Negative Shape Drawing


Recall from the lecture on figure and ground that a focus on the figure to the exclusion of the ground is detrimental to your composition. Compositionally, the shapes that surround the object are as important as the shapes that represent the object. 


That is useful knowledge, but it is not the main point of this exercise. The main point of this exercise is to sideline the part of your mind that wants to focus on what it knows about the object(s) before you and to give yourself over to that part of your mind that is content to meditate on the empty spaces (shapes) that cannot be named. Your "left brain" will be totally uninterested in this mystical sounding exercise, so distract it with music and fight it's every effort to run the show.


Review again the Exemplars of Negative Shape Drawings. Set up a small still life using objects of personal interest or significance. Try to arrange the objects such that there are distinct edges that form enclosed shapes when combined with the edges of other objects.


Begin your drawing by doing three small, quick compositional studies in which you try different framing possibilities, looking at how different parts of the still life form interesting shapes, experimenting with close and far views and with cropping. These "thumbnails" should be no larger than 2-4 inches in any dimension and should match the proportion of your sketchbook (a 3:4 ratio for 9"x12"). Every object should be represented in your drawing but some will extend off the edge of the frame.


Choose the most interesting of your sketches and make a larger drawing from it by defining the negative shapes. Draw your subject such that the outlines intersect with the edges of the page on at least three sides. Do not draw the internal lines of your subject. Do not draw the overlaps between objects. Pretend the objects do not exist, only the shapes they enclose. Use simple tones to differentiate shape in the composition.


When you are finished, shade the negative shapes using a soft pencil, a marker, or charcoal.