What is positive and negative space in drawing?

In order to become a better designer of your artwork, you’ve got to understand the difference between the negative and positive space.

What is positive and negative space?

Here the negative space are white profiles surrounding the positive space- the black vase.

Look at this picture. What do you see here a black vase or two white profiles? If it’s the black vase, you’re looking at the positive space. If it’s the profiles, you’re seeing the negative space. Usually the positive space is the object(s) you draw, and the negative space is the background that surrounds it.

Below you see a colored pencil drawing of the flower. The flower itself is the positive space, and the white background around it is the negative space.

What is negative and positive space?

Why you need to know

The negative space can be an effective tool to define your center of interest. How? Every element in your picture with its edges and shapes is affected by tones and colors placed right next to or around it. So the negative space can balance out your composition visually with a specific tone, shape or a shadow. For instance, in this picture the flower stands out more set against the white background (the negative space). If it were the same value, the flower could have been lost.

peacock feathers
Peacock feathers, 5×7 inches, lightfast colored pencils on board

One of the most common mistakes beginning artists make, they forget to include their background space into the equation, and ask me what to do with it much later when they are almost done shading the object itself. In my mind I compose the image before I begin drawing. I consider everything: composition, values, textures, and colors not only in the object, but also in the negative space.

You can create contrast

oil painting techniques still life with starfish and peacock feather

As a beginner in art, it’s easy to start designing your images around the concept of contrast that occurs between the negative and positive space. If your still life is dark, set up the light background. If the object is light, it would look brighter set against the dark negative space.

You can measure and check distances

The black lines show the idea of visually measuring the negative space present between the positive shapes to draw accurate outlines.

When you make the outline drawing of your object, you tend to focus on the curving line itself. As a result, the shape might be too long or lopsided, or foreshortened the wrong way. Instead of focusing on the object’s curve itself, look at the space between those curves. Artists visually measure distances between the lines, shapes or objects by looking at the negative spaces between them to make the most accurate drawings.

Here is the link that brings you to my step by step tutorials page.