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In most works of art, your eye is drawn to a main focal point—but the area around that object is just as important. This is referred to as space, and it’s one of the fundamental elements of art. Below, we discuss the differences between positive and negative space in art and provide examples of different ways artists use space in their compositions. 

What Is Space in Art? 

Let’s start with a space definition in art: It’s the area around and within objects, forms, colors, and lines. Space is one of the seven elements of art. In general, there are two main types of space in art: positive and negative.

Positive space refers to an area of interest within a piece of art: the trees within a landscape, the person in a portrait, a bowl or piece of fruit in a still life. 

So what is negative space in art? It is the space around and between objects, rather than the object itself. 

Artists strategically use positive and negative space in art to create effective imagery, convey messages and meanings, create balance, and draw the eye to their intended focal point. An artist’s use of space can also add depth and perspective, creating the illusion that some objects are bigger or closer than others. Without space, a composition can become too cluttered to effectively convey the intended meaning. 

5 Examples of Different Ways to Use Space in Art 

What does space mean in art? It depends on how the artist chooses to use it. Some artists may incorporate large expanses between objects, conveying feelings of isolation. Others may group objects close together, communicating that they have a strong relationship. 

Artists can also use positive and negative space in art to achieve interesting visual effects and draw the eye to an intended area of a composition. Explore the examples below to see how several different artists chose to strategically use space within their creations. 

Negative Space Shapes 

lemon drawing
This artist used a white paint marker to create negative space in the shape of lemons. 

Rather than paint your intended shapes, you can use negative space to define them. In this example, the artist didn’t first draw the lemons. Instead, she created a yellow watercolor background and then used a white paint marker to add negative space that formed the lemon shapes. 

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Creating a Focal Point 

tentacles
Organic floral drawings surround a circle of negative space—which actually becomes the focal point of the composition. 

By creating illustrations with intentional negative space, you can add other elements, such as text, at a later point. This botanical design features a blank center, which is perfect for later highlighting a phrase or word. 

Shapes Within Shapes 

cat made of cats
This cat painting illustrates a unique take on positive and negative space. 

This example demonstrates an interesting use of space within space. Within the overall composition, the larger cat shape is positive space—but relative to the smaller cat shapes, it becomes negative space. 

Negative Space Lettering 

watercolor words
Example of negative space lettering. 

You can also use negative space to form words and letters. Rather than paint the word itself, you essentially draw or paint around the word, creating a colorful background while the letters remain white. 

Texture and Perspective 

This artist used space to create the illusion of perspective. 

In this example, the artist uses space to create shapes and perspective. The negative space lines between each of the patterns create the individual hill shapes. And, as the hills get smaller toward the top of the composition, they seem further away. 

In art, space can—and should—be an intentional element of each composition. Experiment with different uses of space, and you’ll be amazed at how you can elevate your artwork. 

Experiment With Space

Negative Space Lettering with Watercolours