Painting, Traditional Art

How to Design your Own Artwork – Space

If we are ever to begin to design our own art, we need an understanding of the various elements and principles of design, and how they combine to create an overall pleasing visual effect. So far, in previous posts, we have looked at Line and  Shape, and how they contribute to art forms. This week, we focus on the element of ‘SPACE’ and find how it can assist to create a better design.


Week 3 – Space 

Space as an element of art that refers to the area around objects: either Positive Space: that is areas occupied by an object or form and, Negative Space: the area in, between, around, or within objects. Every positive shape is surrounded by negative space.

You can further divide Negative spaces into: –

  – Passive negative space – this separates visual elements, and includes things like margins and the spacing between letters, words, or lines.


-Active negative space – this draws the viewer’s eye to something, or help viewers focus on the objects that they should see, instead of making their eyes look all over the place.

Notan negative and positive space


Why Negative Space is Important

  • Learning to see negative spaces is important for drawing proportions and relationships accurately. Think of the angles and spaces within scrolls or space between the flower motif and the rim of a plate for example.
  • Negative spaces are also important for creating a balanced and unified composition
  •  Negative space is often neutral or contrasting, directing our attention towards the focal point, most likely a positive shape such as a main Scroll or root or large flower form.
  • Without enough negative space a composition can look busy, with too many distracting elements. The empty space can provide a place for the viewer’s eye to rest. Less is more, as the saying goes.
  • A sense of movement can be created within your design with negative space.

buren church

Our minds seek out order in our world, and so it is with art. That means when we look at an image, we inherently look for the whole first, then dissect it looking at the individual parts. Good design should anticipate how the brain and eyes will process an image.

Sometimes we might stress over an imperfect detail that stands out for us, however, if you understand that people see your design initially as a whole, we will stress less over the small detail we are unsatisfied with, and make us think more about how to ensure all the artistic elements — including negative space — work together harmoniously. This awareness also gives us clues as to why a particular design, in my case, a Rosemaling design, might not be quite as pleasing as others.

sketch positive negative space
In Rosemaling, the positive and negative shapes within the composition might be abstract shapes.


It helps to forget the “name” of objects, as you sketch, and what you think you “know” about them, and simply see them as shapes and lines among a group of interlocking abstract shapes, like a jigsaw puzzle. Remember too, that some shapes are defined by the edge of the paper or the painting surface itself.

It also helps to practise, or warm up your drawing hand and mind, prior to sketching, by doing a ‘blind drawing.’  This will help to activate the more artistic ‘right’ side of one’s brain. You can find out how to do a blind drawing here.


Examine a piece of art to see how and where they have used positive and negative space. Is there too much space between elements, or is it busy and cluttered. Does it seem squashed in, or too spread out?  Does the space help to balance the design or lead the eye around?

Something artistic to ponder about

Something to Ponder About

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7 thoughts on “How to Design your Own Artwork – Space”

  1. I just love love love the painting where’s the boat in the middle of. It’s fantasic! The colours, the composition and the technique is great! I am painter and I’ve made (in the school) myselves also decorating. I haven’t painted in years cause I’m not working in that branch. I sometimes miss it. Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comments are kind and much appreciated. Thanks ever so much. The Viking boat piece is surrounded by Norwegian Rosemaling scrolls, a traditional art form in Norway that I love so much. Are you working in home or commercial design?

      Liked by 1 person

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