After resting up from our day of making improv houses, my friend M and I launched into a 2-day workshop with Jacquie Gering on activating space.
Specifically, Jacquie talked about the relationship between positive and negative space. We often focus on positive space – the subject of whatever we’re making. If you give a someone a piece of paper and ask them to draw a dog, the person might well draw a dog in the center of the page, with nothing around it. The dog is the positive space — the “thing” being depicted. The rest of the page, the negative space, is the “nothing” — it is the space where there is no thing. It’s empty. It’s job is to hold “the thing”.
At least, that’s how many people treat negative space. They concentrate on the positive space, and the negative space is what is left over. But what if we give more importance – even equal importance – to both negative and positive spaces? When the negative space becomes activated, it contributes to the composition as much as the positive space.
In the studio art class I just finished, the instructor, Linda, led us through several negative space assignments. This was one of them (it’s a selfie, because part of the class participation mark required us to take a selfie each day beside something we’d worked on in class).
For this exercise, Linda propped a bicycle in the middle of the room, and instructed us to draw the negative space using black charcoal. Instead of drawing spokes of the wheel, I had to draw the space between the spokes, etc. Because, for the positive elements of the picture to look write, the negative spaces also have to be right. Linda’s favourite example was “arms akimbo”. Frequently, when drawing someone with their hands on their hips, her students would give the subject long spaghetti arms, bent at the elbow. Linda suggested that the best way to avoid the problem was to draw the negative space between the inside of the bent arm and the body — if you got that space correct, you couldn’t possibly make the arms unnaturally long!
Back to the class with Jacquie, and balancing the positive and negative space. A famous example is the yin yang symbol. Is the black space the negative space, or the positive? You can’t say, because both have equal weight, equal power, within the image. In the first exercise we did with Jacquie, we tried to achieve something similar, by cutting out shapes from black paper, and trying to arrange them on a white background so that neither the black nor the white space seemed dominant. Here’s one example I worked with. Notice how the shape of the white space changes as I move the black pieces closer together, or farther apart.
By the end of the second day, we were all working busily on blocks of our own design. It was really neat to see the different designs people came up with. I’m pretty happy with my design — but I want to wait until I have a few more blocks made before I show it off!