14 PICASSO – Painting What You’re Not Painting

I lived too far away to spend much lap-time with Dougie, so I wrote him these letters.


Hi Dougie,

Here’s another one of Picasso’s harlequin pictures. The harlequin is holding his child. Picasso painted a clown at a time when he was not funny, but loving. Wasn’t that an interesting idea?

Picasso - Harlequin 1 - Blue

He first made an ink drawing and then painted it. It looks a lot like a page from a coloring book, doesn’t it? Except it’s not the usual way we color in our books.

Do you see that most of the color is the dark blue around the people? He painted what artists call “Negative Space.” Negative Space is not the thing you are painting–that’s the Positive Space. Negative Space is what you are not painting. It’s what surrounds the thing you are really looking at. Painting it dark was Picasso’s way of making the people stand out.

He made some parts stand out even more by adding white. That made “contrast.” Contrast is where dark and light meet. The darkest darks next to the lightest lights create the greatest contrast. Artist’s call it “high contrast.” High contrast always draws our attention. 

Look at Picasso’s picture. Where is the contrast?

It’s the people, isn’t it? Now look at it again and see which of the three people has the highest contrast.

Were you surprised? It’s not the harlequin, it’s his wife. Picasso even put some black over her head and behind her neck to make sure that she had the greatest contrast.

Picasso - Harlequin 1 - Blue b

The thing the artist wants us to look at most is called the “focal point.” It’s where we focus our eyes. Artists often use high contrast at the focal point. Picasso painted the darkest negative space around the harlequin’s wife because he wants us to be sure to look at her. We can tell the harlequin loves the child, but look at the mother’s face, too.

What else is the father touching beside the baby?

It’s his wife’s hand, isn’t it? What a tender harlequin he is! I like this picture, do you?

Let’s color some negative space. Let’s make a mushroom. Draw a shape that looks like a potato. Make a bit of a point on top.

Mushroom B 01b

Add a stem.

Mushroom B 02b1

If we color the positive spaces the way we usually do, it will look like this.

Mushroom B 02b

Instead let’s color the negative spaces first. I added some thin lines to show three areas for the negative space, and some lines on the mushroom to show where the shadows are.

Mushroom B 03

For the negative spaces I used three dark colors that look like a forest floor.

Mushroom B 06

Now let’s do the positive spaces. I used a light color for the mushroom cap. 

Mushroom B 07

Now let’s make the shadow on the edge of the mushroom cap. It’s a bit darker. We’ll make the stem the same color. We want to keep the cap as the highest contrast and the focal point.

Mushroom B 08

Last is the shadow on the stem under the cap.

Mushroom B 09

How do you like working with negative spaces? It’s fun isn’t it?



About majchr

Majora Christo
This entry was posted in Art, Children & Art, Drawing, Painting, Water Color and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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