Research 2 – negative spaces

Research point 2 – Negative and Positive spaces in 21st Century Art

Positive space is the space we see occupied by a person, place or thing.  The space surrounding these people, places or things is considered negative space.  It is the manipulation of these spaces that can create very interesting art and suggest things to the viewer or observer.  In some art a pattern can be applied to cause a trick to occur with the combination of pattern and spaces interacting.

Negative space can be used to great effect in a painting and image.  The Japanese have a word, Ma, which refers to negative space as a moment to pause.  In Chinese it is Wu Wei, the art of non action and non doing which we often are exposed to via Taoism.  This translates in illustrations and paintings as allowing the space to exist to allow human imagination to fill in the gaps effortlessly.

In comics we see the use of negative and positive spaces quite often.  Black and white printing is cheaper than colour and so many would opt for that.  However, Frank Miller makes best use of negative space to suggest action and atmosphere in his graphic novel Sin City.

Frank Miller
Frank Millers Sin City – google image source

Soey Milk is a contemporary illustrator and artist, and often uses negative spaces in her work to allow for room to breathe.  In this image she allows the negative space to show us the flow of her figures hair while the rest of the image can be clearly viewed.

Soey Milk Illustration Onsemiro
Soey Milk – Onsemiro –

On a simpler note images can be created by simply leaving out some of the objects or people and allowing the negative space to direct your attention to the key points or places.

Used in posters and advertising it is particularly effective in stirring up the imagination and making the leap to fill in the space.  It is very effective and with the simplest of spaces chosen, the key message is conveyed.

Here Iron Man is clearly outlined in the shadow but the negative space allows for a minimum use of detail to suggest this.

image sourced via google images 

This image by Sedki Alimam is fantastic in how it uses the skull and the silhouette of the smoke and buildings to bring the image to life.

Sedki Alimam –

Tattoos are a great form of negative space and the designs such as this maximise the use of it.

Tattoo Artists working in negative space –

In the image below, the artist Lauren Blackburn has allowed the image to deteriorate and the negative space to move forward to bring her image to life.  Her focus was on exploring the destabilisation in a fixed image and the associated memory.  Her portrait is made all the more haunting by the fact that she allows the dripping to dissolve the fixed image.


Pinterest –  21.10  14.02.18   20.20 08.02.18   21.13  14.02.18 – Soey Milk images – negative space ads – Lauren Blackburn – Tattoo artists working in negative space