I’m usually a pretty positive person. I make an effort to avoid negativity. Except in art. Learning to see and draw negative space can make a very positive difference in your drawing. Let me start with some definitions:
Positive Space is the space that an actual object occupies. It is often the outline of whatever you’re drawing, the shape of a house, an apple, a car, etc.
Negative Space is the space surrounding or even inside of object. If you’re drawing a house, it’s the sky and the land that the house sits on; if you’re drawing a chair, the negative space is the outside of the chair, as well as the area between the slats of the back, and the legs and cross braces; if you’re drawing a teapot, it’s the outside of the teapot and the shape inside of the handle. Get the picture?
So why is this a big deal? Because for some reason we find it easier to see and draw a shape than a thing. Take a look at these horses. If I focus on the legs, I’m more likely to stress over getting just the right form and end up putting them in the wrong place. But if I focus on the negative spaces between the legs, it’s easier.
Another important benefit of negative shapes is that they are, or should be, pleasing shapes in their own right. By making the negative spaces of this chair even and balanced, the chair itself looks better. This is actually a tried and true design principle.
So the next time you’re stumped trying to get exactly the right shape, try drawing the negative space around it. I’ll bet you’ll get it right away.