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Enhancing Your Art with Negative Space

As a designer and artist, it’s easy to concentrate and attach ourselves to the main objects of our work — So easy in fact, that we can easily forget about a part of our work equally important: The Negative Space.

Negative Space is the space between an object, around an object, but is not part of the actual object itself. It is the opposite of an identifiable object which can at the same time be used to help define the boundaries of positive space.

Making Better Art with Negative Space

A good artist realizes that the space surrounding an object (positive space / shape / mass / etc) is just as important as that object itself. Negative space helps define a subject, and brings balance to a composition.

In mag3737′sNegative Space“, the buildings (positive space) are separated, and more sharply defined by the sky (negative space). The sky brings a balance to the composition, which without, would make the photograph look quite bland.

In NG567′sNegative space“, the positive space plays a much less dominant role. The clouds and sky cut through the trees, making the sky the more definable area.

You may also notice that the image on the right loosely follows the Rule of Thirds (More on the Rules of Thirds, Composition, and Framing). Negative space is used to help create thirds in many compositions — perhaps more than you realize. Just consider how many landscape photographs you must have seen where one or two-thirds of the composition are landscape, while the rest is clouds and sky.

Typically, negative space should not distract from the main subject… that is, unless the negative space IS the subject, as is the case on the right.

Negative Space as the Subject

As you saw in the previous example, negative space does not always have to be that complimentary, balancing element to a composition. Both positive and negative space can be used in that way depending on how the artist or designer manipulates the composition.

Negative space can actually be used as the main subject in a composition itself, sometimes to the extent where it takes on an identifiable shape defined by its surrounding positive space.

In numlok™’sNegative Space Cross“, it is abundantly apparent how the negative space is the actual subject of the composition. The physical bricks surrounding the empty gap create a common symbol that most can identify with.

Using Positive Space to Define Negative Space

An artist can create positive spaces and shapes that in turn carve out shapes in negative space intentionally. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Rubin’s Vase.

In Rubin’s Vase, the positive space takes on the appearance of a vase. When examining the space surrounding the vase however, two faces looking at one another can be seen.

With all of this said, it’s probably also worth noting that a silhouette is not the same thing as negative space. Negative space is the area surrounding, between, or in other words not a part of the identifiable object. Shapes around the silhouette may be negative space, but the actual silhouette is positive space — a shape with identifiable boundaries.

Negative Space is Not Constricted to One Medium

Negative space is not constricted to one form of art. On the contrary, it is an important element in most mediums, including photography, painting, graphic design, sculpting, etc.

Negative Space in Logo Design

Since negative space is not constricted to any one medium, this probably goes without saying, but negative space also plays an important part in logo design. Some of the worlds most recognized logos feature creative negative spaces.

Take FedEx for example, which uses the spaces between the letters in “Ex” to create an almost subliminal arrow. According to FedEx spokesman Jess Bunn:

“The arrow was indeed intentional as a secondary design element…”

“If the viewer sees it, it’s a neat, interesting visual bonus. If the viewer doesn’t see it, that’s OK. It’s still a powerful logo. The arrow is intended to communicate movement, speed and the dynamic nature of our company.”

More Examples of Negative Space

Cross roadsby Aeioux uses negative space to create an implied subject of roads crossing in a city-like environment.

kers 5by wester uses negative space to help emphasize the main subject.Without all of the negative space, the main object would be much less interesting.

negative spaceby Alcino is a good example of negative space in a more physical form.

Space and Motionby David Leggett. The dark negative space contrasts sharply with the energetic colors of the figure playing the drums.

How Are You Using Negative Space?

You’ve seen quite a bit of how other designers and artists use negative space now. It’s used as a balancing element in many compositions, and without that balance, the rest of the composition would be much less meaningful (if not formless). What are some ways you’ve taken advantage of negative space in your own work?

59 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point

    Excellent article, really useful today

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  2. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 2, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    great i never seen before.55

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    โหลดเพลงฟรี (1 Point) February 2, 2010 at 2:59 am

    great i never seen before.48

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    โหลดเพลงmp3ฟรี (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 4:38 am

    great i never seen before.43

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    thanks for sharing. So mush

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    M. Beatrice McArdle (1 Point) December 14, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    I have heard of a design system called “negative space conventions” or “Mama Bear and Papa Bear,” but I have never quite grasped its meaning. I had no trouble with other design systems such as “Tunnel” or “Magic Spot.” Mary

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    handbags (1 Point) November 17, 2009 at 2:37 am

    wow, the cameraman is careful.
    the world around us is beautiful!

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    alicia (1 Point) October 1, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Loved the silhouette in Rubin’s Vase, great examples, thanks so much.

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    Tanay | TJDzine (1 Point) September 7, 2009 at 10:20 am

    A great article on negative space. Loved the examples too, especially the cross roads image.

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  10. Add point Subtract point

    Fantastic write up, powerful examples too. Enjoyed this!

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  11. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks a lot for the article.
    Before find this article, I still don’t know how to differ between + and – space.:))

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    Carina Gardner (1 Point) February 12, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Very good quality. I reference this article on my blog.

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  13. Add point Subtract point

    Was just going through some of your old posts.. Really liked this one!!

    Something I never gave so much thought to! :D

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  14. Add point Subtract point
    Thomas (0 Points) November 5, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Thanks David, Great Article

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  15. Add point Subtract point

    Very nice post.

    Its amazing how much impact negative space actually has..

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    flisterz (1 Point) November 2, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Great article there!
    Anyhow, may I know the name of the font used in the opening image? Thanks :)

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  17. Add point Subtract point

    Brilliant mate, well put together and well explained. Great read!

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  18. Add point Subtract point

    Very rare that I read a whole article from start to finish. This is really interesting – and the Fedex arrow threw me for a loop. I never noticed that before!

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  19. Add point Subtract point

    Yay! Nice post very different to other post, thank you for sharing this one.

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Naldz Graphics (1 Point) October 26, 2008 at 12:32 am

    nice post:)really help a lot:)

    Ronald

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    Anrkist (1 Point) October 25, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    I’m not sure if these qualify, but I was immediately reminded of them when viewing this article.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/61027103@N00/2972568018/ – I’ve always had a love for this particular shot, for whatever reason.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/61027103@N00/2972567950/

    (Trainspotting Screen Caps)

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  22. Add point Subtract point

    interesting article, thx for it…

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    Dainis Graveris (1 Point) October 25, 2008 at 6:50 am

    very original article , pretty interesting tips..:) thanks for share – good to see something new after a while ! :)

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  24. Add point Subtract point

    hey, this is good.
    you should make detailed articles for the rest of the elements and principles of design:

    http://www.johnlovett.com/test.htm

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  25. Add point Subtract point

    I never knew about any of this. That was an interesting read and a very anticipated one as well, since we haven’t had much news lately! But as always you’re bringing quality :)

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  26. Add point Subtract point

    I think NBA logo is another example of negative space.

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    Captain Robert (1 Point) October 21, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Wow subscribing to RSS was a good Idea thanks! for the beautiful written article ! since I learned about this site I’ve learn many things in designing Thanks Bud great help

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    Blue Buffalo (1 Point) October 21, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    I love the use of negative space in the examples. It draws attention to the design.

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  29. Add point Subtract point

    I like it! Very inspirational. I’ll be using this technique in my next website somehow :)

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  30. Add point Subtract point
    Tom Ross (1 Point) October 21, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Nice post David! I actually utilized negative in a recent tutorial of mine: http://psdfan.com/designing/turn-an-ordinary-day-scene-into-a-magical-night-scene/. I’m not sure what kind of negative space use that would be classified as though :)

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    KGB Advertising (1 Point) October 21, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Another really nice example of negative space in a logo is the Big Ten logo. Since there are actually 11 teams in the Big Ten, they have used negative space to add the 11 to their logo.

    Image highlighted here: http://www.kgbadvertising.com/images/samples/big10before-after.jpg

    Using negative space in logos is both fun and effective. You can add dimension and visual interest without taking up too much space.

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  32. Add point Subtract point

    @Jonathan: Ahahaha! That’s laughable :P Appreciate your kindness though!

    @The Wallbanger: Thanks for sharing Wallbanger! Those are awesome! Might throw it into the post for everyone to see.

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  33. Add point Subtract point
    The Wallbanger (1 Point) October 21, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Reminds me of this font created entirely from negative space in photos.

    http://www.slanted.de/eintrag/type-sky

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  34. Add point Subtract point

    Now, how to convey this to clients who just want to add “more words” to your designs… =D

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  35. Add point Subtract point
    smeegy (0 Points) October 21, 2008 at 9:30 am

    great article! i hope theres more to come! :D

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  36. Add point Subtract point
    Jonathan (0 Points) October 21, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Apparently I’m not the best designer in the world. A not so far second will do, right after Leggett.

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  37. Add point Subtract point

    Great read David! How did you come up with something like this? Keep it up.

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  38. Add point Subtract point

    That was actually a really interesting and innovative article; One of the reasons that I’m a subscriber here. It gave me another perspective on design.

    Keep up the good work!

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