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Lesson - Drawing Negative Space Only

Drawing Assignment: Create three still-life drawings by drawing only the negative space. 

Drawing 1:  Create this drawing by carefully drawing the contours of the negative space/shape and then filling the negative space with a flat value (tone) leaving the positive space (objects) as the white of the paper.

Materials for Drawing 1:  natural charcoal, art gum eraser, 18 x 24 multipurpose drawing paper.

Drawing 2:  Start this drawing by toning or putting a ground on your drawing paper (rubbing charcoal over the entire surface) and using an art gum eraser to “pull” the negative space/out as lighter tones. You are erasing all of the negative spaces you see in the still life and only negative spaces. DO NOT DRAW POSITIVE SHAPES.

Materials for Drawing 2:  natural charcoal, art gum eraser, 18 x 24 multipurpose drawing paper.

Drawing 3:  Again we will start by creating a careful drawing of the contours of the negative space. However, this time we will charge the space with the values and tones that are seen through the negative space, leaving the positive space (objects) as the white of the paper.

Materials:  6B, 4B woodless drawing pencils; 2B, 6B 1/2" graphite sticks; kneaded eraser; eraser stick or pink pearl eraser, 18 x 24 multipurpose drawing paper.


Guidelines: After you have explored “Negative Space of 3D Forms” in a previous lesson, the focus of this lesson is more drawing of the negative space only (space between and around objects). This exercise is to improve your concentration and to breakdown your preconceived notions of the objects you are drawing. You know a lot about objects. However, you most likely don’t know much about random spaces around the objects. Changing your preconception about the space between the objects will help you record more accurately what you are seeing in your drawing.

These drawings will be from direct observation of a stack of boxes having mostly geometric negative spaces and from a more traditional still life with a considerable number of more fluid negative spaces (such as space between the slats of a chair, the space between the branches of a house plant, elements that are composed so that they overlap each other forming closed shapes of negative space). Your compositions should be arranged to emphasize the negative space. They are often jumbled and overlapped to maximize the number, size, and variety of negative spaces.

Note: If you use very intense observation skills to draw only the negative spaces of the still life, the drawing will be remarkably accurate. You will see how important the negative space is when you are finished. With drawing nothing but the negative spaces, the positive forms (objects) can be created with great accuracy. Your concentration should be on “seeing” and drawing the space between objects.


Examples of Students' Negative Space Drawing


Student / Artist Ed Buziak


Student / Artist Kate Slone


Student / Artist Lynda Pool


Student / Artist Unknown

Professional Artist Examples: Powerful Use of Negative Space


Janelle McKain “Enigma” Pencil / Paper Surreal Pencil Artist

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