Negative Space Painting

A negative space drawing records the empty spaces, not the object.  Sometimes what artists will do is draw the empty spaces, the nothing, in order to figure out to draw a complicated object.

Notan is a Japanese concept that considers negative space (the empty places) to be just as important to a design as the positive space (objects).

For this assignment you are to create a design that makes use of negative space to reveal an image.  What we are going to do is practice rendering an image not by drawing the positive form, but instead by drawing the negative space.  This is being done to help give you one more tool to aid you with observational drawing.


Before we start, we need to make a sketch of what our final product will look like, so we can do some planning.

Provided are some images of bare trees.   I have selected these because they are a prime example of how negative space can be created through overlapping positive forms, and of how sometimes it is the negative space that is more interesting than the positive form itself.

If you wish, you may choose to create your own image instead.  Anything that can create a clear, strong silhouette can be used for this assignment.

On a single sheet of Xerox paper I want you to make your sketch.  Remember, a good drawing is like a good lie – it is convincing enough to be believable.  It is not important to me that you replicate every single detail; it is more important to create interesting shapes that imply the original form.

In addition to these forms, I want you to add something into the picture.  Using a silhouette created from negative space, imply a new object not seen in the picture.  This could be a bird, a house, or a car – whatever you want to do.

Lightly/roughly shade in the negative space, leaving only the positive forms white.  This is done to check to make sure we have a handle on the process, and to make sure your added feature works.

Once I check to see if the sketch is clear we can move on to surface prep.2012-09-13 16.00.47

Evaluation:  the sketch is a formative grade, evaluated for effectiveness.  It requires neither completion nor craftsmanship.

Surface Prep

We are going to use newspaper to create interesting texture for our image.  Since we are going to paint the negative space black, the newspaper will be visible in the positive space.

Start by tearing some newspaper.  Then start applying it to 11×14 poster board (1/4 sheet).  Place the glue on the torn sheet, lay it down on the surface, and then use a piece of mat board to help smooth out the glue so it does not buckle or crinkle.

This must be allowed to dry.


Once the surface is ready, transfer your idea over to the newspaper covered paper.  When you transfer it over, it does not need to be exact or perfect – you can modify and change your ideas.

Once the image is transferred, we will paint the negative space using black acrylic paint.  The positive form is to be left alone, allowing the newspaper to show through.

Evaluation:  This is a summative grade.  This work is to be evaluated on the effectiveness of the design as well as basic craftsmanship using the full grading rubric.