Early in your progress as a landscape artist your goal is simply to paint recognizable objects. Then you want to paint them well, so people are amazed at how “real” they look. After some time and effort you move on to using personal style and abstraction to move things away from photographic clarity while maintaining a clear sense of the identity of the object or scene. Thoughts about “style” and “expression” become part of your creative process. It is when you are at this point in your artistic development that you can make a very beautifully rendered and well executed mess… because of one big mistake.
When working on a painting, everything on the surface can appear to be going well, while in fact, you actually have a huge mess on your hands. Up close on the easel everything seems to be just right. Everything is beautifully rendered and the colors work great together. Yet, when you step back and look at things objectively something is… off.
What could possibly be wrong? You study the painting and turn it this way and that, looking for clues. Then it hits you.
You forgot to pay attention to the areas of the canvas that you are not painting in great detail. Artists call this “negative space”. Negative space is the space that surrounds the main objects in a painting. Negative space defines the boundaries of the primary elements and helps balance the composition. If the negative space is not in harmony with the objects in the painting, the painting is a mess even if everything is painted beautifully. The problem can be subtle and hard to identify. Worse, in order to fix the problem you usually have to change or eliminate a part of the painting that you have spent a lot of time on, a part of the painting that you are heavily invested in, a part of the painting that you think is great.
Life is also like that.
If you have everything you think you want and your life is unfolding according to your plan and yet you are still unhappy, maybe it is time to take a look at what is going on around you and within you. In art, as in life, you have to pay attention to the “Negative Space”.
Image and text © 2015 James Golaszewski