experiencing negative space

Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modelled space. Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space“. Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses … Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form” … The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.    The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher

In this assignment students learn to see the space between things. All the drawings are strong, because contrast is naturally enhanced in the composition. Some works are simple and express a less is more sensibility, while others are like a series of complex pathways.

Note the subject-matter stands out, and so does the space between the leaves, stems and flowers.

Seeing Negative by Luis

Shrub by Aaron

Enchanted Forrest by Brittany

Money Tree by Kris

Negative Core by Manny

Kristine, a Native American student, responds to Izzy’s study below, in a personal way. She tells us it reminds her of a place on the reservation where there are many hand impressions left on rocks, from over 200 years ago. Or did she say 2000? Ancestors placed down the palm of their hand against the rock, and blew powdered pigments through hollow tubes over the form. A ghost print remains of the activity.

Phoenix Sunset by Izzy

We enjoy a productive critique. And though the group has just learned the concept of negative space, they will develop and understand its use with each assignment. They’re supportive and constructive in their commentary today.

accentuate the negative and the positive shows up anyway

The poet John Keats wrote that understanding poetry required that we must be willing to put ourselves in a special state of mind, which Keats called “negative capability.”  He described this state as one in which a person “is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts; without any irritable reaching after facts and reason.”

My drawing students play with uncertainty in this assignment…

New semester, new class, new Positive and Negative studies…

A few students found the assignment easy enough and  jumped right in. But most students were somewhat confused.
I explain this is a whole new way of looking, seeing and drawing.  We are looking at the space between things. It’s completely different from how we are trained to see. One by one, they do get it.  It takes practice I remind them.  And a few mistakes. One student did 3 homework assignments to really get it. His perseverance impresses me. Once you get it, it’s yours, you don’t lose it.

The assignment is important in understanding how to create a strong composition. Students first learn to identify negative space and then they learn to use it. In the assignment that follows this one, they’ll be utilizing what they’ve learned.

The assignment might be a bit of a challenge, and then there’s the coloring in of the negative space, which requires some work. When the positive image, the subject-matter, starts to stand out, the work becomes visually exciting. They see it, they know it.

The homework is the same, and I am pleasantly surprised by what some of the students are willing to do outside of the classroom. Their willing to look, and put it down, makes my eyes happy. Maybe it will please your eyes as well.  Critique is particularly fun for this beginning drawing group. Take a look at a few of the class favorites.