Part 1, Project 2, Exercise 4 – Monochrome studies

I found this exercise really enjoyable.  I haven’t done this type of negative painting work with a tree as a subject for a very long time.   I found that whilst it’s easier to get the tree shape painting onto the light background with a dark colour, painting the negative shapes out with a dark colour is more interesting.   

With the first painting, I did a very watery wash using a mix of blue and magenta to get a deep violet (a warmer tone than just black or dark grey).  The wash wasn’t pale enough and this threw my eye and I was at cross-purposes, I ended up mixing a very muddy light grey to paint the tree.  It was only when I’d finished that I realised I should have used a very dark blue/violet for the tree.  So painted over the first grey outline, which made for an interesting effect but not completely in the spirit of the instructions. Both paintings are very naive in style. If I were going to use this for a finished painting, I would do a lot more work getting branch shapes right and work on it with inks, pen, liners to bring in detail and shadow on the branches etc.

Light-ish background wash in blue/violet. Then underpainted tree with muddy grey. Tree shapes then painted in a darkblue/violet.

For the second painting, I had a feeling that painting around the pale wash with dark colour (negative painting) would take longer and possibly be more laborious but I really enjoyed that aspect more than the first painting.  I felt it looked far more abstract and interesting with block-y brush strokes around the branches and some of the underpainted light wash shining through.

Light wash, then blocked in negative shapes with dark blue/violet

For both paintings I used a wide brush to do the initial wash and then used a 3/4 inch brush to paint the tree or to paint in the negative shapes.  I could have used a much smaller brush to get into the smaller areas between branches/branchlets easier but I wanted to keep it loose and not get fiddly with detail.  I like how I had to use the side of the brush and the point of the angled tip to negotiate some of the areas around branches.  I scraped in the line of hedges with a tweezer I had lying around.

I had another go painting this tree, which is one of my favourites around these parts – a very ancient oak tree that I’ve attempted to draw or paint a few times before. This time I decided to do an initial wash of a vibrant orange mixed with red and yellow and then paint in the negative shapes with a dark blue/black mixture – to simulate how I saw the tree in sunset a while ago (see reference photo below). It is still very naive but has a lot of energy (because of the orange underpainting I think) it looks like the tree is dancing!

different attempt with the tree shape


Reference photo

I think I previously mentioned that I follow a visual artist named Colin Aiken, who does a lot of work manipulating images of trees (and other subjects). I am fascinated with the techniques he uses with negative spaces, colour and special effects, especially in works like this:

Colin Aiken – Evening Descends


Colin Aiken blog :


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