Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Positives of Negative Space

To continue with our weekly theme of how shapes affect the art we make, today we will look at the importance of negative space in artwork.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, "negative space" refers to the area that surrounds the subject in a painting or drawing. It is the area that makes up everything else that supports the positive space (or the subject/object itself).

I chose a painting from the Yorck Project, distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH, which I found in Wikipedia Commons. It is an image that is in the public domain, and it shows a good use of the negative space.

Here is the information on the painting:
Artist: Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel
Title: Zwei Urwahler im Gesprach (Two discussing Voters)
Year: 1849
Medium: Pastel on Paper
18x24 cm
National Gallery of Berlin

I have outlined the shapes around the two men in the upper part of the painting, to show you the way the shapes make an interesting pattern. I did not outline the shapes made inside the boat or benches or in the foreground (the exterior of the boat/benches), but I invite you to take a closer look there to see that there are interesting shapes to be found in those ares of the painting as well. Basically, the artist has broken up the static background with these shapes, and has used the interplay between the negative and positive space to his advantage.

To contrast this, now that you have a better idea about how you can use the negative space to your advantage, let's take a look at a painting by the artist Albrecht Altdorfer:
Title: Sebastiansaltar des Augustiner- Chorherrenstifts St. Florian bei Linz
Year: 1509-1516
Medium: oils
Location: Augustiner- Chorherrenstifts St. Florian bei Linz

This painting is a much earlier work (by almost 350 years), also part of the Yorck Project. The main subject is seated in a gilded throne or chair, with a secondary subject in the background, partially hidden by a pillar.

Althought the negative space makes some interesting space as it goes around the shapes of the figures, throne, and architectural elements, there are too many small shapes and the negative space become chaotic. It makes the overall picture a bit hard to digest.

For your mini challenge today, consider carefully the shapes made in the negative space when you are laying out a sketch in your art journal today. Make the space have a purpose- to support your subject and make the whole drawing or painting more interesting.

Let me see what you come up with, or leave some comments about your experiences or impressions about this or recent topics!

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