Negative Space Watercolor Painting featured image

Grade Level

9-10, 11-12


20 class periods, periods are 50 minutes long


140 lb watercolor paper, small paper (like card stock), masking tape, pencil, scissors, salt, plastic wrap, watercolor sets (Prang is recommended), India ink, or acrylic paint



Lesson Objectives

For the student to:

  • Explore the element of art of shape.
  • Practice repetition (a principle of design) of those shapes to create a composition.
  • Learn a variety of watercolor techniques to create texture.
  • Understand layering and positive and negative shapes.
  • Show shallow depth by creating an overlap of shapes and layers.

Introductory Activity

Define shape and discuss interesting shapes to work with for the assignment. Possible ideas include fall leaves, vines, branches, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, tropical leaves, fish, sea life, etc. The recommendation is to select a subject that is easily recognizable by its silhouette or shape.

Show students how to utilize watercolor and show them techniques to create texture. Examples include using salt or plastic wrap.

Create stencils of your subject matter from cardstock or comparable paper.

Lesson Process

1) Prepare your watercolor paper by taping it down to a drawing board or other rigid material.

2) Choose an analogous color scheme to start your painting. We the paper and use the wet-on-wet technique to allow colors to bend. While the paint is still wet, use a technique to create texture. Let dry completely.

3) Remove the plastic or salt the next day. Then trace the stencil(s) a few times filling the space but not overlapping. Consider letting the stencil go off the page. Stencils can also be flipped to have a mirrored version of the shape. Paint around the shape going darker with your color/value. Let dry.

4) Trace a second layer of your shape to create underlapping with the first layer. Next, paint in the negative space of both layers of shapes to an even darker color/value. Let dry.

5) Trace stencil to create a third layer that underlaps the first and second layers.  Next, use Indian ink to paint in the remaining negative space of all three layers of shapes.


texture, underlap, analogous color scheme, stencil, value, positive space, negative space


Author & Website/Blog

Jenna Bailey

Supporting Images