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Negative space: Brilliant examples and top tips

If you're inspired by our examples of negative space, below, Timothy Von Rueden shares how to harness negative space in your artwork.

As an artist who strived for realism, learning the impact and value of negative space within a piece helped break the confines of what I believed a work of art should be. When you’re learning how to add values to create form, the idea of intentionally leaving areas blank and untouched may seem troublesome. But with great art I’ve learned that not everything has to follow a set rule or be rendered entirely realistically in a drawing. 

This is especially true for traditional medium such as graphite, where there’s no hue or saturation contrast to rely on for directing the viewer’s eye. However, too much negative space may leave the drawing lifeless or unintentionally sloppy in execution, so there’s clearly a balance to be struck. 

I’ll go over some of the points on how negative spaces can add to your overall composition and leave a lasting impression on the viewer. There’s power in keeping an area entirely blank to tell a narrative that would have been diminished had you filled it in. It can be empowering and bold as an artist to let your work be left with areas that others may describe as unfinished, but I can assure you that with a correct use of negative space, your work could be much better off with their inclusions.

01. Draw less to create more

(Image: © Timothy Von Rueden)

Sometimes you create more of an impact by what you don’t draw than by what you do. Adding areas of negative space can directly alter the overall meaning and reception of your drawing. I thoroughly recommend that you experiment with keeping some areas blank and see how the tone changes.

02. Experiment with silhouettes

(Image: © Timothy Von Rueden)

The use of negative space can create shapes and silhouettes based on the shading around it. That shape then creates a powerful source of attention and point of interest. By filling in the area around the shape, you give it form and a presence that can’t be ignored.

03. Add contrast

(Image: © Timothy Von Rueden)

Similar to the contrast of light and dark values, negative space may also add a detail contrast. When placing detailed areas next to an area of negative space, there’s a pleasing visual contrast. The simplicity of the negative space will draw attention and create an area of rest.

04. Create glow and illumination

(Image: © Timothy Von Rueden)

The lack of any value may create the perception that an area is glowing. This can be further implied with a lighter shading on the inside of the form emitting from the negative space. It’s a visual illusion that can add another layer of lighting and intrigue within your scene.

05. Use negative space to create narrative

(Image: © Timothy Von Rueden)

Not all negative space needs to create a shape or a glow. Sometimes it’s a powerful effect that can be used to add narrative and possibly some mystery for the viewer to read into. Just because it doesn’t make sense in a realism execution doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it!

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine. Subscribe here.

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