Research Point- Positive and Negative Space

The research point for this exercise is to look at a range of artists working today and see how they incorporate positive and negative space in their work. 

Experimenting with Positive and Negative space can help create, perspective, illusions and focal points within compositions. I use the negative space (space between objects) as a drawing/ design tool to map or place objects within the compostion I find it helps with proportions and perspective.

Definition of Positive and Negative space: “Positive space refers to the main focus of a picture, while negative space refers to the background. When used creatively and intelligently, positive and negative space together can tell a story using visual composition alone. The term negative space is something of a misnomer. It emphasizes the idea that the viewer constructs his or her own meaning from the image. Negative space is never blank. It is designed to support the foreground of the picture” (Roberts, I 2017)

Garry Hume Born 1962

Gary Hume’s Vicious (2010) is an example of how positive and negative space can be used to change or make  the focus of the artists work stand out. The postive space of the figure has been left represented as a block of colour. The figure is placed centrally  on a brightly coloured flower background, where the flowers have been depicted with miminal effect and blocks of colour too. Had the figure and the other postive shapes (flowers) been drawn in detail this would have changed the composition, focal point and overall feel of the screen print completely.


Fig 1 Viscious 2010 Colour Screen print

The positive space (figures) and negative shapes (space between parts of the body) have purely been represented with line in Garry Humes Water Painting.“Hume usually traces his images from photographs (found in magazines and books or taken himself) onto a sheet of acetate and projects the outline onto his hard painting surface. The Water Paintings were made from photographs, followed by drawings, of Hume’s wife Georgie and a friend, Zoe. He then fills the outlined areas with paint in sections of monotone colour. He uses household gloss paint for its reflective qualities and has commented that ‘the high-gloss finish  starts to have a life of its own because it reflects the environment the paintings are shown in they make you think about light and about where the paintings begin and end’ quoted in ‘Brilliant’, p.45”(Manchester, E 2002)

Water Painting 1999 by Gary Hume born 1962

Fig 2 Water Painting Garry Hume 1999 Household paint on aluminium panel

This abstract mural-sized oil painting Gurnica 1937  by Pablo Picasso I think  is an interesting example to try and interpret of use of negative or positive space vs what is an abstracted background. Looking at the composition for example the space between the horses head and arm has been represted as a traingular shape colured in a block of grey. This contrasts with a larger white triangle next to it. Argueably without indepth research I do not know if either shape is a representation of a poistive object poisition behind the main figures or Picasso using the negative shapes between the figures to create abstract images. I think the majority of shapes in this painting could be argued as positive (apart from the main figures), negative space or a representation of the background (I am enjoying this personal interprettaion at the moment but will do further research later in the course).


Fig 3 Guernica Pablo Picasso 1937


Manchester, E (2002) Garry Hume Water Painting At: (accessed 10/12/16)

Roberts, I (2017) Positive and Negative Space in Art: Definition and examples. (accessed 23/03/17)

Fig 1 Vicious 1994 Garry Hume Gloss paint on panel 218 x 181 cm   86 x 71″ At: (s.d)

Fig 2 Water Painting Garry Hume 1999 Household paint on aluminium panel At: (s.d)

Fig 3 Guernica Pablo Picasso 1937 At: (s.d)


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