Watercolor painted negatives process

Writer and photography / Ronni Mae Knepp

Ronni Mae Knepp paints her negatives to create a mix between photography and painting. She shares here Painted Negative process here.

Image made with Painted Negative by Ronni Mae Knepp
Image made with Painted Negative by Ronni Mae Knepp

The Watercolor painted negative process

My process is pretty straight forward. I shoot 4×5 Black and White Ilford HP5 film and develop the sheet film. I use a flat lightbox and place a sheet of clear transparency over it to protect the box itself. Personally, I like the Winsor & Newton watercolor paint pallets but have also used the Koi pallet with excellent results. I use just enough water with the watercolors so that they paint semi-transparent (meaning I can see the color of the paint but also can see the negative underneath it). I place the film sheet emulsion side up onto the “protected” lightbox and paint directly onto the film itself. After I am happy with the results, I let it dry there completely before scanning it as a film negative. The process is highly experimental. I’ve always enjoyed hand-tinting images and have been drawn to the comparison of photography and painting mediums. When researching alternative ideas for hand-tinting, I found that no one was painting directly onto the negatives themselves. So, I decided to give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised with my results and have continued working with this method ever since. Below are also some of my notes of what I’ve found through my process.


  • 4×5 B&W Film Negatives
  • Clear transparency sheets (8×10” or bigger)
  • Light box
  • Watercolor paints
  • Water, small paint brushes, paper towels, etc.
  • Magnify glass
  • Film Scanner and software

Notes on Watercolor painted negatives process

Handpainted negative process by Ronni Mae Knepp

  • Film: I have tried this with 35mm and 120mm film as well, but the emulsion didn’t take the watercolors as well. I have not tried it with other film brands other than Ilford.
  • Watercolors: I’ve experimented with the watercolor markers, but they are too opaque and don’t scan as well.
  • Color Choices: The colors shift in the scan based on their luminosity as well as their complementary color on the color wheel. For example, green paint will usually render a red scan, but based on the amount of water used, the luminosity may shift the color even more to orange or purple, etc.
  • Water: Too much water and it won’t “stick” to the emulsion of the negative. It just becomes a big soupy mess. Too little water and the scan will just pick up color “blobs” without the detail of the image itself underneath.

Ronni Mae Knepp is an American Fine Art Photographer from El Paso in Texas, USA. See Ronni Mae Knepps gallery here.

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