With any drawing, an important but often overlooked aspect is the shapes of the things that we don’t see. BUT WAIT! How can we draw (or paint) things that we don’t see? Well, to be more specific, I’m talking about the spaces or gaps between objects that can be just as important as the shapes of the objects themselves. For example…

  • how far apart are the objects?
  • What is the shape that is created by the space between the objects?
  • What texture and colors are contained within that empty space?
  • Does your drawing contain the same shape and proportions as the space that you are seeing?

This important space around our objects is often referred to as ‘negative space’. If your negative space isn’t drawn correctly, that means that your objects are in the wrong position in your drawing, or the proportions haven’t been drawn accurately.

Just like the previous lessons, we are trying to teach our brain to work from observation rather than memory. Negative space drawing is a great way of forcing our mind to observe and follow unfamiliar shapes. For this exercise, we need to concentrate on drawing the space around the object rather than the object itself, forcing us to look deeper into the scene that we are drawing. Since our brain usually filters out the space surrounding an object, it can be a little difficult to recognise the negative shapes at first. With practice, the more we train our mind to observe shapes, the easier it becomes to focus on the negative space.

As an exercise, find an object with holes in it (start with something simple). Now this time, rather than focusing on the object, focus on the gaps created by the holes. Start by drawing the shapes that are created by the holes. Just like our blind contour drawing exercise, let your eyes move around the shape and follow the movement with your pencil. This is a difficult but important exercise, don’t expect to get it right first go, it will take practice.

“Here’s a great tip for your imagination – Some artists have created optical illusions by using the negative space in a picture to contain an alternate image. Creating your own optical illusion is a fun way of understanding the negative space while also improving your imagination and drawing skills.”

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