Easy Negative Space Drawing with Watercolor and Marker in 5 Steps!

Are you a budding artist or a middle or high school art teacher eager to explore the world of watercolor and markers?

In this high school art lesson, we will guide you through the fascinating technique of negative space drawing using a monochromatic color scheme.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or have some artistic experience, this step-by-step tutorial will help you create this stunning artwork.

Let’s dive right in!


Step 1: Begin with a Watercolor Background.


Watercolor technique for background of negative space drawing

Have students experiment with mixing similar colors lightly with lots of water to create a background for their art project.  Stress the importance of not over controlling the paint and allowing the colors to blend naturally.

Have them stick with an analogous color scheme and stress the importance of mixing similar colors.  


Step 2: Sketch your Image on Scrap Paper that Matches the Dimension of your Watercolor Paper.


Using grid technique to draw negative space

Choosing the right images for this negative space drawing is super important here.  Make sure the images are simple and do not contain too many details.  It is best to stick to silhouette style images in the beginning. If you want to save time finding the perfect images no worries, I have your back.  You can find them along with lots more in this complete Negative Space Middle School Art Lesson.

Show students how to draw using an X-grid and focus on drawing and measuring both the positive and negative spaces.  If you want more information on how to use this easy grid drawing technique, you can check out the video above or reference this Easy Beginner High School Art Lesson blog post where I go into more details on that step.   


Step 3: Transfer the Drawing and Add a Grid over the Top of Your Image.

Example of transferring the drawing to good paper using graphite

You can use transfer paper or cover the back of your drawing with graphite or charcoal and press over your lines so the drawing transfers to the good paper.  

Next, use a ruler to create a grid over the image.  The grid can be random and the lines can be angled any way students like.  If your drawing is around 10-12 inches approximately 5 grid lines horizontally and vertically is a good amount .


Step 4: Choose a Monochromatic Color Scheme for your Negative Space Drawing with Watercolor and Markers.

negative space drawing

This initial step sets the tone for your artwork. You will need to pick a marker color that is darker than your watercolor but belongs to the same color family. For example, if your background features shades of purple, opt for a purple-colored marker to maintain a cohesive and harmonious look.

Keep Color Choice Simple to Ensure Success:

Selecting the perfect color can be challenging, particularly for beginners who might not yet grasp color theory concepts.

To overcome this challenge, try swatching different shades of your chosen color on a separate piece of paper to see how they look against your watercolor background. This experimentation will help you find the ideal match.

A Monochromatic Color Scheme is a Safe Bet:

Some students might not fully understand what a monochromatic color scheme entails.

As an art teacher, you can clarify this concept by explaining that monochromatic colors are various shades and tones of a single color. Show them examples and emphasize the subtlety of this color scheme, which can create a harmonious and calming effect and avoid any unexpected results from different color combinations.

Provide Visual Aids and a Color Wheel:

To aid students in choosing the right color, display a color wheel in the classroom. This visual tool can help them understand how colors relate to each other. Encourage them to use the color wheel to identify different shades within their chosen color family.

Additionally, consider providing examples of artwork that effectively use monochromatic color schemes to inspire and guide your students.

Experiment with Shades:

Before committing to a color, experiment with different shades within your chosen color family. Test the markers on a scrap piece of paper or in a sketchbook to see how they interact with your watercolor background. This hands-on exploration will allow you to find the shade that complements your watercolor background best.


Step 5: Coloring Positive and Negative Space with a Similar Colored Marker


Now, it’s time to infuse your positive and negative space drawing with color.

You’ll start at one end and systematically color boxes side by side. In one box, color the positive space, and in the next, color the negative space, creating a mesmerizing interplay of colors.

Challenge: Keeping track of whether to color the positive or negative space in each box can be tricky.

Solution: To overcome this challenge, maintain focus by concentrating on one box at a time. Consider using a visual cue, such as a small “+” or “-” sign within each box, to remind you which space to color with the marker.


How to Deal with “I Messed UP”

Mistakes are a natural part of the creative process. However, to minimize errors, take your time, use a steady hand, and work patiently.

If you do make a mistake in this negative space drawing, don’t panic; just incorporate it into your artwork or make subtle adjustments like combining two boxes into one.  I stress to students that these accidents are normal and often are only noticeably a mistake to them.  To others, they are simply a part of the project.


Emphasize Focus and Patience:

Reinforce the significance of staying focused during this step.

Encourage your students to take their time and approach each box with patience. Remind them that art is a gradual process, and rushing can lead to mistakes.

Utilize a ruler to create distinct lines and boxes within your artwork. This not only helps you maintain a neat structure but also aids in determining whether a particular area should be colored with a marker as positive or negative space.


Systematic Coloring: Color Boxes Next to Each Other.  Do Not Bounce Around.

Start at one end of your drawing and work your way across systematically. By following a clear path, you reduce the chances of confusion and maintain a consistent flow in your artwork.

By following these steps and tips, you’re well on your way to mastering negative space drawing with watercolor and markers. Remember, art is about expressing yourself, so feel free to get creative and add your unique touch to each piece. Happy negative space drawing!


Need more?  No worries.  I have your back!


You can find this complete “Negative Space Drawing” lesson with reference images, slideshow, video demonstrations, practice worksheets, handouts, rubrics and more in my resource shop!

Negative Space Watercolor Project Cover

What’s included?  In this complete resource you get:

✅An editable 54 slide Canva slideshow with step-by-step guidance

5 video demonstrations showing each step of the art lesson

20 reference images to draw from

An instructional handout with QR Code students can scan to see videos and slideshow

A practice worksheet

Teachers instructions

A rubric for easy grading


Ready to continue your creative adventure?




Investing in your artistic journey is an investment in yourself. This lesson is designed to empower you with knowledge, boost your confidence, and enhance your creative expression.

Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to refine your skills and create captivating artworks that stand out. Hop on this artistic adventure today!

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