I remember being given a simple negative space drawing assignment in my first week of art college. All I had to do was draw a piggy bank by scribbling in pencil around it. I remember thinking that the exercise was neat, but I didn't understand why it was necessary until I got into watercolour. 

In watercolour, you have to preserve the white of the page to have a white area in your picture. It is necessary to paint light-coloured objects by painting around them. This technique can be hard to get used to, but Jill Gustavis makes it simple in her FREE Live Demo.

Gustavis begins with a light sketch. Mine is darker than hers because I needed to see better, but I still made it light. She measured an exact 5" x 7" picture area to fit a matte she had in mind, and I thought that was smart. 

I started off doing that but ended up altering the height of my picture to fit the shape of my flower and where it ended up being centred. Because she used a hot press sketchbook, I used mine as well.

The paints Gustavis used were all colours I didn't have, so I mixed the secondary colours myself and used the nearest thing to her shade of blue. If you end up doing this too, make sure to give yourself a generous amount of each mixture.

The first step was to lightly shade the flower and background with a grey mixed with palette colours. Next, we added a hint of gold where there is gold in the provided reference photo. Already the negative space left without paint shows a dimensional flower shape!

Before adding my green layer, I let my grey layer dry a bit more than Gustavis did. My background looked different because of this, but I wouldn't say it doesn't look nice. All watercolour paintings will look different because water is unpredictable, and every piece of paper is slightly different.

This was the point where I had to trust the process. The grey on the petals seemed way too dark, yet that's shown in the demo! 

As Gustavis mentions in the demo, the two mistakes in watercolour are: Making the pigment too dark without thinking and making the pigment too light by overthinking. 

I learned to be a little more generous and spontaneous with my paint application, and as a result, my flower looks more realistic than it would have otherwise. It's helpful to be able to rewet and lift pigment if you take too much!

The grey inside of the petals was warmer than the grey on the underside of the flower, so I warmed it up in my painting with my orangish mixture while it was still wet.  

I took the liberty of making this petal edge more golden than it was in the demo or the reference to add warmth to my painting. If you have a carefully thought-out idea that would benefit your painting, you should do it even if it strays from the instructions. Trial and error teach you valuable lessons that you can't learn secondhand.

Adding the leaves was fun because they were so soft and quickly improvised. One of my favourite composition tricks is to make the objects surrounding the focal point slightly more blurred and soft. 

Also, there's a little green paint bloom on the left side of the most golden petal, which I later removed by lifting it with a damp brush, and it came out just fine. Watercolour isn't the most forgiving medium, but it is more forgiving than people give it credit for.  

Here is the finished painting, with imperfect edges and all. Gustavis reminded the audience that it's better to embrace the quirks and unexpected results that come with watercolour than it is to try and fix them, so I'm doing exactly that. 

This painting was so much fun because it's a real-world example of why you need those negative space drawing assignments in school. Even the flower's stem was made with negative painting! And the whitest parts of the tulip are the plain, untouched paper surface. This was a very fruitful live demo indeed.

If you would like to learn more amazing skills from Jill Gustavis, go to her Mini Workshop here

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 

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