3.01_ Positive/Negative Space


Negative Space: so misunderstood. The empty space that surrounds physical objects is generally ignored. Many of us see empty space as “background”; a harmless void, generally considered not too important unless you enjoy things like deep fried doughnut holes. And there’s the hook. Negative space is generally ignored until it provides some sort of reward or feedback.







In this demonstration, you’ll see how negative space works as an invisible force, building tension, pattern and rhythm just like positive shapes (aka “objects”) do.


C1-PosNeg-1Let’s create a square, any size. We’ll add one simple shape like a smallish circle and position the shape in the mathematical center. It will likely appear static, showing no likelihood of moving and giving the background no vitality.


C1-PosNeg-2Now, move the shape left about half way towards the outside edge. Notice how the static, idle nature of your initial composition has changed.


C1-PosNeg-3Make a copy of the shape and place it just to the right of the shape you just moved. Notice now that the space between your objects and the outside edge has compressed. The objects are moving towards something, in this case towards an outer edge and towards each other, and by doing so, they have gained tons of momentum. The space surrounding the object(s) has more variety now than it did before.





This latter point is quite important. Negative space, instead of being “just the background”, has shape. And tension. And rhythm. A hole in the ground has a shape. Some varieties of swiss cheese are virtually defined by their holes.



If variety makes things interesting, shouldn’t that also apply to the shape and proportion of negative space? Why not give the surrounding space a little attention? You’ll soon begin to see that negative space has presence and pattern, factors that you now can begin to control. You’ll begin to see that “empty” space is indeed a powerful asset in coordinating your compositions.


Video: Positive/Negative Space 1: So present. So misunderstood.


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