Negative spaces

Why avoid talking of “negative spaces ” or “negative shapes”?

The title of Chapter 6 of my book “Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain” is “Negative Shapes”. Some people may be surprised to find that I question the widespread use by art teachers of the phrase “negative shapes” and of its equivalent, “negative spaces“. After explaining the reasons for the popularity of its use as a means of bypassing the problems due to familiarity, I argue that it has significant shortcomings. In the light of these, I suggest that there are alternatives which avoid its disadvantages without relinquishing any of its advantages. Perhaps more importantly, these provides better ways of using drawing from observation as a tool for discovering the unique characteristics of objects in the world around us.


Examples of negative shapes

negative spaces
Figure 1 : The face/vase illusion



negative shapes
Figure 2 : A drawing of a  chair and copy  from Betty Edwards’ book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, used to illustrate the use of negative spaces


In the illustrations above, Figure 1 shows the famous face/vase illusion in which either the faces or the vase can be seen positively, but only alternately.  Figure 2, shows a drawing of a chair (on the left) and a drawing made from it (on the right), using the existing “negative spaces” method. Although it comes originally from Betty Edwards, I found it on a website that discusses negative shapes and spaces, using the terms in their established meaning.

Other Posts that publish chapters from “Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain”.

Other drawing related Posts

Full list of Posts in all categories

Back to the top of the page

8 thoughts on “Negative spaces”

    1. I am sorry you are having difficulties. In a way I am not surprised because I felt it one of the most difficult chapter to write. But my main feeling was that one negative response from someone who has given so very many positive ones, gives all of those extra value, as coming from someone who can be negative when she feels it is appropriate. So thank you. I will look into trying to make myself clearer.

  1. Thanks Francis for revising this chapter and making it clearer. I have never read an article that reflects so thoroughly on the subject of negative shapes. You offer new and fascinating insights that are well worth taking into consideration.

  2. Thank you so much, dear Francis, for this further clarification. Now even a slow learner as myself grasps the larger implications of what it is you teach us in this chapter. Fascinating!

  3. Francis, thank you for this chapter. I had to work to grasp everything I was reading, and already know I want to reread it, even more carefully; but the information in this chapter is enormously helpful in the still life sketches I am currently working on. Information from this chapter also helped me a lot during the life drawing class this morning. That was a good session! Glad there will be more. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.