What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Started 3 months ago | Discussions thread
stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,452
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

lilBuddha wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

Just Tim 4 wrote:

stevo23 wrote:

So then there isn't really "negative space" as an actual or useful concept, just figure to ground or greatest contrast.

This is the part I don't understand, (or is it because I fail to communicate the idea properly?), that on forums we don't question our base assumptions or the way in which we see. We generally assume that because we see something in an image that it is an intrinsic property of an image and is therefore contained within an image and can be categorised and labelled. We also view the opinions of others and instinctively try to fit them within our own base assumptions. We try to fit new ideas into our current understanding rather then see that the concepts are actually about changing and questioning that viewpoint and understanding.

It doesn't seem to occur to some that the concept of negative space is perceptual and that it may in fact be the act of looking and seeking to apply an order to gain an understanding of what we see that creates it.

It also has nothing to do with contrast as I can just as easily use an outline drawing.

That you can't see past the object and it's reality is your shortcoming, and a common one. You see and recognise the object without questioning why you see and recognise the reality of the object in a 2D representation.

I understand that when I draw a shape I am actually creating two shapes, a positive and a negative form, even though the viewer generally only sees the one. That the relationship between the positive and negative forms reveals the shape and can be a powerful tool. I find it an incredibly useful concept in understanding the true nature of 2D representation and how people see and interpret images.

Not sure I get what you're saying in all this. Nice photos here - negative space? They seem to stray from that idea a good bit. Now you're showing a lot of other techniques.

No image must be one technique or idea.

Not advocating that.

What I'm advocating here is that negative space isn't a "thing". Rather, design techniques are and they are sometimes interpreted as "he's using negative space to do xyz" when in reality, something else is going on.

The artworld accepts negative space as a thing. Why do you think it isn't and what else do you think is going on?

I think what I mean is that focusing on the concept of negative space is misleading and doesn't really uncover what is or should be going on for the artist.

The concept is not misleading. Some people's use of the term might be, but the concept is solid. It is a tool used for composition, just as leading lines are. If you thing leading lines are misleading, then we really can't communicate on this.

I used leading lines to refer to arabesques. There are also diagonals from root grid lines that can be considered leading lines although they're not as "leading" as arabesques.

Arabesques do not need to lead

I could drop the lead wort - it's not a thing.  I only used it as a familiar hook.

, they can be chaotic. That most are not is a function of basic design and not arabesque in itself.

Chaotic in what way? They are arabesques - curves that run through an image/painting that tie elements together and create a sense of movement.

And then students think that negative space is a thing and they create a lot of schlock because they don't get what's really happening from a symmetry/design/story standpoint.

Art students create a lot of schlock due to inexperience.

Let's walk through the example photos in this post.

The banks of the river are negative space. Why? Because the relative lack of detail and the contrasting value allow the river to stand out and be a greater focus.

Depends on how you define "negative space" - I'm not certain it's always the same definition. I see a well accomplished figure to ground relationship by having detailed and interesting subject matter up against formless/void/darker subject matter. Not just that it's formless/void space but also the different tonal value.

You've just described negative space, but called it figure to ground.

I would say that it's not necessarily the same. Figure to ground relationship doesn't suggest that the space around the subject be formless and/or void.

Negative space does not have to be formless or void either.

In this one, the sky is negative space for the same reasons the banks were in the above image. The bright, featureless nature of the sky brings the tree trees into prominence.

Not all would say that negative space is formless/featureless Some teach that it's any space that is not the subject. So that is already one problem.

Negative space is not necessarily formless. It is in this image, but it is not always. Granted that negative space has no distinct border between what is and what isnt.

How/why no distinct border?

Because some people are more rigid in their mindset than others.

There are images that definitely use it, those that definitely do not. But, like all concepts, there will be disputes on the border.

But here, I see a strong area of contrast being used along with a formless background to accomplish a strong figure to ground relationship. That it is "negative space" isn't the point. It could be dark grey and it would still be negative pace.

The contrast between the negative space and the subject needn't be one of value. It can be colour or texture or sharpness, anything which sets a distinction of significant mass.

That's where there seems to be dispute over the definition.

But really there isn't. The basic concept is not disputed, it is that some cannot see beyond the basic illustrations of the concept. For instancethis link. It shows the concept at its most basic. Some people think, then, that negative space means large areas of little to no detail. This article shows a more varied use of negative space.

Yea, I would agree with you except that I don't think it's "a thing" so I'm okay to sit back and watch all the definitions roll in. Is there a standard by which this definition must be judged? Certainly neither of those articles.

In this case also, the eye actually travels to the foreground where there is more detail and a perhaps higher amount of contrast but also some leading curves/lines that take us back to the trees. And what ties the foreground to the midfield and keeps us in the image is the same relationship of detail/flat between the two as well as the diagonals. So in my mind, "negative space" doesn't really define or drive what's happening. Contrast mostly does the talking here.

I think you are thinking too rigidly. Negative space can be a formless mass, as in this image, of its shapes can be more dynamically compositional as in the first photo.

By formless, I meant more or less flat. Didn't mean to imply shapeless.

This last one doesn't have negative space. Both the foreground structure and the background vista have too much of interest to recede enough to be considered negative space.

It is simple. The positive space is that which the eye is drawn tow and the negative is that which, by its uniformity and contrast, pushes the eye away.

Disagree there - the eye is typically drawn first to the area of greatest contrast. And if you've designed an image well, the eye will go to where you want it to go and that also happens through various means.

They eye can be drawn by many elements. Greatest contrast exists at every point of the riverbank in the first image, is the eye drawn to every point then? No, The eye follows the line of the river which the negative space helps define.

You're missing the point of GAC.

No, I understand the concept. Not every image has it, though. And not all those that do are effective.

That would be true enough.

Take the last image in this post. The GAC would be the square of lake framed by the columns and horizon. But that weakens the image because the square is rather dead space.

That isn't really what makes it weak. And I would have taken the mountain outline and bright sky as the GAC. But also, squares in that orientation are generally weak and GAC doesn't always have to be where the subject is.

But to me, the image might be weak not because of GAC or negative space use but because there is very little that ties the two primary elements (the foreground structure and the mountains)  together - they have practically nothing in common. No common grid, no repetition of shapes or textures or even colors for instance, no common directional gamut etc. etc. Someone may come along and explain why I'm wrong about that.

The point where the hills converge on the lake should be the focus, but that bright, dead square is too strong.

Actually, too weak. Not able to unify, not able to draw, not able to create focus. Contrary to what many think, right angles like that are actually not strong at all and it's a very big challenge to make that work. It can't be the primary focus precisely because it is weak.

And the metal framework too interesting. Still an interesting image, but it lacks focus.

Yes, there are two very different subjects that are typically primary but are competing for our attention and nothing to keep us moving between the two like arabesques.

 stevo23's gear list:stevo23's gear list
Fujifilm X-Pro2 Fujifilm XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro Fujifilm XF 14mm F2.8 R Fujifilm XF 27mm F2.8 Fujifilm XF 23mm F1.4 R +3 more
Post (hide subjects) Posted by
Keyboard shortcuts:
FForum PPrevious NNext WNext unread UUpvote SSubscribe RReply QQuote BBookmark MMy threads
Color scheme? Blue / Yellow