Negative Space

BGM examples_negative space & positive space


I teach fifth grade in a school which focuses on the integration of art into all parts of the curriculum.  Since I have literally no background in the visual arts, I have learned a tremendous amount in my twenty years at our school.

One of the concepts which was introduced to me during my very first year was the idea of  “negative space”.  I learned about negative space when our art teacher passed by my classroom one morning and saw the funny, lopsided little cut-out picture that my then third grade daughter had created to decorate my door.  Honestly, I didn’t think much of it, and found it a little bit crude and messy. But I hung it up because I love my daughter dearly, and I wanted her know it.

I had all but forgotten about the little image until the art teacher stopped in my doorway and exclaimed, “Oh, who made that?  What a great use of negative space!”  I blinked, looked at the funny little cut out, and told her that Katie had done it. “She has such a great eye!”, said Margo.  “I love it.”

She then went on to describe the idea of negative space in art; how an artist can use the part of the image or sculpture that contains nothing to clarify or refine what we see.

Here is another example of how negative space creates the image:


The white part, the negative space, is clearly the most important.

The white part, the negative space, is clearly the most important.

You get the idea, right? It is the absence of color, texture, shape that gives the piece its true image.  The art is created by what is not there.

I have been thinking about this concept for the past week, because I have come to realize that in my empty nest life, summers are my “negative space”.

In my mommy days, summers were the busiest times.  I had my three children, and often their friends, to feed, entertain, clothe, care for.  I had my children to laugh with, to travel with, to shuttle from place to place. There were beach days, and movie days. Zoo trips, hikes, rainy day art projects and “We’re making a fort!” days.  Cookies to bake, ice cream trucks to await, grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of popcorn and Disney channel marathons.  Every minute was full.

During the school year, of course, every minute was full then, and it is full now.  School days are positive space, there is no doubt.

But summer now is simply negative space.

I try to stay busy, although I know that I am in desperate need of rest after the rigors of the school year. I get together with friends, I visit my Mom.  I teach for a week or two, and I take classes for a week or two.  I plan little projects to do around the house. I give myself a routine to follow; the elliptical every other day, a good long walk with the dogs each morning, gardening most afternoons.  I make a good dinner and enjoy it with Paul when he comes home. We have weekends away with friends and family.

But summer is still mostly negative space.

It is the absences that define me in the summer. There are few demands on my time; no one needs me to be home, to be in the car, to be at the park or the hockey rink.  I am free. I can go wherever I want to go most days.  But with no company, there is no place that calls to me, and I stay home.

It is the absence of voices around me that defines me in the summer.  Some days (not many, thank goodness, but some days) I hear only my own voice from the time Paul leaves to the time when he comes home.  I put on music, or I watch the news, just so that I can hear someone’s voice.  I go to the library or to the farm stand, just to chat for a bit.

Too much negative space.

I’m just smart enough to know that these quiet contemplative days are good for me, but they make me uncomfortable.  I know that the absences impact and shape the image that is “me” right now, just as the negative space in the portrait above lets us see the woman.

Without the negative space, we couldn’t see the woman’s beauty or fragility.

I guess we are all made up of both positive and negative space. We reflect all that we have, and all that is missing.  I guess we have to accept all of the space if we are going to fully appreciate the art.


10 thoughts on “Negative Space

  1. Ah but you see look what has come out of that negative space lovely lady. You have filled it with wonderful posts on your blog like this one. So, slowly but surely your negative space has taken on it’s own form, it has given you voice and it has given me joy to read your words. Thank you.


  2. This was a good read for me today. Been thinking a lot on the topic of positive and negative (as I’m sure you can tell from my recent rantings!). Reading this made me feel a little more grounded. 🙂


    • I’m so glad that it helped! I have found that struggle to stay in balance is sort of ongoing for me; if I don’t work on seeing the positive, I start to see too much of the negative. I focus way too much on the absences in my life. But just like in art, the negative is key to really grasping and appreciating the “whole”. I haven’t commented much on your recent posts; I don’t feel that I have the right, never having dealt with the realities of raising a child with special concerns. But I empathize, and applaud your effort to keep your eye on all that is so positive about your little one and your life as his momma.


      • Oh, I didn’t mean that you have to comment! Although I think you have every right to comment, I do appreciate your sensitivity there. 🙂 It is really a hard personal balance to get through life in general, I suppose!


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