Positive and Negative Space

11 Feb

In our last illustration class, we studied negative-positive spaces. Having never really studied drawing, I had a very vague idea of the concept.

The teacher drew a couple of pictures on the whiteboard, showing the same cityscape – first the whole cityscape was black and the sky was white, and then the opposite. She explained that black is negative space and white is positive – and that as you build your composition, you need to decide ahead of the time, where you want to focus. The sky? The city skyline?

And then she suggested we look at the ceiling – which was full of pipes and fans and cords – and do a negative/positive drawing of it.

Sounds easy? Not really.

This is what I got and she wasn’t happy. And it did feel silly drawing the same thing twice, just with a different colouring.



She didn’t want me to draw the whole ceiling, but to focus on one thing on the ceiling. Like one cord.

Um. I didn’t understand. Does that mean that I should leave the cord white and then fill the whole page black?..

As it turned out, her whiteboard example was misleading. It wasn’t the matter of filling everything with either black or white. It was the matter of deciding where your subject is and where your negative space is. Other shapes can still exist. I am still confused – what do we call those other spaces, that other neither the subject nor the blacked-out negative space? – but she was pleased with these:


I am currently reading the “drawing on the right side of your brain” book. While most concepts explained there were familiar to me – whether learnt or intuitively adopted – the concept of negative space caught my attention.

According to the author, one of the problems we have with drawing, is our rational brain preventing us from really seeing the object, e.g. a cube is supposed to have all sides of the same length and at straight angles, yet to draw a three-dimensional cube there should be no straight angles. So she suggests drawing negative spaces – because our brain has no preconceived notion of what those should look like.

So I made two attempts to draw our bar chair. These were very quick sketches, but I see what she means. I was truly drawing what I saw and not burdening myself with perspective, leg lengths, parallel lines, etc. I quite like the outcome, albeit not perfect it is.


I am starting to get a bit impatient with the course. We study very little, she never has enough time to do what she plans in the course outline, constantly revising it. She hasn’t discussed my theme project with me at all, yet she wants me to bring my artboard next week and start working on it directly from my sketches.

Oh well. I am still learning something…


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