Watercoloring Tips – Using Negative Space for Watercoloring Light Flowers

by Emily

Good morning! Emily Midgett here with you today, and I've got a few tricks to share with you on how I watercolor light flowers!

The concept “negative space” is an important one for a colorist; basically, it refers to the white space where there is an absence of color or design. I struggled for a long time coloring white or very light flowers. They always seemed to come out looking very dingy because I just kept adding more and more gray to try to add shadows and dimension.

However, I have figured out a couple of tricks to achieve those light-colored (or even white!) petals which I craved so desperately. I don't have any card projects for you today; this post is more of a watercolor process post than cardmaking process post. I hope you'll indulge me!

All three projects for today were painted using pages from the new Watercolor Coloring Book. This coloring book is filled with two pages each of beautiful floral images and arrangements, giving you the option for light gray outlines (which I've used here) to achieve a no-line look, or the more typical black outlines for a more of a stamped aesthetic. The pages are large- 5″x7″- so these pieces would be perfect for home decor or as a large card front for a very special person. I love that they come with so many samples of the different floral stamp sets from Altenew, and they are already arranged for you, so no need for masking. Just remove a page and start coloring with your favorite watercolor medium!

Project 1

For each page, I started by taping the page down to my watercolor board to help reduce warping because I knew that I'd be using a fair amount of water, and so, I wanted to keep the pages as flat as possible with some strong painter's tape. Then, I used the deepest shades in the Artists' Watercolor 24 Pan Set to carefully watercolor a very dark halo around each image.

I used the small brushes in the new Artists' Watercolor Brush-Detailed brush set to make sure that I got right up to the edge of the image with a very dark, saturated color. I find it very helpful to keep the brush pointing away from my body, turning the board as I go in order to keep the brush pointed the proper direction, to achieve the best detail. Adding this very dark halo helps to show a contrast between the dark background and what I'd like to remain a light-colored flower.

For this first image, I used the dark hunter green Deep Meadows watercolor pan from the Artists' Watercolor 24 Pan Set to create my deep halo, then mixed and matched Tea Party, Shades of Purple, Cool Summer Night, and Fiery Sunset, all very diluted, to add shadows and depth to the pale pink camellia. I made sure to add very light, diluted color so as to maintain the overall paleness of the image, allowing some of the white to still show through for highlights.

It's important to use a brush with a very fine tip when doing no-line work because maintaining those light, crisp edges when adding those shadows is extremely important to keep the definition of each petal. The Artists' Watercolor Brush-Detailed brush set was perfect for this technique and allowed me to maintain a great detail on each of my petals.

Project 2

For this second image, I mixed Cherry Blossom and Rock Collection from the Artists' Watercolor 24 Pan Set to create a rich, deep raspberry red color for my background. While the background was wet, I added some light touches of Fiery Sunset and Lapis Lazuli. I then painted this large poppy a very pale shade of mauve, again allowing the white to show through, especially along the edges of the petals to allow for maximum contrast against the super vibrant and saturated background.

Because I had added in touches of yellow and blue to the background, I did some glazing (adding wet watercolor over a dried watercolored area) with very, very diluted washes of those same watercolor shades on the petals nearest the multi-colored areas. Light colored flowers pick up reflections of those colors around it, so I thought it would help add some interest to the petals to add in very pale reflections of those colors in the background.

Project 3

For my final project today, I thought I'd try to create truly white flowers. White flowers have always been especially tricky for me because nothing is ever truly just a flat white; white objects pick up pale reflections of the colors around it. If you just watercolored the blue background and the green leaves, you'd be left with a very flat, two-dimensional image. You have to add shadows and pale reflections of the light. (I don't know as much about the color theory as a professionally trained artist would; I just know how it works out in my own head, and hopefully it makes sense to you, too!)

When watercoloring white images, it's important to use lots and lots of water and only a small amount of paint. You can always add color, but it's quite difficult to take it away.

I like to use blues and purples for shadows as a general rule, so I mixed up a very diluted mixture of Shades of Purple, Cool Summer Nights, and Rock Collection to add some pale lavender shadows to the areas where the petals overlapped, allowing the color to fade away by laying down my very diluted color, cleaning my brush, then pulling that color out with the clean water until it fades into the white watercolor paper. I added extremely diluted washes of yellow, pink, green, and blue to the edges of some of the petals to help add some depth to the flowers, making sure to use lots of water to help make the washes as subtle as possible.

Well, that's all for my little mini-tutorial for painting light or white flowers using images from the new Watercolor Coloring Book. I am completely self-taught, so I hope all of the tips that I gave make sense. I tried to explain things clearly, but I will be happy to answer questions if anyone has any!

Thanks so much for reading (if you've made it this far, ha) and have a marvelous day!

24 comments
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24 comments

Cindy C. February 16, 2021 - 09:17

Stunning projects!!

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Maureen Reiss February 16, 2021 - 10:05

Wow!!! These are Amazing!!!

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Sue A February 16, 2021 - 10:16

The colorful backgrounds make these flowers pop. Striking.

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Dianne Jenkins February 16, 2021 - 10:25

Oh my goodness, what gorgeous works of art! How in the world do you avoid the colors wicking into the areas you want to keep white?
Just beautiful!

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Liz O. February 16, 2021 - 10:29

Love this technique, stunning projects Emily, thanks for the inspiration!

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Yvonne Boucher February 16, 2021 - 10:29

Emily, these prints are gorgeous! Painting a “halo” around your images really brings out the beauty of the flowers. Your watercoloring is perfect…your flowers look alive! These need to be put into frames and displayed!!!

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sail52optonline.net February 16, 2021 - 11:06

Emily, I always enjoy and learn so much from you classes. This tutorial was wonderful!! I made notes and will try your hints & tricks. I just ordered the new Altenew brushes so I will wait for them to arrive! Thank you so much for everything you’ve taught me so far!! Have a great day!! Stay safe! xoxox

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Theresa February 16, 2021 - 11:19

All of those are totally amazing Emily. My question, my question is huh, can you repeat that please? Just kidding

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Joni February 16, 2021 - 11:30

Did you use wet on wet for the background or wet on dry? Did you glaze to achieve the layered colors? I would LOVE to see a video of this process. White flowers are hard to achieve and these are beautiful.

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Daria Z. February 16, 2021 - 12:11

These are absolutely gorgeous, Emily!! Your tutorial is fantastic – clear and easy to follow – and it gives hope to a total novice like me!!

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Dolores Good February 16, 2021 - 12:12

This is a wonderful article and I learned a lot from it. If only I could do so well as I am trying to do watercolor. I am 89 yrs old so can’t spend a lot on products so this article was right up my alley. I have been a quilter for 45 yrs so I know some about color theory now just put that and the brush together and get what you get. Oh, to be young again and have all the knowledge I now have. Thank you. Dolores Good

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Sandra Mullenix February 16, 2021 - 14:46

Everything you explained makes complete sense. I can’t wait to try your tips out. The flowers are all beautiful.

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maria f. February 16, 2021 - 14:51

Wow. Still not certain I could do it, but you’ve mastered those light flowers.

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Tara Prince February 16, 2021 - 15:09

absolutely stunning cards!!

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Ann Taylor February 16, 2021 - 16:15

Simply gorgeous! Thanks for helping me understand some more painting tips.

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Peg Frushour February 16, 2021 - 17:48

These are so pretty! Can’t wait to try these vivid backgrounds on my flowers!

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Carol McCready February 16, 2021 - 18:02

So very pretty.

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Maria February 16, 2021 - 18:12

Absolutely magnificent!!!

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Billie Anderson February 16, 2021 - 18:19

Beautiful. Love the watercolor and colors chosen. Beautiful flowers.

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barbara lassiter February 16, 2021 - 21:25

These look beautiful! Waiting for my order so I can have some coloring fun!

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Marisela Delgado February 17, 2021 - 00:01

Girl, you always rock it! Absolutely gorgeous cards!

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dorothyayotte February 17, 2021 - 01:30

Beautiful!

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Betty Tollner February 18, 2021 - 08:55

The flowers are gorgeous! Your tips were very helpful to me! Thank you!

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Janice Berbin February 22, 2021 - 10:29

Gorgeous work, Emily. Thanks for the guidance and inspiration! I’m very interested in learning to watercolor flowers.

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