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How to use negative space in your paintings , a step by step painting tutorial

If you like drawing and painting, this could be the technique for you as this is a way to add patterns and draw some shapes on top of a painted abstract background.

Here are the steps you can take to paint a mixed media still life:


To apply the technique of negative painting, it will be easier if you  start with a textured background. One way to do this is to prepare a few solutions of fluid acrylic, water and gel medium that you will pour onto the canvas. I added water to the gel medium because I wanted a texture a bit more fluid. Adding more than half water to the mix would cause the acrylic to loose its binding properties so I recommend just adding a bit of water ( about 25%).


Next, pour the solutions on the canvas.


I did mix 3 colors, yellow, blue and brown. Once the colors are on the canvas, rotate the canvas in various directions and angles so the layer of acrylic is evenly distributed.



You can rework that layer after it is spread all over the canvas, for example here I am adding a few drops of yellow fluid acrylic as I find the background to look a bit too dark.


Once dried, the canvas looks like this. It is fine but I am looking for a bit more texture and contrast so I will add a layer on top of that paint, using a different pouring technique.


This time, I am not diluting the gel medium and I am spreading it on the canvas with a painting knife.


Then I am adding drips of fluid acrylic on the medium and spread them around with a painting knife. This time I used only yellow and white acrylic.


The canvas once dried looks like this, it is a bit more textured and has lighter colors.

Now is the fun part, try looking at the abstract patterns to see shapes that could work in a composition. Usually those shapes will look a bit “weird” or whimsical, but this is what is fun about this technique.


Use a chalk pastel to outline shapes you see on the abstract patterns, that way you can add and take off as much as you want until you are satisfied with the composition.


When you are happy with the composition, start the negative painting process by keeping only the inside of the outlines shapes and covering all the rest with white acrylic paint.


Once the layer of white acrylic has dried, start to draw patterns on some of the elements like the leaves.


You can look at zentangle patterns to find inspiration for your designs.


You can rework some areas with  a layer of  watercolor, like here where I am applying red watercolor on some of the flowers to have a bit more variation. Watercolor is nice here as you can remove it with a wet tissue if you don’t like the result.


You can also paint on top of the white background, like here, I am mixing an orange tone of fluid acrylic that will be used to paint the next background layer.


I did paint also on top of the vase. I am letting this very fluid layer dry flat.


At this stage the painting looks like that.


You can use waterproof acid free markers, like Sakura pigma  micron markers to add designs on various places in your painting.



For the last step, I am re-painting the background in white letting some of the red watercolor show around the edges. You could leave your background colored but I wanted a bit more contrast in that case.


The painting looks like this at that stage. I now want to differentiate the vase from the rest of the flowers.


So I am painting over it with the white acrylic I used for the background, a bit more diluted this time. I am also going over the white patterns once again as they became very faint after the white acrylic paint layer. I am adding an extra layer of designs with the red marker, on the white background this time.


Keep on adding layers of designs and painting over various areas on your painting.


Stop from time to time to assess your painting and think about what you could add or modify or if you should stop.

You might also be interested in : Checklist for successful paintings, be your own critic

At that point, I feel the composition is missing something so I try a layer of my orange fluid acrylic mix on the lower part of the painting to anchor the vase.


I am adding knitting inspired  patterns on that layer with my oil based sharpie pen.

still life in red med size

The finished painting:
Still Life in Red
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas

 What are your favorite media to mix on a painting?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ian

    Thankyou Sandrine,
    Such beautiful work. I find it so inspiring.

  • Nada

    Sandrinne, thank you for this magic inspirating video!!! I’ll try some paintings…

  • Ajay shimpi

    It’s good to work with this tech.ique

  • Thank you for this tutorial! I have some fluid acrylics and am looking forward to experimenting with this negative space technique. I like the intuitive nature of the project. It looks relaxing.

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