What the hell is Negative Space..? No, not the weird Negative Zone from the comic books. It's... I don't know. That's why I go to the place that has all the answers. No, not Wikipedia! ConceptArt.org!
Seedling, a longtime forum-goer describes the "Negative Space" as the the white space that surrounds the silhouette of a character.
Armando goes on a little more by defining "Negative space as a result of drawing a shape on the paper. Becoming aware of it initiates you into composition. One of the elementary things to do in drawing is to separate figure and ground, figure being things(people, cups,shapes, whatever), ground being the air that surrounds them.
On your piece of paper say you draw a square, the paper contained within it's contours is solid, all the paper outside of it is negative space. By moving the square around you'll find that you can change the shape of negative space: a rectangle with square hole in it, an "L", a "c".
Positive and negative space are ambiguous until they are defined by some cue, usually in our work the cue will be recognizable things like people and whatnot.
A very important and elementary way to seperate the two is by using convex contours. Basically our minds interpret the area contained within convex contours as solid, areas contained within concave contours appear as empty space. Research visual intelligence, and visual perception, for more info on that, I don't think much is said about it in art books."
Wow! With all this free data on the net, why waste a fortune on artbooks and all that jazz?? Ugh. I have no idea. Since I have a day job, and have got some cash to spare (since this is my hobby after all) why not? Why waste money buying a new cellphone, or electronic peripheral when can survive with the old one?! Anyway, going back to the topic at hand...
Here's a picture and then the same picture with all the negative space filled in...
Notice how the negative space makes the figures (the positive space) more silhouetted and "readable" from a distance. This "posterization" adds graphic power/pop and clarity to the picture.
Armando then points out this lil' tidbit: "Whatever is not intended to be a solid form is negative space. Take some steps back from the screen, or change the zoom level and you should see that the silhouette is clearer on the white background.
Basic composition, there is more contrast between black and white, than gray. Notice how the muscles form convex bumps. Even if you didn't know those were ape men, you would know they were the figure and the white the ground, even if you were to make them white and the background black the relationship would be the same.
When we first start drawing we only pay attention to the shape we enclose within the lines, ignoring that big shape that's surrounding it, but it's all just dividing the picture plane. Sketch little frames on a piece of paper, add simple shapes within them, but instead of looking at the area contained within the shape look at the area that surrounds it.
Sometimes positive and negative shapes become ambiguous, modern art tends to take advantage of that, it adds dynamism and complexity because there are mutiple ways of looking at the picture."
You get it right? Do you get it? I'm asking you, Void. Answer me! What? Kev Ferrera has provided examples of excellent use of Negative Space? Coo!
Edited by Kev to highlight interaction of silhouette with "Negative Space":
So cool. As Armado would later say: "Now that the question "What is negative space?" has been answered, I'd like to ask, How does negative space become expressive? I can see the negative space in the examples, but I find myself paying attention to the subjects in the picture, the subject carries the expression, the negative space just seems like coincidence."
More of my brilliant comments:
Alrighty then! Thank you, Armado! Does anyone dare to step up into the plate?? How does "Negative Space" become expressive?
Ah... what's this? I see... oh! I see Mario. Mario, what do you have for us today?
"Negative space (in painting/illustration) is known as whitespace (black type has a white background) in typography/graphic design. That could be useful for finding more information although it has a different meaning for macro and micro typography.
Negative space, like most other compositional elements, depends on contrast (or lack thereof). You can use contrasting values to amplify or similar hues to unify something and all the hues depends on each other for effect.
I wonder what those silhouettes are?
The same goes for negative space and it works with the values in your painting. High contrast values (black silhouette against white background) create negative value while softer transitions reduce the effect of element separations. And if you have very similar values then you probably will have a hard time finding anything that looks like negative space.
So how does it become expressive. Not at all. It is part of a composition and creates a desired effect with the rest of the painting. It only appears in combination with the rest and is not an isolated something.
You could as well ask how does some hue influence mood in a painting. This only happen because each element depends on the rest to function properly.
All these properties are relative to each other and not independent. You have to just see it as another part of the composition that you can manipulate to get the desired effect."
Good! Good! That clears things nicely. But hold on, lets hear what Kev Ferrera has to say about the topic - this one's good:
Kev Ferrera: "The main use (of negative space) is to clarify the pictorial statement... that is, to help the viewer "see" or "read" the actions of the figures easier. Clarity is important in storytelling.
There is also a boldness to the strong use of negative space. Graphic boldness is part of the tone of a picture. Color contained in negative space often appears stronger than it would normally (a stained glass like effect).
Shapes *always* have meaning... Every shape has expressive meaning (artistic handwriting, shape-character as well as metaphoric reference). It is possible to tell one artist's work from another by use of negative shapes alone. For instance coll and Frazetta have a very different kind of character to their negative shapes, than Dean Cornwell or Leyendecker or Brangwyn or Fechin or Shiele or Klimt or Rembrandt.
And of course, all of them are different than artists who aren't even aware of the expressive power of negative space shapes. Often artists who aren't aware of the expressive potential of negative space aren't aware of the power of shapes in their works in general.
Negative shapes also, like all shapes in a composition, lead the eye. Quite often negative shapes are triangular in a good figural composition, and point to the head of the figure (or point along an eye path that leads to the head eventually, or supports the movement of the eye along the flow of the gesture)."
Well well. Come on, folks. Lets give these people a warm round of applause. Great stuff! Great stuff.
Okay. Back to work.