Understanding the power of negative space: a guide for abstract artists

Abstract artist, Claire Desjardins, paints negative space on her painting.

As an abstract artist deeply immersed in the world of colors and compositions, I've come to understand the profound impact of negative space on a canvas. It's not merely the absence of color or form; it's a deliberate choice, a silent yet powerful tool that shapes the mood and directs the viewer's gaze.

Original abstract painting by Canadian artist, Claire Desjardins. Translucent purple and leaf green paint is strewn across the canvas like thin silks on a marble countertop.

Negative space, often overlooked or misunderstood, is the breathing room within a painting. It's the whitespace that surrounds and defines the subjects, lending them context and significance. When used effectively, negative space can elevate a piece from mere abstraction to a captivating narrative.

One of the most striking aspects of negative space is its ability to create focus. By strategically leaving areas devoid of color or detail, we draw attention to what remains. It's akin to highlighting a word in a sea of text; suddenly, it becomes the focal point, commanding the viewer's contemplation.

Pale blue, yellow and white abstract painting, Fill in the Blanks, by artist Claire Desjardins, uses negative space.

Moreover, negative space serves as a sanctuary for the eye—a tranquil oasis amidst the vibrant chaos of colors and shapes. In a world filled with visual noise, it provides a moment of respite, inviting the viewer to pause and reflect. This is particularly valuable when aiming to evoke a sense of serenity or introspection in our work.

But harnessing the power of negative space requires careful planning and intentionality. It's not about simply leaving areas blank; it's about making deliberate choices that enhance the overall composition. Every stroke matters, every empty space serves a purpose.

Abstract collage painting by artist Claire Desjardins, Maroc 01.

For me, using negative space is not an act of omission but a bold statement—an assertion of confidence in the power of simplicity. It requires courage to resist the temptation to fill every inch of the canvas, to embrace the beauty of restraint. It's about finding balance, knowing when to speak and when to let silence reign.

When incorporating negative space into my paintings, I approach it with mindfulness and reverence. I consider not only what to include but also what to leave out. Each brushstroke is a step towards clarity, towards distilling the essence of my vision onto the canvas.

Abstract painting, Walk a While, by artist Claire Desjardins.

In essence, negative space is not a void to be filled but a canvas unto itself—a canvas of possibility and potential. It invites interpretation, encourages dialogue, and leaves room for the imagination to roam free. It's a silent partner in the creative process, guiding our journey towards a deeper understanding of art and expression.

So, to my fellow abstract artists, I encourage you to embrace the power of negative space. See it not as an absence but as a presence—a presence that speaks volumes in its silence, that breathes life into our creations. Let it be your ally, your accomplice in the pursuit of artistry. And together, let us paint a world where less is truly more.

Original abstract painting by Canadian artist Claire Desjardins. Blue, orange and pink shapes are solid but bleed into each other and down the canvas.
Back to blog

1 comment

What a thoughtful way to emphasise the negative space! In Chinese painting it is called ‘the void’ and is considerred a very important part of the composition. I studied Classical Chinese painting and although I am now an abstract painter I still consider the negative space to be a fundamental part of the painting. Thank you, Claire.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.