First edition originally published February 20, 2014
A couple of weeks prior to the deeper snow we had last week, the winter sky delivered just enough to coat the earth in a cold, white, fluffy, two inch blanket.
Each day when I wake up, the first thing I do is open the bedroom curtains and let in the light. That day, I was struck by the pthalo blue shadows cast by the trees on the crisp snow. The whiteness covered the back yard, erasing all the usual terrestrial textures and identifying characteristics, allowing these shadows to take center stage.
What remained were terms that will be familiar to fellow artists — negative and positive shapes.
When I taught a beginning drawing class for adults, my students would consistently gain the most from the exercise on positive and negative shapes. Through this technique, your right brain (where art, dreams, and creativity reside) is highly activated. Participants would always come back to class the following week filled with amazement at how they had learned to see in a new way. A student once described the sensation as seeing more clearly, as if into an additional dimension of depth.
Simply put, if you look at a chair, the chair itself is comprised of positive shapes. The shapes of air around the chair — those that reside between each positive shape and divide each segment of wood, metal, or fabric from the other — are the negative shapes, or space. Each defines the other, and are equally important. Drawing air — how Zen does that seem? How simple sounding a thing, to draw air?
As I reflected on those striking blue shadows cast on the white snow throughout the day, I thought how they were an analogy for what I look for when painting the sacred sites I visit. I seek to depict that which is there, but not always noticed. The subtle or intangible which is often felt, whether consciously or subconsciously, but not always acknowledged or realized. Layers of energetic history charge the air and stoke the fires of imagination.
I paint the negative spaces.
All the best, and Namaste,
If you would like to read more about the drawing technique I have described, I highly recommend the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.