Technique Tuesdays: Positive & Negative Space

Technique Tuesday positive negative spaceWhat is it?

The concept of positive and negative space is a fairly simple one. The subject of a work of art occupies the positive space, while everything else is considered negative space. Nearly every piece of representational art contains positive and negative space. The way that artists make use of positive and negative space to enhance their artworks is less simple, but very visually interesting. Negative space can be used in a number of creative ways, from balancing a composition to focusing the viewer’s eye to  adding to the visual interest of the positive space. To start, let’s look at a fairly simple and well known illustration of the concept, called “Rubin’s vase.”

Rubin2This example illustrates the manipulation of positive and negative space, as depending on how your eye determines what the positive space actually is, two different images can appear. If the central shape is interpreted as positive space, it appears to be a vase, but if that same shape is viewed as negative space, the profiles of two faces become apparent. Some artists focus primarily on the subject when determining their overall composition for a painting, but many enjoy playing with negative space and using it to balance the work.

Examples from art history:

Chinese art has always been an excellent example of the use of negative space to create a simplified, quiet, and somewhat “zen” atmosphere in a work. Especially with traditional calligraphic painting, the delicate use of black ink meant that utilizing the negative space well could be extra eye-catching and effective. As art has progressed, many well known artists have incorporated a deliberate use of negative space to add interest to a composition and to enhance the mood of a work. Check out how the negative space balances and affects the mood of these works:

AH Collage 1

(left to right) Wang Hui, “Ancient Temple in the Mountains” 17th century; Johannes Vermeer, “Young Woman with Water Pitcher” 1662 ; Francisco Goya, “Courtyard with Lunatics” 1794; Edgar Degas, “Ballet Rehearsal” 1873

Art in the twentieth century has seen a bit of a different and new trend when it comes to the use of negative space, as artists begin to play with optical illusions and the creation of images with the negative space itself. (This has become an even bigger trend within the realm of graphic design, and is a technique often utilized with logos, like the arrow formed between the “e” and “x” in the FedEx logo.) Here are some cool examples:

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(left) Coles Phillips, “A Young Man’s Fancy” 1912; (middle) M.C. Escher, “Sky and Water I” 1938; (right) Rene Magritte, “Decalomania” 1966

 

Examples at Principle Gallery:

Everywhere you look here at Principle Gallery, you’ll spy examples of skilled and thoughtful use of negative space. For some artists, however, it is an especially important design element. Consider the work of Laura E. Pritchett:

Pritchett Collage

(left to right) Laura E. Pritchett, “Faith”, “Projection”, “Passing Through”

Laura’s thoughtful and liberal use of negative space as part of her compositions plays a big role in the way these works possess a sense of stillness and peace, as if a moment has been captured. Imagine for a moment if Laura had continued to fill the positive space of these works with more background imagery, more colors and textures and objects. It’d really change the impact of the paintings, don’t you think? You can check out all of Laura’s gorgeous, peaceful work at Principle Gallery on our website here.

Now check out these other awesome pieces at Principle Gallery, and take a moment to consider how and why you think the artist might have played with positive and negative space the way that they did:

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(left to right) Valerio D’Ospina, “Rainy Day in NYC”; Colin Fraser, “Highwayside”; Kevin Fitzgerald, “St. Martin Snow”; Mia Bergeron, “Limitless”

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Technique Tuesdays: Dry Brush

Technique Tuesday dry brushWhat is it?

Today’s featured technique is the dry brush technique. Like last week’s technique, the multi-loaded brush, this technique deals with the way that the artist loads their brush before applying it to the canvas. With the dry brush technique, rather than using a brush moistened with oil or water (depending on the type of paint) and an ample amount of paint to get a nice smooth brushstroke, an artist will instead use a mostly dry brush and a smaller amount of paint. This way, when the brushstroke is made, it has a more scratchy, textured, and wispy appearance. This is a technique that is used in both water-based painting (watercolor, egg tempera, acrylic) and oil-based painting.

Examples from art history:

One of the most beautiful and iconic uses of the dry brush technique can be found in ancient Chinese art. Chinese brush painting involves a brush dipped into black or colored inks, and dates very far back. It was during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), however, that Chinese brush painting reached a new level of sophistication and began to incorporate techniques like dry brush painting. The lighter, softer, and more blurred effect produced by using a dry brush allowed for a range of atmospheric effects. The images below are examples from this dynasty:

(left) Fan Kuan “Travelers Among Mountains and Streams”, 11th c.; (right) Chen Rong detail from “The Nine Dragons”, 13th c.

 

During later periods of art history, artists also began to use the dry brush technique in a way that is referred to as “scumbling.” Though many use “dry brushing” and “scumbling” interchangeably, the distinguishing aspect of scumbling is that it is used in the layering process of paint. (So, while dry brushing might sometimes involve the paper showing through, scumbling in particular allows the other layers of paint to show through.) One of the great Masters of the Baroque period (17th and 18th centuries), Rembrandt van Rijn was perhaps one of the most famous artists to make use of scumbling technique, as he used it to achieve unique and extraordinary lighting effects. The image below shows the technique as used by Rembrandt, as well as an example from over two centuries later, in a painting by Edouard Manet:

(left) detail of self portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1661; (right) Edouard Manet, "Emilie Ambre as Carmen", 1880

(left) detail of self portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1661; (right) Edouard Manet, “Emilie Ambre as Carmen”, 1880

Examples from Principle Gallery:

Artists today still use the dry brush technique in a variety of ways to achieve the effect of lighting, texture, and atmosphere they desire. One Principle Gallery artist who makes frequent and beautiful use of the dry brush/scumbling technique is landscape painter Kevin Fitzgerald. Kevin utilizes this technique in many ways: to give a blurred softness to the edges of the fields of color in a piece, to give the wispy impression of clouds, to add an interesting texture, to loosely blend layers of colors, and to give a misty, peaceful atmosphere to the work–just to name a few! “Indian River Morning,” one of the pieces included in Kevin’s upcoming solo exhibition (opening March 20th!) is an excellent example of this technique:

Kevin Fitzgerald, "Indian River Morning"

Kevin Fitzgerald, “Indian River Morning”

Enjoy these additional beautiful examples of Kevin’s use of the dry brush technique below (or click here to see all of his available work on our website), and be sure to keep an eye out for many new works to arrive soon for his solo exhibition!

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Kevin Fitzgerald, “Blue Pond Clouds”

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Kevin Fitzgerald, “Chincoteague Dawn”

Kevin Fitzgerald, “Boca Dawn”