annalynke. This is my favorite brand because the colors are super bright and vibrant, but you can use any watercolor paint that you have at home. If you have all the supplies, let's talk about negative painting. 3. What Is Negative Painting?: When you paint, you usually fill a certain shape. That is what we call positive painting. In the case of negative painting, you reverse the process. Instead of painting the shape itself, you paint the surrounding area, making the shapes stand out from the background. This is clear, right? But what happens when you want to do this in several layers? Well, you do it layer by layer. Let's try this now with two rectangles to keep things simple. First layer is easy. I'll draw a rectangle then pain the area around it using a color that's not very dark. Now it's time to wait for this to dry. You can speed up the process by using a hair dryer. If you do this, make sure that you blow the air vertically so you hold it at a 90 degree angle. Use a lower setting and keep the hair dryer at least two feet from your painting to avoid blasting of water from your paper. As your painting dries, you can gradually get the hair dryer closer, but be careful with this process. Once the paint is dry, we can start the second layer. I'll draw the second rectangle in a way that it covers the first one. Now I'm going to paint background again, but this time I'm going to leave out both rectangles. As you can see, both of them stand out now, but there is a sense of depth between the two of them. Now, the reason why I use a lighter color at the beginning is because I knew I had to pay one more darker layer for the background. If the first layer was already too dark, the second rectangle could not stand out like this. You know how to paint different layers in negative painting, but what's the difference between this painting and this painting? This is what we are going to discuss in the next lesson. 4. 2 Easy Watercolor Textures: There are two main differences between these two paintings, the use of color and textures. Let's talk about textures first. To create this beautiful effect, you should understand two different watercolor effects. The first one is the so-called wet and dry effect. This means you apply your wet paint onto a dry surface. This could be a blank paper or a painted surface that has previously dried, like we did in the previous lesson. As you can see, the edges are very neat and straight, they do not blend at all. Let's wait for this effect to dry. You know that you surface is completely dry if you put your finger on it and the temperature is the same as the rest of the paper. There is this face of the drying process when it looks dry, but if you put your finger on the surface, it feels cool, which means it is still not 100 percent dry. Now, let's paint something else on top of this layer. I'm going with stripes, but you can paint anything. As you can see, the new layer has a very clean outline. This is the effect we were using when we painted the second layer in the previous lesson, and we'll be using it in our class project between layers. The second layer is the so-called wet on wet technique. This is exactly what you think it is. You paint over a wet surface. This could be plain water on your paper or a previously applied layer of paint that hasn't dried yet. First we'll try on plain water. I'm going to paint this surface in water and grab some lighter green paint, and just touch the surface. As you can see, it doesn't have these clear edges like in the wet and dry technique, it blends with the water. Now, let's pick another color which will be blue for me, and let's touch the wet surface again. As you can see, the two colors blend into each other, they mix. One important thing with this mixing technique is to use lighter colors first, and then a darker ones. This is a basic rule for watercolors specifically because it is a transparent paint. We now have beautiful watercolor texture with mixed colors. This is what we are going to use to paint different layers of our final piece. Before we dive into that however, let me explain a little bit about color in the next lesson. 5. How To Work With Color?: Let's see what you need to know about color if you want to paint beautiful pieces in negative painting. As you have seen in the first experiment, you need to be careful with values. You should go gradually darker, so no one layer will pop out to you harshly. In the case of our class project, we will be doing four different layers, so we are going to paint four different values in three colors. When it comes to picking the colors that will blend, it is worth knowing a little bit about color theory. When you choose your colors, you will probably get the best results if you choose three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. In our project, I will be using yellow, green, and blue but you will also get beautiful results with red, purple, and blue for example. One thing you should avoid is mixing colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, which are so-called complementary colors. We are going to paint four different values in yellow, green, and peacock blue. We're going to start with yellow then green and blue. The way to lighten color in watercolor's is to add extra water, so I'm going to start with my deepest yellow. Then I'm going to put the brush into the water, remove the excess water by sweeping it against my jar and paint with it without applying extra pigments. Repeat this process again and again, and see how lighter the paint becomes. It is little less visible with yellow because it is a fairly light color, but it shows very well with green and blue. Now, let's move on to green. I'm applying the first swatch with very little water, then I just put my brush into the water and swatch again. This can take a little practice and your results can highly depend on how pigmented your paints are, but the process should be the same with any watercolor paint. Peacock blue is the most pigmented color in my palette, so it takes more water to brighten it up than green and especially yellow. These are the four values we are going to use for the four layers of our final piece. If you're ready, let's dive into our class project. 6. Starting Your Painting: It is now time to get started with your final piece. First thing you want to do is tape down your paper with masking tape onto your table or drawing board. This will prevent your paper from some of the buckling. It will probably still have little valleys, but if you leave it to dry and only removed the tape when it's completely finished, your final piece should be flat. Let's start by painting the entire paper with a very light baton back technique. I'm going to paint my entire paper and plain water and then add yellow, green and blue colors. This will be the finished surface of our leaves on the top layer. Once I'm done, I need to wait for the layer to dry before I go on. Next, I'm sketching the first three leaves onto the paper using my stencil. Make sure that these leaves don't overlap, otherwise, they will blend into each other. Now, I'm drawing rather harsh lines here so you guys can see what I'm doing. As for you try to sketch as lightly as possible so it will be easier to erase later. Now, let's paint the second layer. I'm going to use the same colors and the same techniques, but I'll leave out the leaves that I have just sketched up. Using a pointed round brush of this size helps me paint the little details when I keep it straight and don't press too hard, but it also holds enough water for me to paint the entire surface in one go,so no one area dries too soon. Your first layers of negative painting are done. Now let's make it a little more intricate. 7. Adding Extra Layers: Before moving on to the third layer, make sure that your painting is completely dry. Now, let's sketch the second layer of ginkgo leaves. I'm going to add another three. These can actually overlap for the first layer, but can not with each other. I'm not sketching them where they overlap with the first layer of leaves because I don't need those lines. It doesn't matter if they go off the page. The sketch is done. Let's paint the third layer leaving out all six leaves. See, that I'm blending different colors with the wet-on-wet technique. I'm trying to work as quickly as possible so the paint does not get dry anywhere before I'm completely finished with the layer. I also make sure that the paint is yellow or yellowish green instead of blue. The previous layer is yellow, otherwise, those would blend into a muddy green. As we have more and more shapes to paint around, the painting process gets slightly longer, but that's okay. Now we have two layers of ginkgo leaves. Aren't they beautiful? There goes the waiting game again. I'll just use my hair dryer. Now, we can move on to our fourth and final layer using the same process as before. I'm sketching three more leaves with the help of the stencil, drawing them only on the darkest areas. Now I'm painting the background again, leaving out all nine leafs. At this point I can use my darkest values because I'm not adding any more layers. Here we go. You've completed your piece in negative painting. 8. Finishing Touches: You are nearly done with you beautiful piece. However, before you can frame it and hang it on the wall, there are few finishing touches to accomplish. Please be sure that your painting is 100 percent totally, completely dry before you do these, otherwise, you can ruin your entire piece. Use a hair dryer or leave it to dry 24 hours if you must, but please be very careful. If you're sure, the first thing is to use an eraser to remove all the graphite lines. If you did a light enough sketch, this should not be an issue, but some brands of watercolor are more resistant to graphite than others. If you're done, all that's left is to remove the masking tape. Please be careful and do this gently. Otherwise you can tear up your paper and congratulations. You now know how to do negative painting. Please don't forget to share your work in the student project section. I would be really delighted to see your work. Also, if you share your work on social media, make sure that you tag me so I can promote you if that's something you're into. If you have any questions, please share them in the class discussion section, I'll do my best to answer you quickly. You can also reach me through social media. I would say, I'm most active on Instagram. I also run a blog about watercolors so if you're interested in this technique, you might find some exciting articles there as well. I'm planning to do more classes in watercolor here on skill share as well. So if you enjoyed this class, please follow me so you are the first to hear about a new class. Thank you again for painting with me today. If you enjoyed this class, I would really appreciate a thumbs up and a good review. All right, so this is it. Stay safe and happy painting.