ArtistWorks Blog

Art Lessons with Justin BUA: Negative Space Drawing

"When you draw nothing, it is really everything." - Justin BUA

The idea of using negative space is a strange but useful concept for anyone learning how to draw. In this sample lesson from Justin BUA's Online Art School, he demonstrates how to draw using the negative space of the canvas. This fundamental drawing technique is an amazing way to see traditional shapes in an abstract way.

Normally people just draw the object that they see, and rarely do they draw the empty spaces around the object that they see. It is actually in that emptiness though that the shape takes place: the emptiness is what forms the shape of the object.

To illustrate this point, Justin BUA uses a houseplant as a model to demonstrate how to draw the negative space around it.

negative space drawing justin bua

Do you ever wonder what's going on inside your brain as you draw? Do you know when you are using your right or left hemisphere? Drawing the negative space enables you to make a cognitive shift from the left hemisphere of your brain to your right hemisphere.

As the image below illustrates, the left side of your brain is responsible for logical, sequential, analytical thinking - for example, breaking down all the different parts of the subject you're drawing. On the other side of the brain, the right hemisphere is responsible for more random, intuitive, holistic, subjective thinking - which is what you're doing when focusing on the negative space of an image. 

 

both sides of the brain

When you make that shift from left brain thinking to right brain thinking, you no longer label anything. You look around the leaves of the plant rather than the individual leaves themselves. Instead of focusing on the edges of the leaves, think about the emptiness around the subject. If you can learn to do this, you will be able to see and detect things in a strange, but more clear way.

This is a great exercise for you to do whether you are drawing your hand, a houseplant, or a landscape. BUA recommends doing as much as possible. Here is an incentive: it can be quite beautiful! Looking for the negative space helps you see the unseen, much like in this famous example of a negative space drawing below. In the middle we see a vase, but looking at the emptiness around the vase we see two faces. 

negative space drawing

There is no right way to begin a negative space drawing. You can start anywhere that interests you - whether it be the bottom, top, right, or left. In the video, BUA begins by drawing around the outline of the plant. He continues the outline in Part 2 of this lesson (available in the curriculum of his online art school).

negative space drawing of a plant

"Don't worry about it being a good drawing, that's not important. It's the experience of the exercise that's going to make you better." - Justin BUA 

When you do this on your own, you will realize how amazing these new negative shapes are and how it can transform the way you look at things. As you begin to see things in new ways, try to transfer what you see onto the canvas. 

By visualizing negative space, you'll begin to see shapes in the emptiness between the subjects you draw. After drawing the basic outline, you approach the details by carving out all the negative shapes within the space.

It does require a shift in how you are used to drawing, but when you make it your focus you will be amazed at what your eyes can do. 

Watch BUA's Free Art Lessons

Related Art Blogs

Online Art School with Justin BUA

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