Graphic Design: What is Negative Space?

No matter what art form you are working in, the composition of a piece is of utmost importance. Knowing how to properly balance artistic elements to reach a harmonic and satisfying whole is one of the primary challenges of becoming a great artist and producing marketable and engaging works.

When creating any composition, the use of negative space will often make or break the piece. Simply put, negative space is the space that surrounds the elements of an image. For example, if you were looking at a painting of column against a white background, the negative space would be the white background.

Having the proper amount of negative space, and placing the elements within it appropriately, have a major impact on how a viewer engages with a piece. From corporate logos to high end art, improperly applied negative space will make it difficult for your eyes to focus on the piece as a whole.

In films, the use of negative space can be particularly important. As the amount of space kept relatively “empty” in a frame will help guide your eye from one image to the next in a way that helps Hollywood perform its “invisible” continuity editing style. In fact, films can be a great way to see the use of negative space in action when first becoming familiarized with the concept.

Negative space not only affects how a viewer will engage visually with a piece, but it can also help in communicating an idea. An off-center element within a negative space, for example, can provide a sense of unbalance or confusion. If you were trying to provide a commentary on the instability of an object, the use of negative space could provide a helpful tool in achieving your goal.

Although negative space is more often focused upon in minimalist works and designs, the importance of it extends to every art form, and every piece. It is practically impossible to escape negative space when creating art. From the actual space inside of the canvas or medium, to the location something such as a sculpture may be presented in, the negative space will affect the overall impact a piece has on an audience.

Once you begin appreciating what purposefully implemented negative space can accomplish, you will start to gain much more from the objects around you.