Whimsical Watercolor: Creating Botanical Scenes using Negative Painting | Elizabeth & James Manning | Skillshare

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Whimsical Watercolor: Creating Botanical Scenes using Negative Painting

teacher avatar Elizabeth & James Manning, Watercolor and Photography Team!

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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

11 Lessons (48m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Warmup: Negative Space

    • 3. Warmup: Negative Painting

    • 4. Warmup: Masking

    • 5. Project: Composition

    • 6. Project: Materials, Prep, and Masking

    • 7. Project: Negative Painting - Building the Layers

    • 8. Project: Values - Working the Foreground

    • 9. Project: Color Pops - Center of Interest Details

    • 10. Project: Finishing Touches - Optional Ink Work

    • 11. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Want to add depth and dimension and beautiful rich tones to your watercolor pieces? Negative painting is the perfect way to create layer upon layer with watercolor. I use Negative Painting techniques a ton in my own practice as an artist and cofounder of Two Hoots Studio that I run with my husband, photographer and creative James Manning. Don't worry, negative painting is a positive thing! The basic concept is to paint the negative space around objects you want to stand out. If these are new terms to you, I have warm up activities targeted for beginner painters. Already pretty experienced? Jump right to the project videos!

In addition to building a strong foundation in negative painting principles and techniques, I'll guide you through some of the twists I use to create botanical scenes full of whimsy. I hope that this class will help you explore with watercolor and make choices that give your negative paintings your own unique spin! 

Feel free to check out our website for more examples of my own negative paintings as well as new things we are cooking up in the studio. We also post a lot of behind the scenes content on our Instagram.

Meet Your Teacher

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Elizabeth & James Manning

Watercolor and Photography Team!


Hello, we are two Michigan artists who preserve magical moments through watercolor and black and white photography. Our love of adventure and art are foundational to our relationship and the driving force behind Two Hoots Studio. The work we create is a celebration of our life in Northern Michigan where we are surrounded by the best community and natural beauty we could ask for. We look forward to sharing our passion for our craft with the Skillshare community. 

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1. Introduction: Hi there. I'm Elizabeth Manning, artists and co-founder of two hoots studio with my husband James. We are lucky enough to live and work in northern Michigan, where we are surrounded by the woods and natural places that inspire our work. Today I'm going to talk to you about negative painting, which I like to use to paint botanically. It's my hope that the skills developed will help you paint whatever inspires you the most. To make this class accessible to both beginner and intermediate students, have created a series of warm-up videos. Feel free to skip ahead to the project section if you're already confident in these core skills. 2. Warmup: Negative Space: One of the most important things to know about in order to do a negative painting is the core concept of negative space or negative space in this context refers to the space around the object That's based helps define it. And in the case of negative painting, we use the negative space to build depth, which we'll talk about a little bit more later on. A really good resource for understanding negative space even better is Betty Edwards book drawing on the right side of the brain. Let's talk about the activity that I have in mind for helping you apply this gill to a composition later on. Since negative painting is painting around a shape, The first thing you'll need for this activity is a bunch of shapes. I've done shapes that like circles where you're just going entirely run the shape. And I did some that go sort of into the shape too so that I can just practice my water control and painting on the outside of the shape rather than thinking about painting the object itself. With this kind of an activity using less expensive even multimedia sketchbook paper or I wouldn't go as light as a printer paper. But any heavier paper, even a pulp paper will do for this activity. Definitely don't worry about having the highest grade watercolor cotton paper for this. So one of the things that is helpful to bear in mind is starting away from the shape and then pushing the edge of the brush closer to the shape that you're painting around. And I like to work with a larger brush so that I can get even pools of paint and pigment around the shape. And then I work using the tip of my brush to get closer to that edge. And now it's just a matter of repeating the process until you feel really comfortable painting outside an object. Ok. 3. Warmup: Negative Painting: The next concept I want to talk to you about is depth. With negative painting, we rely on the fact that dark layers recede, whereas lighter layers seem to come forward toward the viewer. I have a very simple four layer demo to share with you. And you could also create something like this for your practice using the skills of painting around an object like we worked on in the last portion of this class. I've created a simple drawing with shapes that are roughly Botanical, inspired by the sort of leaf shapes in the bunch berries. Since that's the main piece I'll be working on later. And I've done it with thick lines so that you can see really easily for the demo the different shapes. So the first step, of course, is to just create a background wash of color. The background color should be about as light as you want your most foreground object to be. And you can always go darker. But since watercolor is of course, a transparent medium, you really cannot create lighter shades with reworking painting. So I've done a nice soft green and I will let this dry. Next with a slightly darker shade of green. I'm going to paint around everything except for the object that is most in the foreground. Simply repeat the process each time with a heavier pigment load. I will show you even more using my palette, what I mean when we get to our final layer, so that you have a visual sense of what to look for on your palette at home. So a heavy pigment load means that we have more paint then water really in the mixture. So you can see as I am working paint from my palate into the wet area of paint on the palette that it looks really dense and almost paste like. You have a hard time seeing the white mixing surface beneath it. That's a way to know that you have a lot of rich pigment on your brush. If you choose to do a simplified warm-up exercise like this in your own practice, I would recommend using a high-quality cotton paper for this one. Because you are building up the layers, introducing a lot of water into the piece. And you will probably have the easiest time achieving results even in practice that you're looking for. With all three layers paid today. And you can really see how the lightest colors stand forward and the darkest colors recede into the background. 4. Warmup: Masking: Let's talk about masking. In order to preserve the white of the page, you can use masking fluid that will put a protective barrier between your paintbrush and the paper. When you go to remove it later, you'll be able to reveal the white of the page, which I often will recommend on your main subject. With negative painting, you mask at least that layer ahead of time. I also like to splatter masking fluid in between my different layers of paint. And then you get these little spots that revealed different depths and dimensions later on as well. Here is a really low pressure activity to get used to working with masking fluid if you haven't before. It's also a really good idea to test your masking fluid on the paper that you want to use for your final project to make sure that when you remove the masking fluid later on that it doesn't leave any unwanted staining. I like to use a rubbery colour shaper because it gives me a lot of control. It's also easy to clean and it's got a rubbery nib rather than bristles which hold on to some of the masking fluid without being a personally brush that you're gonna get gunned up. Regardless of what you use to lay down your masking fluid. I recommend for this activity to do a variety of lines in different widths and different shapes and different techniques that you want to try out so that you can get used to using masking fluid as a tool. Make sure you're masking fluid is completely dry before painting over it. This will help you achieve a better result for your project and also helps protect your nicer brushes as wet masking fluid can really damage them. I highly recommend using a rubber cement pickup to remove masking fluid. It's nice because it's gentle on the paper. It doesn't require a lot of pressure to get the masking fluid starting to move away from the page. And most importantly, I find that I can do it with this without marring the paper. If you don't already have a rubber cement pickup, no need to buy one. You kind of course, rubbed gently with your finger. It takes a little bit more time, but it does the job. At this point. You can of course, skip ahead to the next lesson or feel free to stick around for some delicious audio of taping told off the page. 5. Project: Composition: When composing for negative painting, I like to bear in mind all of the core concepts that we've talked about so far. You'll want to create a drawing with overlapping shapes so that you can use the negative painting technique to create a sense of depth. I also like to treat my composition like a roadmap. I'll leave notes to myself and even sometimes numbering the layers so that when I go to do the actual painting, I've given myself a plan to execute. And doing more thinking and planning now means a more enjoyable painting process later on. 6. Project: Materials, Prep, and Masking: Now's the exciting part. We already have done the hard work of understanding core concepts and making a plan. Now we finally get to paint because we build up with so many layers of paint and negative painting and watercolour is a wet medium. I highly recommend using a high-quality, a 100% cotton paper that's at least a 140 pounds. You're going to be a lot more pleased with the results than if you were using either a pulp paper or to lightweight a paper. I traced my composition on to a piece of arches, 100% cotton cold press watercolor paper. I used a number two pencil for a lot of the outside edges, a little bit darker than I might on some other paintings. And I used a 4H pencil for the pencil lines that are going to be under the lighter washes. I'm using a Blick Artists tape, just about any Arther, artist or painter's tape. And really even masking tape can work for this. What I would recommend is that you test it on the paper that you're going to use on maybe a small scrap of paper and not your final piece to make sure that you can get it off easily without tearing the paper. A friend of mine once recommended that I take some of the tape and just sort of let the sticky side go against my clothing a little bit. And then that gets just enough Linton at that it still adheres to the paper but lifts a little bit easier when you go to remove the tape on your finished painting. While I tape off this piece, let's talk about some of the other materials I use and would recommend, but of course, use what you have and is within your budget. I, on my artist's palette to the right, it's a butcher tray. I really like that. It's a wide mixing surface and I can easily accommodate all of the colors that I have in my current palette. A very large mixing area. The one drawback is that it does sort of the water runs back towards the pigment because there is a little bit of a dip right along the edge, but I don't find that it interrupts my workflow. I also have a black felt that silver precious. These are synthetic and squirrel hair, so they're really juicy. They hold a lot of water and pigment and I really love them. I use the and the wash that 2-inch fo squirrel brush to do washes. Whereas I have a finer detail brush that I only use really at the end. Most of the time though, you'll see that I use that 12 inch round in the middle. I talked about in the masking video. But we'll remind again here that I like to use a colour shaper for putting on masking fluid. I like that. It has a rubber nib instead of bristles and so I don't have to worry about it ruining even a junkie brush and I don't have to replace the tool. It just cleans off really easily. And my masking fluid that I just showed is a tinted one that I really like. I finish with. A fine liner in quercus of source, certainly optional and a matter of preference. My paint of choice are the n-gram paints that you'll see along the side in on my palette. And like I mentioned when I talked about the drawing, haveing a number of variety of hardness is a pencils really helpful? This is a four H, But of course you can also still use your sturdy standby number two pencil and just work a little bit lighter on the areas that are only going to have later washes because you don't want heavy graphic lines to show unless that is a choice for you aesthetically. Now that we've talked about materials, let's get started. While I prepare to mask the berries and the flower, I want to talk about one more material that is totally optional, but I find it's really helpful for my workflow. I've taped the paper down onto a thin board and that's mainly so that I can remove it from my workspace and work on something else in between layers of drying with negative painting, in particular, because it requires so many layers in my studio, I like to be able to either work on another piece or move to doing some work on my computer and being able to move a piece out of the way without damaging it really helps me out a lot. So right now I am masking the berries What I love about this color, shape or tool that I spend raving about so far is that it really does help me control where the masking fluid goes. It did take a bit of practice to get the hang of using this form asking fluid. I was in an art shop outside of Boston visiting my mom and I saw this in the supply shop and I wonder at HOK, could I use this for masking? I'm so sick of ruining my junkie brushes and having to throw them out. It's wasteful. I find that the key to doing small shapes like the berries where the area that I want to mask is a little bit more delicate and a little bit more intricate. That having a smaller amount of masking fluid on the colour shaper helps me just put less on the page. And then when there is a little bit down on the page, I can just move it where I want with the very fine tip of the rubbery nib, you can control the amount of masking fluid that is on the colour shaper or brush by tapping off some excess along the side. And whether you're using a color shape or, or Rush, I just recommend using less is more. It is liquidy like watercolors. You can always add to it and because it has a liquid edge, it will. If you add more near to where you've already placed some, the edge that is already wet will prevent it from dripping onto the rest of your painting. So again, this is another good reason to, if you're not familiar with using masking, a good reason to practice creating different shapes in different line weights and thicknesses to get used to the materials. Once you get a hang of it, it is such a valuable tool. Moving to a larger shape, it's helpful to have that jar of masking fluid close to where you want to put the larger portions of masking fluid. I don't tap against the side in this case, I am just sort of use it to scoop some masking fluid out and just use the color shape or tool to move it around the surface of the page. And then I sometimes will also use as I am here, the white side of the colour shaper really pushes it around, again, a brush. We'll do this to. The main reason I use the color shape or again, is for cleanup and longevity of being able to use this tool. Once you've finished masking and the masking layers are completely dry, the next step is to do a thin layer of watercolor wash across the entire painting. The first layer should be fairly light, whatever color you want the foreground object to be. And while you can always go back in and add additional layers on top of the foreground. Once a watercolor layer is on as a transparent medium, it's impossible to make it lighter. So always err on the side of lighter washes at first. With a light wash over the whole piece, I am going to add a very optional layer of masking splatter. While this is something that I like for my personal style, it is of course totally optional and it's an aesthetic choice, doesn't necessarily have to do with negative painting. But one of the things that happens when you do this over different layers in the painting is that you'll get a negative painting effect from the splatter is once they are removed as well. And that's because right now it's masking a very light shade of green. As I build up the background layers, the colors that gets splattered will be a darker shade. So you'd get a really neat sort of whimsical effect that reminds me of sort of the notion of fairies in the woods. 7. Project: Negative Painting - Building the Layers: The main steps to remember when negative painting are one painter round the shapes that you want to stand out to get darker with each layer. Three, paint on dry paper. When you want hard crisp edges for paint on wet paper, or introduced clear water with a clean brush when you want to soft diffuse edges. I'll give other tips and pointers along the way. But with these four steps in mind, you'll be well on your way to creating beautiful, rich depth with negative painting. So that first step, paint around the shapes that you want to stand out. In this layer. The shapes that I'll want to stand out are the leaves that surround the bury in the top left, as well as the leaf from the flower in the bottom right, that overlaps, a portion of the berry leaves getting darker with each layer step to the paint that I'm mixing on my palette will be darker than the background layer. So that adding this layer will make the shapes that I wanted to stand out pop away from the receding background. And since these are foreground layers that I want to see sharp and in focus. For step three, I am working with wet pigment on dry paper because I want a crisp edge. Remember that it is helpful when you are working on painting around the shape that you want to stand out, starting further from the shape and then moving that what puddle of Pate we call the leading edge, closer to the edge of the shape that you want to stand out is a nice way to get a more even wash of color. As a matter of personal preference, I like to work on a large mixing surface where I can easily vary my mixes from warm to cool. Here I've introduced a slightly warmer green than I have in other sections of the painting. And I decided I would dab into some of that warmer color and the other areas of the background already painted to keep the peace harmonious. I decided to switch to a quill. I'd like that this covers more ground, being a larger brush, but it still gets to a pretty fine shape. One thing that I will say I'm still getting used to about this brush is because it is a large brush that is. Heart squirrel, in addition to the synthetic fibers, it holds onto so much water that I do sometimes get unexpected backgrounds and blooms. Although with a painting that is this heavily layered, I don't always mind that, but it's something to keep in mind as you're making choices for your own peace. This is a section of the piece where I wanted to create some soft edges. I first applied to the background flour, some mostly clean water before painting around the shape with the green of the background layers. The wet area of the paper gently pulls some of that green into the area that I whet, which will give it a soft edge and make it appear that that flower is lesson focus than the foreground areas of interest where I painted those edges with wet paint, on dry paper, with a clean and somewhat dry brush. I'm also lifting some of the color from the background flower to get it closer to the right of the page. And the previous chunk of painting, I painted around every shape. I had labeled a one in my roadmap. So anything that was in the most foreground layer, now I will paint around all of those layers again, but also around anything labeled two for the next closest to the foreground. My paint is a little bit thicker this time and again, I'm varying the tone between warm and cool shades of green to give each layer some variation in tone. Make sure you get all the little nooks and crannies of this layer. Because my brain's water was getting so heavily pigmented This time I swapped for a jar of clean water before adding water to the background flower to continue working the soft edge. Remember that if you want to have the spider effect adds an additional level of dimension in whimsy to your piece to do a splatter of masking fluid in between layers after the paint layer is completely dry, and wait for the masking fluid to be completely dry before painting your next negative painting layer. Continue to paint around the shapes that you want to have stand out. Now, simply repeat the process and get a little bit darker with each layer until your piece has the depth and dimension and definition of shape that you want for the background. Also remember that you'll want a heavier piglet load with each successive layer to create that sense of depth. And the darker layer is receding. Scott. 8. Project: Values - Working the Foreground: Building the foreground layers is all about value. We've worked really hard to build rich depth into the background layers. Working the foreground is a really great way to finish the piece off. Alternatively, leaving it as is, lends an interesting graphic quality. It's all about making the choices that make your piece something that you will be proud of. Here are the three things that I keep in mind when working to foreground. One, use values to define the shapes, to at cast shadows to distinguish between overlapping shapes. And three, perhaps most importantly, patience pays off. We'll talk about these three things even more in the video. Here we go. Using references, especially if you can look at something in person and alive reference. Or a really good photograph will help you look at values and capture the essential qualities of the lighting and how that defines the shape. Two shadows caused by overlapping shapes. When objects overlap, they'll cause a cast shadow. And that's something that you can bear in mind even if you're keeping things looser and more abstract, cache, shadows can give Still a lifelike quality to your foreground. And number third, and perhaps most importantly, patience pays off. Keep in mind that you can build values gradually. You can always go darker with additional layers on. And at this stage, in my personal experience, I always have to remind myself not to give up. This is the stage before things start to come together. And almost every watercolor piece I've made has gone through a stage where I've worried that things wouldn't come together. See it through. You still hate it. You can always call it a study and you'll always learn something from the process. Before adding some shadows to the leaf below it, I made sure that the edge of the leaf above was dry. And this allowed me to keep the crisp edge I was going for on both leaves. Even a soft brush like this silver black velvet can be used to gently scrub away at paint and soften an area like this one where because the NGO was tricky for filming, I got a little bit of the background color on the leaf. When scrubbing anything on your own piece. Remember to work gently because you don't want to damage any of the paper below. Working on different sections of the piece helps me think about it as a whole. So I will often at some value to a leaf here and then bounce over to add more to a leaf there. You'll notice though that I am working only on leaves that are next to areas that are dry already when I want to preserve that crisp edge. And that's because I need the paper again to be dry in order to have a hard edge. After a break, I made sure that paper was completely dry before moving on to the leaves that still needed some attention. Remaining patient and making sure that the paper was dry will allow me to keep the hard edges that differentiate the shapes between the leaves. This particular leaf has a curl to it. And so I want to make sure when I'm thinking about the shape of the object and how dark and light values can define the shape. That I create. Some shadow behind the section of the leaf that curls upward so that you can see that the area behind the curl is receding. Using clear water, I'm blending out the shadow color to create a soft edge within the overall shape of this leaf. On the wet section, I can dive in a little bit of darker color and the water on the page will pull the pigment further into other spaces on the page and giving me a nice soft diffuse edge. I'm mixing up some darker color to further emphasize the cast shadow of the leaf above. I had some fine using a slightly darker shade of green to add some of the venation detail to the bunch berry leaves. As you can see, even though it is a comparatively larger brush, my number 12 round gets to such a fine point that I can do a lot of my more intricate detail work with the same brush. It also means that I can move back and forth between doing broader strokes and creating shadow and depth, and doing finer line work like I've done in the Venetian. Again, I check to make sure the area I want to paint is dry because I wanted to create more hard edged lines for some venation on this leaf. 9. Project: Color Pops - Center of Interest Details: There's a real magic to this next step, we get to remove the masking and painting the finishing pops of color. In this video, I'll show you the steps I took to paint the berries and flower of the beautiful bunch berry plant. In perhaps the most fun step of all, we are now ready to remove the masking fluid. See those layers created by the dots underneath and paint in the centers of interest of the berries and the flower. If I had it all to do again, there are probably some things I would have done differently before deciding to fully finished this piece. I may have done more work to the background and added still more shadow definition and shapes to the layers with highlight and shadow. But for the sake of this demo, I really just wanted to progress and move things forward. I really love seeing, especially where the splatter masking fluid dots happened to overlap the difference in tones between them. And for my preferences, I really do think it gives a whimsical and almost fairytale like quality to these botanical paintings. If you did watch the masking video earlier in the course, I mentioned that I'm using a rubber cement pickup here. I like how easily it lifts Some of the masking fluid. It makes it so I can do these super satisfying long tears of masking fluid. And it does not and damage the paper underneath. I find it really effective. You can of course also use just a finger by gently rubbing out the edge. Just make sure that all the paint on top of the masking fluid is really, really dry or you can rub some of that pigment onto the page, the white of the page that you've worked so hard to keep white with your masking layer. For painting the bunch berries themselves, I will actually use my smaller round brush. And I am mixing up a little bit of my cool red with a warm yellow to get a warmer read tone. And I will occasionally mix in some of the cooler red again to get variation in the color tone. And I will also leave pockets of white unpainted to look like a highlight on the berry and sort of emulate dabbled late coming to this ground dwelling plant in a forest scene. The bunch berry flowers themselves are white, but since I want to give them some depth and definition, instead of keeping it the white of the page which will be flat and LDL, I mix a bit of ultramarine blue with a bit of Payne's gray to do very, very light washes to give some sense of the dimension of the petals. I am mixing up some warm yellow and my Sap Green. The warm yellow is a gamble. And that is going to help me have the various shades between the greenish yellow and the more green tones for the center of the plant ready before I go in to paint them, I did not worry about having the page completely dry because I think for the Center of interests, having some unexpected bleed between the colors of the flower and the colors of the center look quite nice. I used the same tones from my palette to add a hint of the center of the flower to the background, bunch berry flour as well. This stage is so fun because in a short amount of time, these pops of bold color really bring the piece to life. 10. Project: Finishing Touches - Optional Ink Work: This last step is entirely optional for my own personal style. I like to finish my negative paintings with a delicate little hint of ink work. You may choose not to do any work at all. You may find that the more heavy-handed with ink work is more your thing. I'll show you a little piece of my working on some inking so that you can have at it with your own. But I highly recommend if you're considering Ink, do some inking on some practice studies. First, add inking to some of your sketches on the page that you prepared. The thing to know about Inc. is that it is permanent and while not to be something to be afraid of, because you probably can tell it is something that you'll probably want to practice before you put it on a piece you already love. When I ink a watercolor piece, I like to use the fabric histo pit, artist pen, fine liner in extra small. For me, this adds just a delicate hint of definition and I get to stylize it my own way. And so that is my pen of choice. But of course there are tons and tons of ink products out there and play around with a few, like I said, starting on practice pieces in your sketch book. And then as you get more comfortable with your own style, add them to finished watercolor pieces. I am adding just a little bit of a hint of the edges of the berries. At this point. I'm a little bit heavier handed with the ink on my main areas of interest because having denser Inc. work, they're, draws even more visual attention from the viewer. But I do a little bit of ink throughout the whole piece just to keep it balanced and not have it feel out of place that there's ink on the berries and on the flower. I also like to vary the weight within shape and lines and keep it sort of loose and gestural. I add some dashed lines here and there to hint at some shading and curvature of the plant. And some circularly shapes to hint at some of the plants anatomy. All of which could of course be done with paint instead of ink, if that is your preference. 11. Final Thoughts: I hope you found this class helpful and at the skills and tips covered, help you explore the wonderful medium of watercolor. Especially since this is my first skill share class. I can't wait to see the projects you upload and answer any questions that you have in the discussion section. I hope to have more classes for you soon. In the meantime, cheers and happy painting.