When we think of drawing, we often focus solely on the subject—the main object of our attention. However, one of the most powerful techniques to improve your artwork is to develop an awareness of negative space – the areas around and between the objects in your composition. By paying attention to negative space, you can better define your subject’s contours and relationships, leading to more balanced and dynamic drawings.

Understanding Negative Space

Negative space is essentially the background or the empty spaces that surround and flow between the subjects of your drawing. It is the “void” that gives shape to your positive space (the subject). By focusing on negative space, you shift your perspective and start seeing the whole picture rather than just the object itself.

Why Negative Space Matters

  • Drawing negative space can help you capture the true proportions and relationships between objects. It forces you to look at the shapes created by the spaces around your subject, leading to more accurate and balanced compositions.
  • Awareness of negative space helps you create a more harmonious and aesthetically pleasing composition. It ensures that your drawing doesn’t look overcrowded and that each element has its rightful place.
  • Sometimes, focusing too much on the subject can make it difficult to see its true shape. By drawing the negative space, you can better understand and define the contours of your subject.
  • It can be a really cool effect for things like logos if you want to make something a little different/

Techniques to Develop Negative Space Awareness

  • Start by drawing the silhouette or outline of your subject. Then, instead of filling in the subject, focus on drawing the shapes of the spaces around it.
  • Sometimes, flipping your drawing upside down can help you see the negative spaces more clearly. This trick helps to disengage the brain’s tendency to focus on the subject and allows you to see the abstract shapes of the negative space.
  • Create a simple viewfinder from a piece of paper or cardboard with a rectangular or square cutout in the middle. Look through the viewfinder to isolate sections of your composition. This can help you focus on the negative spaces and their shapes.

Practical Exercises for Negative Space Drawing

  • Start with simple objects like a chair, a plant, or a vase. Focus on drawing the spaces around and between the legs of the chair, the leaves of the plant, or the curves of the vase.
  • Move on to more complex arrangements like a still life setup with multiple objects. Concentrate on the negative spaces between the objects and how they interact.
  • When drawing figures, pay attention to the spaces between limbs, the body, and the surrounding environment. This is particularly useful for capturing dynamic poses and gestures.

Applying Negative Space in Different Art Forms

  • In painting, negative space awareness can help balance the composition and direct the viewer’s eye through the artwork.
  • Sculptors use negative space to enhance the sense of volume and three-dimensionality in their work.
  • Photographers can use negative space to create striking compositions and highlight the subject.

Benefits of Negative Space Awareness

  • Practicing negative space drawing improves your overall observation skills. You start seeing the world in terms of shapes and spaces, which is crucial for any artist.
  • Awareness of negative space leads to more balanced and harmonious compositions, making your artwork more visually appealing.
  • By focusing on both positive and negative spaces, you open up new creative possibilities and ways of seeing your subjects.

Incorporating negative space into your artistic practice enhances your observation skills, improves your composition, and fosters greater creativity. Start paying attention to negative space, and watch your drawings come to life with a new sense of balance and harmony.