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Negative Space

Lesson 3 from: Learn to Draw: An Introduction

Amy Wynne

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Lesson Info

3. Negative Space

Lesson Info

Negative Space

So there's a lot that goes into making a great drawing. And the line quality and connecting with your subject, certainly really important aspects, really important aspects to practice. Another idea is working with negative space and I'm gonna tell you what that is and I'm gonna show you what that is. So basically it's like the energy that exists in the spaces between things. Like, between two bottles on a table or between, let's say, my fingers, right? There's shapes here that in order to really draw my hand correctly, you would actually have to not only draw my fingers well, but draw the spaces in between them correctly so that they're placed correctly. So I wanna show you on this master drawing how this artist used negative space and then we're going to transition into kind of developing a drawing that will help you practice that. So, just to make it simple, I'm going to put a piece of tracing paper over this drawing and on top of that, I'm just going to start to color in the spaces ...

that exist between the forms. Like, between her arms here there's this beautiful shape. And I believe that this artist definitely was mindful about the position of the model's arms so that he could just get that shape to have just the right kind of energy. And if this artist didn't realize that that was the true shape that existed between her arms and if they drew it incorrectly, it would be really hard to get the rest of the anatomy to work in this drawing. So there's inner shapes that happen. Definitely two down here in her lower legs. The space that exists between the calf and the ankle on this side is another really beautiful kind of contained negative shape that, again, if we didn't realize exactly what that was, if we were observing the model and putting that together, we wouldn't really be able to get the position of the feet right. So there's these energetic shapes that exist between forms, but there's also something that I think is super important when we're making a composition. So a composition is really what we're choosing to include or exclude in the picture and how much space we're choosing to put around our subject matter. So in this drawing there's a certain amount of space. The artist has chosen a window to look through. He's chosen a composition and he's chosen to create this much space behind her. And I'm just highlighting it in red so you can actually feel the shape. I personally think that negative shape can make or break a drawing in terms of... If this artist had chosen to put like, five more inches of empty wall behind her back, this drawing would not have the same kind of energy or resonance that it has now. So, the way that you kind of work with the situation of your subject to the exterior boundary of the picture also absolutely involves negative space. So, how do we apply that to every day objects? Because every day objects are really, quite honestly, the easiest things to sustain drawings of and it doesn't have to be a big fancy situation. So, here are my scissors. Scissors is a classic motif to practice drawing and it's a fabulous way to practice negative shape because scissors have open spaces, especially when you open them up, as well as places to put your fingers and those are all negative shapes as we'll see. But if I put my scissors on this page without any container around them, without any sort of visualization of where the drawing would end, to me, it's maybe not so interesting. To me, there isn't really a whole lot of energetic tension between the edge of this form and the edge of the page. To me, it feels like there's too much space. So how you reign it in or how you expand it is really a felt thing, but there's actually a tool that you can use to help you make those decisions. So, this is called a view catcher or a viewfinder. This particular one is kind of fancy because it's adjustable so you can adjust it to make a square boundary or to make something more rectangular or more panoramic So I use this a lot when I'm making choices about what the ratio of my picture is going to be like. How long is it going to be versus how tall and also how much negative space I want to have around my object or around my subject. So it's like a primitive camera. I suppose you could also use your camera, but this is something that you can zoom out and zoom in. You could actually make one of these out of cardboard, as well. You don't have to go buy a fancy one. And this is helping me decide my overall container for the scissors. And I'm choosing a shape like this because as soon as I saw the scissors through this shape, I had this ah ha moment like, oh, I love the way that looks and that's something you feel. Like, there's this moment where the negative space just feels like, ah, beautiful, the shapes are beautiful. And once I've established that and we put that ratio down on the page and then I can start to fill in, observing the scissors and maybe having some preliminary marks. I can start to observe the negative shapes by looking and by sort of working with this, the negative shapes that exist between the scissor blades here. But as I do that, I'm also looking at how close they are to the edge of my composition, and I'm really enjoying not only the shape that exists between the blades, but I'm also really enjoying the shape that those points make with the upper edge of the picture. And I'm coming down, I'm starting to fill these negative spaces through with this dark pencil. And I feel like, in many ways, some of the best negative space studies have to do with once you really establish the shape the way you want it, then go in and really darken the shape that you've decided on because it becomes this sort of graphic silhouette, and it can be really beautiful and it's a really important statement. Starting to visualize this, you can use a motif like the scissors, but you can definitely, over time, graduate to other motifs. Like, a chair is a great motif to try. A plant is another one that you could definitely try. And just look at the spaces that exist between the leaves of the plant if you choose the plant, or a tricycle is a much more complex motif. So as you practice this, over time, you can start to challenge yourself with more and more difficult or inspiring subjects. So I'm working in, I'm putting these negative spaces in here and, ultimately, another thing about this is that notice I've created this sort of white silhouette. I haven't gone in and put in all the details; the screw that holds the scissors together or where the plastic ends and the metal begins. I've just really tried to keep it a silhouette, like as simple as possible, and I do want to fill out all the way to the edge so that I can actually feel... Like, if this was a prelude to a longer drawing, let's say. If I sort of figure out how I want to situate my subject, and I do this. Sometimes I'll do a preliminary drawing, like a small preliminary drawing of my subject, and I'll actually do a negative space study and that helps me prove that the composition, compositional shape I've chosen, actually creates very beautiful shapes between the object and the edge of my ratio, the edge of my container. So, practice working with negative shape. Over time, when you draw... Let's say you spend a whole week and all you do with your drawings is just do negative shape drawings. When you then start to look at objects, you're not only looking at the substance of the object, like the scissors, but you're really looking at what comes around them and what helps construct them, and this is really important to putting things in the right place, but also creating beautiful, energetic compositions.

Ratings and Reviews

Juliana Lugg

Amy is a talented artist and a very effective teacher. I have the pleasure of having her as a professor, however these online classes show her passion and expertise just as much as in our in-person classes. If you are intimidated by drawing, like I was, her teaching helps to simplify the process of learning how to draw while also inspiring her students to take more risks with their artwork. She will help you realize that studio art really can be for anyone, and that drawing can be a meaningful tool for expression, relaxation, and growth. I highly recommend any course that she teaches, online or in-person!

Alisha Weiss

Great introduction to drawing and sort of the key skills to develop if looking to improve or starting. Not a lot of hard and fast skills but definitely a great first building block to what someone can expect. Great job Amy!

Myndi Quirion

This was an excellent class. As a beginner I learned a lot of great techniques that I hadn't even considered. It really changed the way I view drawing! She's great, I'll definitely watch more of her classes!

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