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Positive And Negative Space In Drawing - What It Is And Why It Is Important

Updated: May 27, 2020

Maybe you know Mac H. - Creative already and know that I'm a big fan of negative space. But what exactly does negative and positive space actually mean in drawing? I'm writing this extra blog post only dedicated to clearing up everything about this topic.

What is positive and negative space?

Positive space is the area in a piece of art that is being occupied by the main subject that is being focused on. Negative space is, therefore, the area that surrounds the main subject of the drawing, painting or photograph.

In today's article, we'll go over the exact differences between positive and negative space and this article will also cover a little exercise for you to understand the great effect of negative space best. What other different kinds of space there are in general will also be dealt with here.

I. Positive Vs. Negative

In case the bolded answer paragraph at the beginning of the article wasn't clear enough we'll go over the exact differences right now in the first section today. Every photograph, canvas painting, and every drawing can be divided into the two following areas.

1. Positive Space

2. Negative Space

So, what are the exact differences now between these two areas of any artwork and why is it even worth talking about it?

Let's take an example to make it more visual for you to better understand the topic. Why don't we take a look at the image below and take that as an example for negative space and positive space? You'll see, it's actually very easy once you have a picture to look at.

At first, let's clear out what exactly positive space in this image of a plant. When you look at the plant in front of us now, you're probably looking at positive space. Every part of the plant and the area of the photo that it covers can be referred to as positive space.

Now, let's finally clear up what the word negative space means. I've said that you've probably looked at positive space when you looked at the image at first because I don't think that you found the almost white background more interesting than the plant itself.

The background or in other images and artworks also everything else that is not considered the main subject can be referred to as negative space. The whole area that surrounds the main subject is called negative space.

Perceiving an image having positive and negative space in mind is extremely important for an artist and especially for a pencil drawing artist who focuses on drawing from life.

Why Is Negative Space Important?

Perceiving negative and positive space correctly is so important to drawing artists because it can tremendously facilitate the process of drawing from life. Drawing from life gets a lot easier if you know your perception skills. Perceiving space is a part of that.

I always recommend a certain exercise for drawing beginners that allows you to avoid some devious perception mistakes. We'll talk about that exercise in the following section of the article.

II. Negative Space Exercise For Beginners And Intermediates

This exercise is directed mainly at beginners because it perfectly explains negative space and its importance while actually drawing something. By that, it helps every drawing beginner to learn to draw from life better and faster.

It is also useful for intermediates and even for professionals. You can improve your ability to draw from life or you can also intentionally create whole art pieces only based on this simple exercise. But what the heck am I actually talking about?

The exercise:

The practice I'm about to present to you is extremely simple but highly effective just like so many other drawing beginner exercises are. You can do it simply to learn and understand life drawing faster but you can also create stunning finished artworks with this simple technique.

What is this simple negative space exercise about? How does it work?

You know that normally when you're drawing something you are drawing the positive space of your subject on a white surface. This exercise today is basically the complete opposite of that. For this exercise, you need to draw the negative space with your drawing medium on a white surface leaving your initial and primary subject in white.

Let's start with a simple example. Well, I actually don't have to add the word simple everywhere, do I? I promise it's almost the same with any object. Of course, the difficulty level varies slightly from object to object depending on how complex it is and how many gaps it has in between its structure.

This chair is what I will also use as an example in my mailing list where I regularly provide my fellow subscribers with exercises and theoretical knowledge all around the topic of drawing. If you're interested, you can learn more about it if you click here. Of course, you'll also get the exclusive Zentangle drawing course.

Your job now is to look closely at the chair and perceive its positive and negative spaces everywhere. This part is very easy. The drawing after that first step is also very simple but not as easy as you may think at the moment.

Start with any area of the negative space area and work yourself around the whole subject from there. I recommend starting somewhere in the middle of the chair. I used the wide, big negative space rectangle in the middle to start.

If you start somewhere at the bottom or on the side you may struggle a little more with the distances and positive spaces between the areas. If you start in the middle you will just have a better feeling for the whole throughout the drawing process.

The drawing process actually took me longer than I had expected because you really have to focus on getting the proportions of the different areas right. Also getting the distances between them right requires a lot of attention.

What I want to tell you with that is that you should take yourself a little bit of time and don't be disappointed in case you need a lot of time and it doesn't look perfect at the end. Look at the result of my first try below. You see, this is far from perfect.

You know, this exercise is mainly aimed at beginners to understand different objects better because our left brain often tricks us into seeing things in their logical way of functioning and not the way an artist should see things.

I talk about this phenomenon a lot more in this article on the Mac H. - Creative website dealing with the basic perception skills every drawing artist needs to master or at least deal with at some point.

Getting good at drawing takes a lot of time and effort. Repetition is key to success in this area and in many different ones as well. So, if you're serious about your hobby I suggest doing it again and again until you are satisfied.

You can either try working with the same reference image over and over or you can do this exercise with different subjects to learn how this works with different objects. Space in different objects always has different shapes and have therefore different difficulties.

Experiment and play around with this to get better. The first try is never perfect and actually in drawing you will never ever create something truly perfect. It's a life long journey and you will always find something to criticize in your works.

The important thing in drawing and every other area in life is to take action at some point and then continue to work on it every single day.

You can make your graphite and charcoal dreams come true if you practice on a regular basis. That means grabbing your preferred drawing tool and a piece of paper and putting them both together to create something for at least 30 minutes every day.

Even if it's just 10 minutes per day. As long as you're truly focused and dedicated to your passion every day you can achieve everything eventually!

Let me help you with this by joining my mailing list where I send you an email every day so you can make sure to at least busy yourself with the topic for a few minutes every day. It's free, personally from me, and will only take 2 minutes to join and then a few minutes every day to read the email. Learn more about it.

III. Other Types Of Space In Drawing

Space is not only one of the five most important perception skills for drawing but it is also one major pillar of the 7 elements of art that are also important to understand for your drawing progress. If you click the link you will be directed to another article about the topic on Mac H. - Creative.

However, within the five perceptions skills, there are more kinds of space that are also very important. One further example of space in drawing is the so-called pictorial space for instance.

If you want to learn more about that, check out the perception skill article on the website. I could use many more paragraphs to explain pictorial space right here to stretch the length of this post but what is the point when I've already written a very in-depth and thorough explanation in another article.

Check it out here:

IV. Related Question

1. What Is Form And Space?

Form and space are both part of the seven elements of art. These also include line, shape, texture, value, and color. Understanding the elements of art is important for every artist disregarding the type of art he or she is focusing on.

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