Art Hacks: Using Positive/Negative Space in your Art | Cookie Redding | Skillshare

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Art Hacks: Using Positive/Negative Space in your Art

teacher avatar Cookie Redding, Artist, Designer, Teacher

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      What is Positive and Negative Space?


    • 4.

      Demonstration:: Charcoal + Positive/Negative


    • 5.

      Demonstration:: Watercolor + Positive/Negative


    • 6.

      Class Project


    • 7.



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About This Class

In art, the positive space is the object we’re looking at (a vase, for example, on a table) and the negative space is the area around the object (the background).  By being able to understand this spacial relationship, you can hone in a more successful compositional arrangement. As artists and designers, we tend to focus mainly on the positive shapes in our composition, but the magic really happens in the negative’s equally as important as our positive space and this project will allow you time to devote on studying its spacial interaction.

In this class students will explore the relationship between positive and negative shapes in unique, dynamic compositions.  Often times when we are in the early stages of our creation process, we stumble upon composition errors as well as proportion issues.  By learning how to shift between seeing the positive/negative space, your work will evolve and grow stronger in composition.

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Cookie Redding

Artist, Designer, Teacher


Good hello!

Welcome to my Skillshare page and channel. My name is Cookie and I'm a practicing artist and designer as well as a professor of art/design. I am a firm believer in experimentation, trial and error and practice makes perfect. Skillshare is a wonderful platform to flex those creative muscles and learn new things.

Be sure to hit that "follow" button so you get info on my new classes and updates. Be sure to follow me on facebook or instagram for my daily musings and art adventures.

*Learn lots of stuff about art, print design, web design and illustration!

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Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hello. Welcome to our tax. In this class, you're gonna learn about positive and negative space in our the positive space is the object itself. So maybe it's based sitting on a table or this mug sitting on the table. We look at the mug. That's the positive. The negative is the space that exists around it. And as artists and designers, we have a tendency to focus on the positive space. Not so much the negative, but it's in the negative. Space for the magic truly happens. So in this class we're going to take a little bit of time, explore this positive and negative interaction and see how it could impact and influence your art. It'll take your art to a next level. Plus, it's a handy dandy troubleshooting trick. If you're having an issue with your composition, chances are the positives. Okay, but the negatives gonna need a little bit of work. So in this class we're going to explore this relationship and help your work improve and grow. All right, let's get started 2. Supplies: All right, let's check out the supplies we're going to need for the class. You're going to need some sort of paper to work. One, we're going to explore wet and dry media, so if you have a preference, you're going to go off from there. So for drawing or the dry materials gets a nice strolling paper. If you're going to use a wet media, go ahead and get a watercolor or even a mixed media paper. No need something that makes a mark of some sort. So a pencil, a marker, a pen, charcoal, anything that you haven't the ready that you can draw with it could even just be the classic standard Number two pencil. Whatever you're comfortable with, go ahead and use that. If you like the wet media, you can go ahead and use the water colors. If you have water colors, just grab some brushes and some container to put your watercolor. And because we have good wash or croelick that's going toe work. Also, before my demo, I'm going to be showing you guys watercolor. All right, let's go ahead and get started 3. What is Positive and Negative Space?: All right, let's go ahead and get started. What exactly is positive and negative space when we're dealing with space and art? We already know about 1.2 point three point in aerial perspective. But then there's a figure ground relationships, so we could think of that. Similar to that positive and negative space is the interaction of foreground and background . The positive space is the main object within your piece. So if we're looking at this still life of a cup, the positive is going to be the part that's in black. The cup itself, with negative this is think of it is the background of your piece. So back to our cup. This is going to be the black portion, the background of your work, something to consider about the negative space. Negative space is never empty. It's that air. It's that container of air that's around the positive or whatever. The you know shapes you have in your piece, and the negative space is always going to be supporting the positive, the to work, hand in hand. So if we were to break it down, we need to think of it. Is this in terms that were already comfortable with the positive is our foreground. On the negative is our background for every positive shape that exists within our work of art. There is going to be negative space around it and it is complex. The negative space is actually justice. Important to your composition is the main subject because it had its playing that supportive role. So if we were to think of it as a stage, the foreground, that positive is going to be the main star. But you need to have everything else that's happening around in the background for the start to have the show. So this is why it's important to pay attention to it. It is just important it's playing that supportive role. You can also have some fun with it and shift the perception of your piece. A lot of optical illusion artists rely upon this positive and negative interaction to give the optical illusions that were so familiar with one of the classic ones, which I've recreated here using Illustrator is that is it a goblet, or is it the profiles using the same shipped as you would in your perception? This is how you can figure out how to use your positive negative. So when you're sketching or drawing or working on the composition, the same technique that you used to see the goblet or the face pull back on that that's exactly what you're going to be doing when you're drawling. That same sort of switch in your perception is going to help you see that negative space, which is going to help inform your positive, just as a side note. For the designers out there, this positive and negative space is used quite a bit. You're going to see it in the principles of the stop in this dis for those who aren't aware of it, The definition. This is something that is made of many parts and yet somehow more that are different from the combination of its parts. We have five categories of this proximity. Similarity, closure connected US continuity and all of these could be used within design, and you can manipulate your positive and negative space in such a manner to create, you know, the effects needed for this just all principles. The most popular example of this four our designer friends is, of course, logos similar to the that expert has the hidden arrow within the, um, bed and X in between eso floor of this you're using and manipulating your space on each our informant off off each other. So this play off of each other is exactly what we're going to be looking for when we start practice named positive and negative. And it's through this that, you know, we're getting our information are negative. Space is giving us more information on the positive aspects of our work. Something to consider no information in the piece that you're working on. It's still information. So in our design, we have, you know, the dreaded, uh, white space. What do we do with this white space? This very blank page? Well, once you've started in your marks down, you can't marks everywhere. You need some of these pause points. So no info actually is in vote. It's helping to reinforce our positive. All right to know, Let's take some of these concepts the positive, the negative are foreground or background, and let's take it into practice. How can we use this in our studio time? And how can we use this as a technique to get us prepared to do our final compositions? All right, let's get to work 4. Demonstration:: Charcoal + Positive/Negative: for next sections. I'm going to show dry technique, which is our charcoal. Zor markers are pencils, etcetera, and then we're going to look at a wet technique. So this is the ink, the watercolor, the acrylic. And then you can decide which route do you want to take with yours. Think of these as studies practices, warm up exercises to get you comfortable with switching between positive and negative interactions within your actual objects composition and then your pages composition. I'm going to use charcoal, and I do have a plant here set up that I'm going to work off of. And I have a photo of it in our class project so that if you don't have anything, you can work off of that also. So four our practices we're not focusing on building the positive. We're gonna work on building the negatives so that we can get comfortable with seeing that space and use it as a tool for when we're working on our actual compositions. The compositions that you wish to work on, not the practice ones. Eso I have my, uh, plant and its planter here, and I have my handy dandy sketchbook. So let's go ahead and get started. So I think of these as warm ups. You can actually put timers on these maybe 3 to 5 minutes per one so that you can flip through a couple of them and get warmed up for your actual art making section for the day s . So what we're going to do is we look at our object and we're gonna look at the air that's around the positive, not the actual positive itself. So what I'm seeing here is this nice. You know that the edge of that leaf and we're not building it through the line. We're going to be building it through this shape. So I'm looking at that shape, and this is almost similar to the contours. When you're doing the blind contours, you're switching that point of view eso that it gives you one more tool in your arsenal for whenever you are working. All right, some going to build in this shape, and I'm starting to flatten the edge of that charcoal so I can cover more of the ground. And then we have in that here. And then there is the form are negative. So I'm gonna go ahead, fill it in and this will make a lot of mess, especially if you're using charcoal on. Then that way you have the start of your composition. All right, so we have what's going to be the line. So the next space is a triangular space. Let's go ahead, filled that shape. And what's nice with this is it slows you down and you become a little bit more thought methodical whenever you're working. So instead of roughing it out really quick, you're dealing with it block by block by block. And then all of these blocks work together to actually create your piece. So thes air, great exercises for your sketchbook, all these scraps of paper that you have laying around. It's just nice to doodle these and just use them as a sort of brain exercise to get you ready for the actual work time. Think of it is training. This is our training sessions, so we want to train ourselves to be more art smart, and this is going to help us get there. It's a really nice technique for changing our point of views when we're working. All right, I'm gonna take that next block we have the little nubby bit on the plant, build that in and the next intersection shape, and then we're gonna build the next whenever I work. And this just might be his change personal habit. But I actually will work and close one eye in case you know, it's sort shifts The point of you to make sure what I'm seeing is exactly, you know, the proper point of view. I do this a lot of times in my three d work. Also, it's just a nice way to just make sure what you're seeing is at that right perspective point. So if you see me doing that, that is actually what I'm doing. It's a really nice sort of trick to make sure you know you're in alignment with what you're recording and what you're seeing, right? So I have that bottom right section flashed out pretty good. Uh, I see a nice intersection of these two shapes, so let's get that space and and then start building the next, and what I'm going to do for the rest of this is do a time lapse so that you can see the whole process and not be bogged down with 15 minutes of punching me, sit here and work through this. So for the next little bit, let's speed it up so that you can see the whole process and then we'll reconvene. - All right, so now we got to explore this as a practice technique for getting used to dealing and seeing and observing and recording are negative space so that we get these really nice spatial interactions that we may not have paid attention to if we were just dealing with positive. So, typically, how I function when I am dealing with the positive and negative interaction with in my work . We do focus on the positive, and that is probably where we're going to be starting when were actually on our final piece . But what I like to do is do a couple contours, and then I'll do a couple positive, negative sort of preliminary sketches just to acquaint myself with the subject matter so that when I go into the final piece, I'm aware of the subtle nuances of the little shapes and hidden bits that are making this really interesting composition. If you're fighting, something's wrong within your what else say is the final piece. No, a final drawling that you're working on. Get used to switching your vantage point between the positive and negative. And so that way you can instead maybe measure that negative space and see if that's where the problem is, or see if that space is correlating to what's happening in the positive. So this is a great technique, and it's a great tool to use whenever you are building your compositions so that you could bounce between the two and get a really nice, solid, cohesive composition. 5. Demonstration:: Watercolor + Positive/Negative: All right, so now it's time to jump in and get started for this section. We're going to explore the wet media. In this case, I'm just going to use watercolor. I'm a watercolor trays here. You can also use the ANC or Croelick. So it just depends on which you like to work with. I have my watercolor paper, and I have one of my house plants set up so we can work from it. And I do have a photograph of this house plant, and I will have it in our course project section. So if you can't find anything to arrange, feel free to go ahead and print that out or work with it on screen. All right, so four are wet on wet. What? We're going to dio this, remember, we're not drawing the lines. We're drawling the negative space. So we're building the positive out of the negative. Essentially. So? So what I'm gonna do is just take a look, get familiar with this still life, and then start breaking it down for mine. I'm going to switch it, Teoh portrait, and I'm going to start dealing with the corner where the actual container is meeting the vine. So the shape is basically this triangle. So I'm going to use my water and I'm going Teoh rough out this space and we have a little bit of the vine and I'm gonna fill it in with water from there choosing a color and this I'm just gonna drop it in. So it sort of floods the water area and that this is gonna have a nice sort of loose, ethereal look to it, and the water color is going to bloom. So the blooms, What that means is you have an excess of water on where the water and paint meat. It's going to make this sort of bloomed effect. That's what I'm going to shoot for with this one. So there we go, let it fill itself in and we could go on to the next section, So gonna clean up and I have to waters just in case, because that one water looked a little bit dirty. Um, so always start with clean water, and now we're just going to build the next section again. I'm ignoring the positive, and I'm looking at that space now where the vine is intersecting over a little bit. And then this is where the tabletop iss, right? Load it with color and you can see how it sort of bleeds into itself if I'm just barely touching it. But I'm just going to sort of around the edge, and then it fills itself in. All right, switch these. Now we're going to build the next section so you can see how this is starting to work. We're building shape by shape, section by section and just dealing with it in this negative space. So it becomes a sort of puzzle, but you're building it up by the pieces. All right, This next bit for the vine is and I have it loaded pretty decently with water. It's a pretty good amount, and you can see how the water just slurps in the color. All right. And you guessed it. We're going into the next section. So the next section we're going tohave the vine and the outside, but we have a leaf that we're also going to be dealing with. So fill it up with the water, get over to the leaf. That's where our stem is. And this is where the leafy part is. Fill in with water. You know, we're gonna build up this part where the actual container is and we have two leaves and you got stepped more water, and I'm gonna load it pretty heavily so we can get this area filled in and grab our color and start skirting around those edges. You can see I'm just barely touching the brush to the water. And the gravity of the situation is just going to fill itself. Been if you want, you can use what on dry. So that's going to give a completely different look. This one's going to have a little bit more of an organic appearance to it. So if you wanted, you could just fill this all in solid, and it'll look more illustrative. This is gonna have more of a painterly feel to it. I'm just gonna add a little bit more water just to help these areas merge and these air going to help create the blooms. Also, once it's a little bit more dry. All right, so I'm going to keep going. But I'm gonna do this section as a time lapse so it won't take up too much of your class time. But then that way you can also see the entire process. So I have the one corner started, and now let's keep going on the rest of it. - All right, So from this exercise, what we're getting comfortable with is thinking of the naked space is its own entity and then building up from there to build the positive more of these exercises, the more you do, the more comfortable you're going to get with doing. You know, this sort of spatial visual adjustment on. And if you're having problems in a certain area, if you're working, what I'm going to lovingly call normally so the positive if you get an area that you feels a little funky that you can switch your point of view and look at the negative and see Is this where the problem is, or is it something else? So for this as usual practice, So try a couple of these, maybe a few small versions of it, and see if you like this version. I'm going to let this dry because some of the areas got a little bit thick. But what's probably gonna happen is there going to fade out, sort of like a tie dye, so I'm not going to touch it. But if you wanted, you could pick up just a little of it. So it's not quite so juicy and Slurpee. But what I'll do is our insert a photo of it so that you can see what it looks like when it's finished. So I chose one color you could make. This is many colors as you want. You could do the same technique with the ink, and you can do the same technique with the acrylic. So it just depends on what material you like to work with. So for this section practice, just practice making a couple of these and whatever and wet medium that you like and see how it works. All right, go ahead and practice. 6. Class Project: all right, time for our class project. In this project, we're going to explore the positive and negative space in their interactions. As we've mentioned, most of us tend to focus mainly on the positive. So if it's that vase on the table, we're worrying about the vase. But we're not really thinking about what's going on in the background. This project's going to give us a chance to look into this and explore the background, explore the area in the air that's around the actual shape of the object. So when we're looking at that vase because I'm just going to stick with that for an example . So when we're looking at the base were, keep looking at the base and we keep saying, Well, what's wrong with it? I can't figure out what's wrong with it. Switch your point of view instead of looking at the positive, switch it to the negative what's happening back there. That might be where the problem is, And chances are you can solve your problem by looking at the negative space and seeing how the to interact together. It's that negative space where the magic is happening. It's actually acting as a reinforcement for the positive. So the two are working together. It says that the ones a little bit more obvious. So if you have a problem, switch it from the positive and look at the negative. All right. So for this project, we have a couple things that we need to do before we get started. We need to go and gather some objects. Now I am going to recommend some natural objects and maybe some twigs or leaves or something that can be found in nature. But if you live in the city, this might be a little bit trickier, so I'm going to expand that to a natural object. Has a lot of interesting shapes to it. So let's just pick on that vase on the table. So maybe we do have that vase on the table. But put a couple flowers in it that you get the market. Or, you know, maybe you have a really interesting plant in your house or an arrangement of objects or toys or figurines. Grab a couple things that look interesting when they're going to be clustered together, and that's what you're going to be working with once you have your objects assembled. What we need to do is make an interesting composition out of them. So whether you're working in front of you, maybe have a coffee table, you can put some of your objects. We just set them off on the side or at your kitchen table so that you can have a space that you can work in a space that you can look and see what you're objects are doing. All right, so now it's time to figure out what medium do we wish to work with so wet or dry? If we're going with the wet, maybe you want to have some watercolors or acrylics or ink wash that sort and whatever you choose, have the corresponding support the ghost with its If you using watercolor, have your watercolor paper. If it's acrylic, maybe you're going to use mixed media paper or a nice canvasser canvass board. Whatever you're using, have the appropriate support with that. If you're going to go dry, this is where you're going to have your charcoal, your pencils, your graphite, your markers. Uh, any paper for that will work. You're drawing a sketch book. You can even use the watercolor paper something that you have handy and around the house. You even just use computer paper that for your printer, whatever's at your ready, that's what you can use. All right, So we're assembling. Are objects were arranging our objects? We're choosing our material, and then you guessed it. We're going to jump in, are going to get to work. So for this assignment, the most important thing don't look at as a line. We don't want to worry about the line. We're gonna take it as little shapes. We're gonna build it shape by shape. We're not using the positive shapes were using those negative shapes that we can build up our negative space. So by allowing ourselves to focus on the negative space, it's going to get us used to looking at the interaction between the two. All right, The most important thing. Fill the page. So none of these precious little tiny, you know, works of art. If you have a nine by 12 used the whole nine by 12. If you haven't 18 by 24 sheet of watercolor paper go to town. Used the entire sheet of watercolor paper. Scale is something else that gets a little sort of daunting in the early stages of art and design. So use the whole sheet and see what happens if you mess up. Just keep going. So relax, have fun and create your piece of art where you're going to study this positive and negative interaction as usual. If you've taken my classes before, share the process. So maybe you have, you know, the display and your materials. Lay it out. Take a photo that take a photo of the space you're working in and how you have your still life arranged. Show us some of the process shots, the early stages, the middle stages and of course, that end result and, as usual, share share in our projects below so that everyone can see what you're doing. And we can have a nice conversation about your work. Everyone learns from everyone. So the more we share and the more we can learn from each other. All right, so grab your pencil, grab your pain, and let's start working 7. Conclusion: in this class, you got to learn about positive and negative space. Positive naked space work with each other to complete your composition on a more unified and whole front. But using your negative space, you get to learn about the subtle nuances within your composition that allow that magic happen within your composition. You got to explore two different techniques to experiment with. Creating negative and positive space is out of that which you can use as tools and techniques to improve your drawings before you actually jump into your final drawling. So I hope you get to take these tools and use them in pre compositions to build a stronger , more unified final piece for this class. Don't forget, you can use any material that you want to experiment with. I'd love to see what you create, so be sure to share it below in our class project. I hope you had a lot of fun learning about positive and negative space, and I'll see you next time