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Seeing Like an Artist: Edges and Space by Rob Court
Rob Court : Seeing Like an Artist: Edges and Space

Seeing Like an Artist: Edges and Space

By Rob Court

Do you ever get frustrated when you're trying to draw something you're looking at, and just can't get the shapes to look right? Here's a lesson that's guaranteed to help you draw the accurate shapes of things. It may be the easiest drawing lesson you'll ever try, since you don't even need a pencil or paper. All that's needed is 2 minutes per day for one week during your lunch break or your walk to school.

Positive and Negative Space

Clouds and SkySince the dawn of history, humans have instinctively viewed the world as positive and negative space. It's how we see the dangerous brown shapes of a hungry lion (positive space) lurking in the tall green bushes (negative space), or the beautiful full moon (positive space) in a dark sky (negative space). Drawing is easier when you know how to use positive and negative space.

Start this lesson by looking at the clouds and sky in the picture shown. The positive space is the white and gray areas that form the clouds. The negative space is the blue areas of the sky. Take time to study the picture. You'll begin to see the imaginary outlines around the clouds, where the blue space meets the white and gray space. Draw the outlines and you will have accurate shapes of the clouds in the sky.

More Space

Another way we artists use the word space is when we divide our entire drawing into distinct parts. This is called composition. Our guide, LOOPI the Fantastic Line shows where the sky meets the ground in the picture. This is called the horizon line. Notice how the horizon line divides the space of the picture into two parts, the sky and ground. This makes the composition of a picture.

Getting Edgy

Okay, so you're walking to school. Suddenly everything takes a turn on the wild side. A gigantic dinosaur walks up and offers to pose for you? Wow! Could you draw it? Being able to see positive and negative space and edges will make it way easier to draw a portrait of your 12-ton prehistoric buddy.

DinosaurCan you spot the negative space in the picture of the dinosaur? Typically, negative space is the background area surrounding the shape of the object or creature you're looking at — in this case a very large dinosaur. So, the negative space is the blue area around the dinosaur. The positive space is the brownish color of the dinosaur. Notice how the light blue space and dark blue spaces make the edges of the dinosaur's shadow. It's easy to see where you would draw the outlines to form the shadow. Do you think the shadow is positive or negative space?

Looking at the edges is like touching the edges of the dinosaur. And touching the edges is like drawing them. You don't believe me? Take a moment to look at the dinosaur picture. First, in your mind, separate the positive and negative spaces in the picture. Next, imagine running the fingers of your drawing hand around all of the rough, bony, outside edges of the dinosaur. Now, imagine drawing the outline of the dinosaur, slowly tracing around its entire body — don't forget the area inside the huge, beak-shaped mouth. Something very interesting happens. You'll notice that there's not much difference between the effort it takes to see, to feel, and to draw all the edges of the dinosaur. Your brain is opening up to learning how to really draw!

Your drawings will improve dramatically after you've learned to see positive and negative space and edges.

In the meantime, turn off your computer, open the door, and take a walk in the world of positive and negative space. It will be the first step towards seeing like an artist. •

© 2010 Rob Court. All rights reserved.

Rob CourtDrawing coach, Rob Court lives in Santa Cruz, California. He is the author of 30 drawing books and works with students in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. More »