Friday, November 1, 2013

Visual Design Basics: Manipulating Negative Space

K Series 4
Flipping through an old sketchbook I found this Basic Design exercise I used to teach, and thought you might be interested. As a bonus, when you are done you should have some contemporary framable art!

Basic Design skills are the foundational vocabulary on which visual design is based. It helps you recognize what is most visually appealing so you can manipulate images. Mastering positive and negative spaces builds the design muscles you need to make attractive visual work.
When you look at the first image on the left above, what do you see? Most likely you see the letter K. That is the positive space. If you can mentally switch your focus, try to see the yellow sections as primary. It might help to unfocus and blur your vision. The yellow is the negative space. It's natural to only consciously focus on the positive image, but the negative spaces around your image are every bit as important to the overall design. This is a project to sharpen your negative space vision. Choose a letter of the alphabet as the basis for your project.

K Thumbnails

Draw small sketches called "thumbnails" of ideas for how your letter will take up the space. You want 50% of the picture to be letter, and 50% to be empty negative space. As you sketch, keep in mind that each division of space, both positive and negative, should be interesting. Another hint: Don't draw your thumbnails too small. Almost anything looks like good design when it is tiny. Medium sized trials give you a better idea of the final result.

K Thumbnails 2

As you can see it took me almost 30 tries before I found something that I loved. Quick "Rule of Thumbnails": (cue laugh track) You should give yourself between 10 and 50 choices before you commit to a design.

K Enlargement

 Here I sketched out my choice on graph paper and enlarged it to the size I needed on tracing paper. Sometimes I do the enlargement with the scanner, but the advantage of doing it by hand is that you can really refine your design as you draw.
K Series 1

Finalize your design with colored papers. They don't have to be expensive, but if you want to keep your work for more than a few days steer clear of construction paper. Here I used manila envelopes and brown parcel paper. 

K Series 2

For the next piece in your series rearrange the negative space around the outside of your paper to make a new positive image. If the original design of your negative space was solid you can come up with some very fascinating abstractions here. 

K Series 3

Finally bring the negative space into the foreground and arrange it to make the positive space. Be just as careful to make the new negative space amazing.

K Series 4

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