4.0 Negative Spaces

Part 4 begins with an introduction to negative spaces which contains a student drawing of a pot plant. The student only filled in a dark background where it was visible, all else, i.e. the pot plant, is left white. The drawing intrigued me and I set out to try the technique myself.

It was fascinating. Negative spaces are not a new concept to me but I have never before made them the main feature in a picture. Drawing all those dark spaces was an exercise in patience. It gave me a lot of time to think about what I was doing. I realised how much information the background holds. And also how much of a drawing is interpretation, how much the brain fills in. Which is a very interesting observation with regard to what I need to draw for a viewer to see what there is. It turns out it is actually very little.

The first drawing is of a gap in the “canopy” of a potted tamarind tree. I had not thought about the composition, I only wanted to see if it was doable. It was. Around the edge of the gap some of the compound leaves show enough leaflets to allow the viewer to understand how they’re built. This makes it possible for the brain to interpret the dark triangles where the “canopy” is denser. I had not expected this.

Tamarind, B9 graphite pencil on A4 cartridge paper

For a finished drawing I would need to choose a composition with better edges, I feel.

I did that for my second drawing. I chose my angle carefully and decided to let the plant hang out of the background a little. I like the effect of that. The shapes of the negative spaces are different, still some triangles but also longer and broader shapes. I think this picture has quite a good balance.

Chlorophytum, 7B graphite on A4 cartridge paper

I began to observe the shapes of the negative spaces around me and wanted to draw a lot of them. In the end I only managed one more – an oak. Without the leaves it shows its limbs with all their twists, surrounded by a halo of twigs. This last one was done pressed for time and it shows. I did not plan the composition very well and I caught myself drawing the limbs instead of the negative spaces. The execution of the two earlier ones is better, too. Still, I like the ghostly effect and I think the character of the oak comes out well.

Oak, 7B graphite on A4 cartridge paper

Doing these drawings has opened my eyes for negative spaces. I see them everywhere now and it felt natural to switch my eyes between positive and negative shapes when drawing the still life for the next exercise.


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