So what exactly is negative space in art?

Negative space is the area around the object you are drawing. Negative space can help you find simpler shapes to draw to get your drawing proportions right. It can also help you achieve the correct relationship between items you are drawing.

Negative space examples

It’s easier to explain negative space with some examples

Negative space example 1 – chair and flowers

positive and negative space

Imagine you are drawing the chair and flowers in the picture below. Normally you would concentrate on drawing the objects themselves. So you might start by drawing the chair and then move on to a flower.

chair negative space drawing

Sometimes though, it may be easier to look at the areas around and between the objects and draw those shapes instead. I have coloured the negative space in pink on the photo so it’s easier to see. So instead of starting by drawing the chair, instead you could start by drawing in the area of negative space that I have labelled “A. It’s a much simpler shape to create than drawing the chair itself. Then you might want to draw the negative shape B. This will help you position the flower so its relationship to the chair is correct. After you have drawn in the negative shape you should have a good foundation to continue your drawing.

Negative space example 2 – rooftops

negative space rooftops

Another classic place where drawing negative space comes in really useful is for drawing the rooftops of buildings. You might have a complicated row of rooftops and buildings to draw, but if you look at the negative space where the sky meets the root tops that might be a much simpler shape to start with. If you look at the image below you can also see that if you are working from a photo it might also be easier to turn the photograph upside down to draw the shape more accurately.

Blocking in areas to see the negative space

horse photo

If the negative space is quite a large area you might also want to break it down a little by blocking in elements. This will help you see the shapes a little better. To explain what I mean I have created an example using a horse photo below. So instead of looking at the large negative space areas around the horse, we can imagine (or draw) a box that touches the edges of the horses head. Without the yellow box, there would have been one large negative shape area where the trees and leaves are. With the yellow box, we have 3 smaller simpler areas A, B and C (not including the spaces within the bridle) to concentrate on drawing.

negative space horse

Using Positive and Negative Space

Positive space means the actual object, person etc that you are drawing. Negative space is the area around the object or person. Using a combination of both negative and positive space when you are drawing helps you get more accurate results. So if you choose to start a drawing normally, by drawing the actual object (positive space) it’s a good idea to keep checking that the spaces around and between objects (negative space) match up too.

Negative Space Video Tutorial

Here’s a quick video tutorial explanation of negative space to help you draw a figure.


Drawing negative space exercise

Here’s a negative space drawing exercise for you to try. Find a photograph or use the one below. Choose a main object. Now draw everything else around the object, but not the object itself. In effect, you are drawing the negative shapes and leaving the positive shapes blank. So in the photo below the figure is the main (positive space) object. So you would draw all the window and window frame (negative space) and leave the figure blank.

drawing negative space exercise

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