A negative perspective can be positive :-)

Barb Toland Art Bites

Looking & seeing are two very different things.

And when it comes to art there's a concept we're going to talk about today that will help you see things differently & actually more completely. A way of seeing that will improve your ability to look at life thru a more creative & artistic lens.

Today we're positively going to talk about the concept of "negative space".

Negative space, in a nutshell, is the area that's not the object. Or in the case of art, the area that's not the subject of the piece.

It can be space within the object itself (think donut hole), it can surround the object, and/or it can be interspersed between multiple objects (think leaves on a tree branch with the sky as the negative space).

Take a look at the photo below...

Gare du Nord ©
Paris, France

The positive space (object of focus) is the roof of the train building, the statue, and the French flag. The negative space is the surrounding black sky.

I challenge you to really look at the black space. Try seeing it as a shape instead of "the sky". I used this as the first example because the stark contrast between positive & negative makes it easier to see the negative space as a distinct shape.

Ok, now let's look at the image below...

Forgotten Camellias ©
SC Botanical Gardens, USA

These are lovely camellias that have fallen off the bush, and are lying on a bed of dried leaves & pine needles. Of course, the positive space are the camellias themselves, and the negative space is the ground with dried leaves etc.

Now squint your eyes so that the photo is a bit blurry. This is another technique that allows you to see the shape of the negative space more easily. It should all be a pretty dark brown when squinting, while the flowers remain a milky white.

If you start training your vision to see the negative space as separate & distinct shapes, you'll be surprised at how differently you look at things.

As you practice doing this, your compositions in photography, drawing & paintings will become more interesting.

Or if you're buying art for your walls, taking the time to look at the negative space will be another tool in your art buying toolkit! The more you know, the less money & wallspace you waste ;-)

Take a look at the next image...

Royal Courts of Justice ©
London, England

Here the sky is the negative space, and the series of buildings is the positive.

Look how fabulous & interesting the lines are of the two spaces where they meet. All the angles and nooks give it a very stark, gothic feel -- which is just the right look for historic London architecture.

If I had zoomed in & gotten only a piece of the roof line, this "cragginess" would not have been as apparent, and the story or feeling I was trying to convey would have been less impactful.

The next time you're wondering through a town, look at the buildings in the distance & see what interesting shapes you can come up with along the roof lines.

Or when you're out somewhere hiking,  take a good look at the tree line where it meets the sky.

Speaking of trees, another great place to see negative space is out in nature...

SC Botanical Gardens, USA

Squint your eyes while you're looking at this picture -- the blue & white background of the sky (the negative space) really pops. Also look at the really cool shapes the line between needles & background make, and the shapes where the needles overlap each other & with the branches.

If you really want to get ambitious, get out a pencil & paper & draw some of the shapes you see. This will help you see them more closely & vividly.

Positive/negative space is an important concept to grasp if you want to improve your overall creative acuity. When you're flipping through a magazine, or wandering through an art gallery, start to become more aware of it and you will see big changes in how you look at art!

[[I've also got an exercise for you if you'd like to take a deeper dive into this concept:

Clear a space on your desk or table, and put some miscellaneous objects on it just scattered around. Now take a number of photos of the objects, paying close attention to the negative space (which in this case is your desk or table top).

When you're done, start going through them -- looking more closely & intently at the negative space surrounding the objects. Remember to squint your eyes to help with this process.

Play with cropping a bit, and see if you can get the positive & negative spaces more in balance. Or make the object itself very small in the composition & leave a lot of negative space around it.

How does this affect the way you see the subject? How does it change the story?

Don't put a lot of pressure on yourself, and be sure to give your creative muses a chance to play. They can be very helpful little sprites, but tend to run away if you're trying too hard!]]

I've only touched on this concept here, but hopefully enough that you've started to become more aware of it when looking around &/or taking pictures. Negative space is every bit as important as the positive in telling the story.

If you have any questions or thoughts on this, please scroll down & leave a comment. As always, I would love to chat creativity with you!

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