Illustration, Watercolour Techniques

Negative Painting

Leaf negative painting – I use this design when teaching my watercolour classes negative painting.

Newsletters and blogging have been on the backburner of late; however, I was chatting with my lovely cousin, Karine, about negative painting and realised that sharing the painting process was a perfect blog subject.

Thank you, Karine, for inspiring this blog. I wish we lived closer together, but at least the world seems a little smaller with technology at our fingertips. Thank you also to Lise Holt (, my lovely artist friend, for proofreading this blog (I am prone to making typos because one hand types a bit faster than the other, and I don’t always see the mistakes).

What is negative painting?

Most often, when we draw and paint, we focus on drawing/painting an object or positive space.

Negative painting is focusing on the background or space around the object.

Why would anyone focus on painting negative space?

Many artists paint the negative space before they paint the positive space. There are a few reasons for this, including that it is often easier to get neater, crisper positive image edges if the negative space is already in place. It is also often easier to convey the sense of a distinct foreground and background when the background is painted first.

Negative painting is a little different. Many negative paintings produce images that induce a sense of distance and perspective without the positive areas or objects ever being painted in isolation.

It is easier to show this through a series of photos I took while painting a simple negative painting – they can be more detailed and complex as an artist hones their negative painting skills.

NOTE: This technique works with traditional media (like watercolour) as well as digital art, using layers.

Step 1

I sketched some simplified fish forms all over the page. I took care to draw fish overlapping each other and took care to space them unevenly (randomly). Overlapping objects is critical when negative painting and the composition is more aesthetically pleasing when there are several layers overlapping. As a beginner, try sketching about three layers.


Step 2

At the very least, paint on a watercolour paper block or tape your paper to a board. For the best results, paint on stretched paper or a surface like Crescent watercolour board.

Step 3

You only need one colour for a simple negative painting, but as you gain confidence, using several colours can be fun and rewarding.

I use a small cocktail dish to mix my watercolour paint with water – For an A4 page, you will need approximately 2 to 4 teaspoons of water mixed with your paint. The first layer will be painted with a high water : paint ratio as the colour needs to be quite pale. If the colour is too dark, you will not be able to show distinct layers.

Step 4

I tilt my board at a very slight angle (I use a second small cocktail dish, which is about 1.5 cm in height, placed beneath the top of my board, creating the perfect angle to allow the watercolour and gravity to do their work.

Step 5

Using a large damp brush (a flat, mop or large round), carefully paint across the top of the page. You want the bottom edge of the paint to pool – this is called the leading drop. If you notice that the paint is not pooling, dip your brush into the paint again (this is called loading the brush). Continue painting across the top of the page.

Step 6

In the same way, paint across the page again, touching the loaded brush to the leading drop, which will run to the bottom of the newly painted strip.

Continue to the bottom. If there is a pool of paint at the bottom, dry the brush and then dip it into the pooled paint. The brush will absorb the paint. Rinse the brush and dry it. Repeat as required.

Step 7

Allow to air dry. If you are in hurry, allow to air dry until the wet sheen leaves the painted surface and then dry thoroughly with a hair dryer. The paper needs to be 100% bone dry before the next layer is painted. Once the page is dry, it will be fairly flat again. While the paper is wet, it may warp slightly. If you have stretched your paper, the warping should be minimal.

Step 8

In this layer, the fish at the top of the stack will be UNPAINTED. Before starting to paint, I select the fish that need to be left unpainted – the rest will be painted over again. 

Using a smaller brush (I like using a ½ inch flat), paint across the page (as in step 5), but this time, paint around the fish selected to be at the front of the scene. By painting (glazing) the rest of the page, you are creating a deeper saturation of colour in the background. I like to increase my paint : water ratio, so that each layer of paint contains more pigment than the previous layer. This way, my negative background is very dark.

I try to keep a leading drop, so if I notice the leading drop is drying, I add a little paint to it.

Step 9

Dry thoroughly.

Sometimes, if the paper warps, or as the paint dries slowly in small, detailed areas, you may notice textural marks, which look like ‘cauliflower’, occurring. This is because the paint is flowing into dried or drying paint. This is called ‘back-run’ but is more commonly known as blossoming or blooms. One of the benefits of glazing many layers in negative painting is that the layers often conceal any back-run textures.

Step 10

Select the fish you wish to paint around. In this layer, you will paint around these new fish as well as the fish left painted in the previous layer. You will paint over all the others. Each time you repeat this step, you will be painting around more fish and increasing the saturation of colour in the background. After each layer of paint, dry thoroughly before commencing the next layer.

NOTE: If you are only painting three to five layers, try to divide the number of fish out      between the layers. Some cellulose papers will only manage 4 or 5 layers of watercolour. Cotton paper can manage many more layers and give more scope for highly detailed negative paintings.

When completed, your painting will have the darkest value of the colour in the background negative space and the fish will be lighter than the background. The fish ‘appearing’ in the close foreground will be the lightest in tone, while the fish ‘receding’ in the background’ will be darker, but not as dark at the background (negative space).

If you have found this blog about painting techniques interesting, please comment and let me know what watercolour topic you would like me to cover in the future.

Until next time…

Art Business, conservation, Environmentalism

Small Ways I Try to Help the Planet

It is so easy for us to think, that because we cannot fix all the many issues facing the plant, we might as well not try; but every small contribution does help, after all, we can only move a mountain by shifting one stone at a time.

Here are some of the ways my family and I are trying to help the planet. I left out things like drive an electric vehicle (as that does not apply to so many people who either don’t drive or who simply cannot afford a vehicle like that):

  1. Cut down on food waste – we are getting better at calculating the amount of ingredients required for a meal. I often cook one meal that will do for two dinners (I am not a brilliant cook and work long hours, so some evenings it is really nice to be able to reheat rather than cook from scratch). We always keep ingredients for a quick meal, especially if the leftovers are not sufficient for everyone. I love lentils and am happy to cook a one-pot lentil meal using canned lentils.

At the moment, I feel colossal guilt if we throw any edible food away as I know so many people, in so many countries, are experiencing hunger and starvation.

Image from Pixabay.
  1. Plan trips, so commuting happens less frequently – In the past, it was so easy to hop in the car and go somewhere for one item. I now try really hard to run errands once, or at a push, twice a week and run an accumulation of tasks in one go. I have also discovered internet shopping for my art supplies saves me travelling into the CBD (which is always stressful), saves petrol (which is horrifically expensive) and arrives on my doorstep in just a few days. I only do an online order if I am buying several items too, so keep a shopping list. I am fortunate that I work from home, so spend very little time or expense traveling. Even so, I am far more careful than I used to be.
Image from Pixabay.
  1. Buy second-hand clothes or good quality, natural fibre garments that will last. I see an increasing number of second-hand clothing shops opening at the moment. I think this is great. Often the garments sold there have only been worn a couple of times and sometimes never! I do put my foot down when it comes to undies though – they need to be new! By buying second-hand clothes, you ARE preventing garments being dumped in landfill. Most garments are synthetic, and therefore, non-biodegradable. They contribute massively to land pollution in our own countries but also in many third world nations, who are paid to dump clothes from first world nations!

If you wish to buy new, please consider buying excellent quality natural garments that will have great longevity and which will biodegrade at the end of their useful life. Buying fewer, better-quality garments can make a HUGE difference to landfills. You can read more about why buying natural fibre clothing is healthier for you and the planet –

Image from Pixabay.

Really take on board REUSE-RECYCLE-REPURPOSE-RELOVE and BIODEGRADE or COMPOSTABLE; and if you cannot, maybe the item should not be bought.

  1. Buy second-hand books, etc. – This is not a sacrifice for me, or that I love vintage furniture and don’t mind buying second-hand there either. I LOVE reading and read as much as I can. Reading has always been my happy place and I have realise that I decompress when I do. I am always thrilled when I can find a desired book second-hand, not only because it is cheaper (I can buy about 7 second-hand books for the price of one new paperback), but also, I am saving trees by buying second-hand. Like many booklovers, I adore the scent of many old books and the cover art is often more interesting than many current books!

My favourite second-hand books stores are:

Though vintage furniture is not for everyone, for those who do like it, check out fellow Kiwi artist, Bella O’Mahony’s Instagram page, to see how it can be done:

Image from Pixabay.
  1. Wherever possible, buy plastic free! I know that it is isn’t possible for everything, but I am dedicated to trying to do so and really hope more manufacturers take onboard plastic-free packaging, like Heintz has with their tomato sauce!

My favourite plastic free brand is Ethique ( manufactured here in Christchurch. I love their products, especially their solid deodorant sticks and lip balm in cardboard tubes and their solid shampoo bars. Their products are all very environmentally friendly and natural (palm oil and mineral oil free); and are also ethically produced. Most importantly, they work – I do not smell bad! Ethique proves that a business can tick all the right boxes, still turn a profit and give back to the planet.

Image from Pixabay.
  1. Support small, local businesses – I am seeing small and micro businesses in my area are often more environmentally-minded than the big businesses. When I see a small business going out of their way to use recyclable/biodegradable/compostable packaging, etc., I support them.

Two businesses in my area I would like to shoutout are:

  • Flaming Pizza – mouth-watering artisan pizza. This place is full of atmosphere. I love that they furnished the restaurant with vintage pieces (old telephones, record players, cameras, etc.) – a very successful application of REUSE and REPURPOSE . Another point in their favour is that none of the pizzas contain pork and they cater for vegetarians and vegans.

Image from Pixabay.
  1. Understand and implement recycling – in New Zealand, different regions differ on what can be recycled and how the waste needs to be disposed. Research what your local council requires of you and do it! Many loads of recycling go to landfill because dirty items are placed in recycling bins. All that might be required of us is to wash everything before it is dust binned.
Image from Pixabay.

What ways do you care for the planet? Please share your contributions.

Until next time…


When Something Matters More Than Art

Kyiv, Ukraine – photo by Mickey Estes, Pixabay

Recently, in collaboration with my lovely friend, Anna Mollekin (of Doodlewear), I launched a fundraiser – to raise funds for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Ukraine.

My mother’s family are originally from Poland and the Czech Republic, and we know we have distant, extended family in Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe. The war, in Ukraine, has horrified us – the brutality and inhumanity of Putin’s troops towards Ukrainian civilians is nothing short of evil.

I painted a Eurasian Blue Tit bird, which is native to Ukraine. Its plumage is also the Ukrainian national colours. Anna helped me to put the design onto cotton t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies and tote bags for women, men and children. All our profits go to Médecins Sans Frontières. By wearing one of our fundraising items, you are:

  1. Donating to medical aide in Ukraine
  2. Demonstrating your support for the Ukrainian people
  3. Sharing the plight of Ukrainian civilians with people around us
  4. Promoting our fundraiser to others who wish to support this cause.

You can buy these items here:

So, why did a wildlife conservation artist decide to work on a humanitarian project?

Scientific evidence shows that people who harm and kill humans also harm and kill animals – the mindset that leads to killing one, will also lead to destroying the other.

I dread to think of the impact this war is having on Ukrainian wildlife!

I could not sit and watch the destruction of lives, families, livelihoods, homes, cities, towns, villages, infrastructure, etc. and say how terrible it is and not do anything.

I comprehend now how many other opportunities I have had to do something to help others and did not at the time realise it.

It is believed that Edmund Burke, the Irish-born statesman, economist, and philosopher said:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

In the same vein, and very apt for the currently unjust war in Ukraine, he also said:

  • Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
  • When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
  • All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

Interestingly, Edmund Burke also had some insight into personalities like the instigator of the war:

  • The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse. (Mr Putin has unbridled power).

I am also reminded of Lord Acton’s famous quote: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I was prepared to work hard to raise funds for Ukraine, but what I never expected was the negative response I received. Some folk unfollowed me on social media and unsubscribed from my email list. In my experience, people only criticise or accuse one of politicisation when they don’t agree with your viewpoint. Since I believe in freedom of belief and conviction, I don’t hold it against them. I think it is a pity that they feel this fundraiser is wrong or inappropriate.

Photo by Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

To those who feel this way, I would like to say:







Don’t you think we all have the responsibility, as free human beings, to assist those who are not?

What you can do:

  1. Support a fundraiser for Ukraine.

It doesn’t need to be this fundraiser, but any fundraiser, with a reliable organisation, that will benefit the Ukrainian people.

2. You can also donate, without purchasing one of our items, here.

3. Find out how you can support Ukrainian refugees in your hometown.

4. Share fundraiser information – even if you cannot afford to give anything, it is free to share fundraising posts, on social media. Raising awareness is vital.

5. Buy services and products from Ukrainian businesses, knowing they very likely cannot deliver.

6. Keep abreast with news updates but be careful of reports that are FAKE NEWS!

7. Pray!

Photo by ELG21, Pixabay

May there be peace and freedom in Ukraine.

Until next time…

Art Business, Illustration

A Question to Creatives: Do You Stick with what You Know and Do It Well OR Should You Experiment and Move Outside Your Comfort Zone?

I see this question as a probe dividing all people into two groups:

  1. The Risk Averse, who are happy in a rut, doing what they do and doing it well, servicing a niche.
  2. The Risk Takers, who throw caution to the wind, jump in with both feet and see what happens (good or bad), knowing that if they fail, they will try something new, and even if they discover something amazing, they will probably want to try something new again anyway!

Is there a third group?

I don’t know.

I am naturally comfortable in Group 1, but, through my tutoring work, have been gently nudged into Group 2 too.

This is how it happened.

I always lack confidence in myself but also seek to improve myself, so I keep trying to perfect techniques and create paintings and embroideries that reflect the concept in my head. I focus on the same themes, subjects, media, etc. Over time, this has led to developing a level of proficiency and efficiency; and my aim, though still the same, now includes creating artworks of as many different endangered and rare species as I can. BUT I am not necessarily trying anything new, and I am comfortable with this.

‘Pied Fantail / Pīwakawaka’ ©Auntie Betty Illustration

My work is primarily self-satisfying but because the income from my artwork is negligible, it is necessary for me to make a living from something else. I am grateful that I am equally passionate about my primary work, which is tutoring children (and adults) with learning disabilities, e.g. Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Visual and Auditory Processing disorders, etc. and I also often work with children on the Autism spectrum, and those with Dyspraxia and ADHD. For those interested, you can read more about my tutoring work here:

My business partner, my mother, teaches remedial reading, writing, spelling and mathematics, while I help the children learn cognitive skills to overcome their neurological deficits.

I realised that the ‘arts’ subjects like drawing, painting and sculpting, playing musical instruments, singing, dancing, etc. all utilise multiple cognitive skills. I wish more emphasis was made on teaching these arts to all children as the fine motor, gross motor, visual processing, auditory processing, memory, logic, problem solving, etc. skills would benefit every child.

I started to analyse how I drew and broke down the cognitive process. As I broke down the process, I also saw ways to improve my own drawing. Then I began teaching the method, and the ‘Learn to Draw and Benefit the Brain’ course was born.

‘Old Man of India’ ©Auntie Betty Illustration

I was asked if this course can be made available online, however, I have not yet determined how this could work, as I give feedback to students, as they draw, to help them improve their drawings, which would be much harder to do virtually.

One of the critical lessons learned from developing this course was that by learning key principles, ANYONE can draw ANYTHING, and that drawing is a skill, not a talent. Although I prefer drawing certain subject matter, like animals, birds and plants, I CAN and SHOULD (for cognitive benefit) draw other subjects like human figures, architecture, etc.

Not only does drawing a variety of subjects / objects develop neural pathways in the brain, but it challenges us and keeps drawing fresh and new; and this stimulates creative progress, encourages perseverance and curiosity, but also prevents boredom.

Although I am most comfortable drawing my favourite subject matter, I KNOW that experimenting with media, drawing objects I do not normally draw and stretching my mind is always beneficial cognitively, psychologically and personally enriching.

My junior drawing students have been learning how to draw a composition with overlapping objects, which is why we chose to draw a scene from Cinque Terre in Italy. It was challenging for my students and since I chose to use my non-dominant hand to draw and paint, it was a very good exercise for me too, especially as I seldom draw architectural pieces. 😊

Based on the reference photo by Kookay, Pixabay.

Do you stick with what you know and do it well


Should you experiment and move outside your comfort zone?

I would love to know your thoughts. Please share them in the comments. I will reply to each comment.

What do you think about experimentation vs. the tried and true?

If you are not normally experimental, what would you be willing to try?

If you are usually experimental, is there one aspect of experimentation you would like to develop further?

Until next time…

Art Business

Lessons from a Workaholic – Learning to Listen to your Body

All images used in blog are from Pixabay.

Folk who are not self-employed may be surprised to learn that many self-employed people work well in excess of 40-hours a week, and don’t take off time to go on numerous ‘fishing trips’. In my case, I work between 60 and 70 hours per week (but do not earn for even half the hours worked). This is because I run two businesses: I tutor children with learning disabilities and I am a wildlife conservation artist. And, if I am honest, I am a workaholic. I just don’t stop. Even when I am cooking a meal, walking the dogs, taking a shower, etc. I am still thinking about work or planning what needs to be done.

Part of the reason for the long hours I work is due to my personality type. I like working. I experience massive satisfaction from working. I suppose I feel a dopamine rush when I am working.

I also feel that I am wasting my life if I am not working, and working on several projects at a time.

In my previous blog, ‘The Happiness of Planning’ (, I discussed how planning helps me to manage and/or avoid stress. I also mentioned that I have learned to replan and adapt when circumstances change – which they do – all the time! I also quoted Rachel Herrick, a regenerative farmer : “I don’t see problems anymore. I see opportunities. Sometimes there are opportunities I didn’t know I wanted, but they’re there…there are opportunities, and I think reframing problems as opportunities has the potential to change everything…Problems don’t get you anywhere but opportunities get you everywhere.”

I think I really needed to write that blog and remind myself of those truths before I went through the experience I will now mention.

I was tired for most of the last quarter of 2021, but the tiredness grew to exhaustion – to the point I couldn’t focus or think clearly. I couldn’t even figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I was experiencing a horrific ‘brain fog’ and all I wanted to do was sleep.

Just before New Year, I discovered I had a really nasty infection, and was advised that the infection had most likely occurred because I was so rundown and exhausted. I was told, very kindly but in no uncertain terms, that I need to take a break every so often and get away from ALL work. Deep down, I know that this is true, but straight away, I felt panicked about losing that time and not getting work done. But as I listened to the advice, I started to PLAN my breaks and to look forward to time when I could take the dogs for special walks, grab my camera and photograph beautiful New Zealand, READ and read and read (and read some more!), doing some crocheting, etc.

I am scheduling week long breaks from tutoring and art in April, July and October; and also at least a two week break in December/January.

Being a workaholic is not a problem for everyone, but it definitely is for some of us. I know that my work ethic is both my greatest strength and my most severe weakness.

Now, to my readers:

  1. How do you know when you need a break?
  2. What do you do when taking a break?
  3. Is there such a thing as a work-life balance if you are self-employed?

I would love to know your thoughts. Please share them in the comments. I will reply to each comment.

Until next time…