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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′s “Negative 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′s “Negative 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™’s “Negative 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 roads” by Aeioux uses negative space to create an implied subject of roads crossing in a city-like environment.
“kers 5” by 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 space” by Alcino is a good example of negative space in a more physical form.
“Space and Motion” by 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?