Tip #2 Paint Upside Down


scabby bull upside down

No, please do not adjust your screens. This photo is indeed posted upside down. Let me explain:


(And to clarify – when I say, “paint upside down,” I do not mean to literally hang from the rafters by your knees and attempt to paint a portrait – and as thrilling of an experience as that may be, I do NOT recommend it.  Now keep in mind this tip will only work if you are using a reference photo of some sort.)


Long ago an art teacher of mine taught me a simple technique that can make all the difference to your drawings/paintings. As it turns out, simply turning your reference photo as well as your canvas of choice upside down (or on their sides) will trick your brain into no longer seeing the object that you are painting – it will start to see abstract shapes and negative space….wait what?  Ok, allow me to demonstrate….


So here are 3 photos (stock photos) – This first one shows the typical upright photo without any alterations. Looking at this photo upright tells our brain the obvious – that there is a woman here holding an apple in front of her mouth. We see that she has her hair braided, 2 closed eyes, eyebrows, and a nose.


Now this second photo I have turned upside down and I ask you to take a moment to disregard that there is a woman here holding an apple. Start to let your brain see only the abstract shapes that make up this photo. There is no right or wrong answer here – just let your eyes roam free for a while.

If you are having trouble with this exercise I have included a third photo in which I have outlined examples of shapes that I notice right off the bat. Notice the highlighted space between her nose and the apple, the crescent shape her forehead makes, as well as the negative space around her cheeks (Negative space is the space surrounding an object). They are spaces that I wouldn’t have initially noticed if the photo was right side up.

And yes, it also works on photos of animals (or buildings, or landscapes, or flowers, or just about anything you can think of):


And now upside down:

Upsidedown Dog

And finally, upside down and highlighted:

(Notice the heart shape around the muzzle and the negative space between the paws.)

Upsidedown Dog (Shaped)

This technique is useful for those days when something just seems “off” about your painting/drawing, and you just can’t quite figure out what it is. Just try it and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a whole new world.

I have been using this technique for many years and I apply it to every single painting I do. I love the raised eyebrows I get when I do art demos at art shows – most people figure that I am either A) crazy or B) some kind of painting genius. Actually, the correct answer is that I am D) All of the above. (In other words, there is always a method to my madness. And to demonstrate that point, I intentionally left out C) to emphasize the fact that I am not a writer…..I am a painter.)  😉


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