What is Negative Space?

What is Negative Space?

Becky Joy

Today as I was driving to the mall to buy a couple new outfits (an event in itself, I'm not a clothes horse), I was thinking about this article I wanted to write. I found myself trying to look at the negative shapes between the trees and buildings. It isn't easy. We tend to look at objects and to define our paintings by the objects in them.  

I've talked about shapes before, but not specifically about negative shapes. Negative space is the space around or between objects. It is as important as positive space, the identifiable object or objects themselves. They are both shapes, negative and positive.

 As artists and viewers we often get caught up in looking at the object.  It is important that you redirect your focus, not on the objects themselves but on the shapes. To keep a painting fresh and interesting you need to work on the negative shapes as much as the positive.

Subconsciously, I will paint negative shapes, but there are times I need to focus and consciously work on the negative. I definitely paint negative shapes when I paint trees. The sky holes! I paint a lot of palo verde trees here in the desert. They have very small leaves which is typical of desert plants (less evaporation). This lets a lot of light through the leaves.  So, it is a lot of painting back and forth, back and forth, negative and positive.  

I squint a lot while painting so that I can see those shapes. I want variety in my negative shapes just as I do my positive shapes. With larger shapes you also need to make sure that you have variety of sizes and shapes in the negative space, such as between the trees.  

From the very beginning when you lay in your composition, you should be looking at those negative spaces just as much as the positive. Do you have variety?

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