Teaching the Elements of Art: Space

Recently in art class, we did a short activity to explore the concept of positive and negative space in art. We began with the prompt “you’d be surprised to know _____ about me”. We were supposed to use that prompt to come up with something our classmates wouldn’t know about us, and then cut out a shape to represent that thing.

I chose to cut out a silhouette of me riding a camel, since few of my classmates knew I rode a camel while working in Niger in 2010/2011.


Once we had the cutouts, we took either the positive space (cutout) or negative space (outline of cutout) to trace our outline. We needed to make sure we got pastel both on and around the edges. I used the positive space for my outline (see left image below).


Once we had traced around our cutout, we moved the cutout to a blank space on the paper and smeared the pastel off of the edges using a piece of paper towel (see right image below).


The end result was two outlines, one made by tracing the cut out with pastel and one made by smearing the pastel off of the cutout.


We also did a few other activities that explored the use of space in art, especially when it comes to differentiating between the foreground, middle, and background.

For example, we attempted a vanishing point activity,

and sampled several other ways techniques for emphasizing space, or perspective, in art. I’ve included her examples/directions, followed by my version, below.


While there are a variety of ways artists can use space in their work, I chose Malaysia-based graphic designer Tang Yau Hoong as my mentor artist for space because of his unique use of negative space in his work.


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