Negative and Positive Space

Learning to make the most out of every shape in a design.

The more I work on designing, the more important ideas become. I fully believe that communicating a strong idea in an effective way beats out any technical skill an artist can apply to a piece. So naturally, as artists, we want every aspect of our design to work towards the end result of the piece we are creating… even in the parts of the design we don’t tend to think about.

I recently wrapped up an assignment in Conceptual Design Thinking class that had me puzzled for days before ever getting anything down on paper. I suppose, ultimately, that is the point of the class though – to force us to think conceptually and explore ways to come up with a final solution. However, I found myself especially challenged by our recent figure/ground reversal assignment. Overall, I think it turned out strongly and I am happy with the result, but never before had I thought about how the negative and positive space can complement each other in such an explicit way.

Figure ground perception is a type of perceptual grouping that helps us recognize various objects in space through our vision. In simpler english, it is basically the way in which the negative space of an illustration/graphic/photo forms the image of the positive space and vice versa, with the assignment being to create a design that implements this concept in a cohesive and original way. An example of a figure ground reversal would be this classic image of a vase whose negative space forms two faces on either side of it.

Figure Ground Reversal Image

I played with multiple ideas over the course of the first week of this process, contemplating patterns or images that would fit the criteria of the assignment. I came up with three potential concepts, a koi-inspired design with snakes making up the negative space, a set of stairs with birds making up the negative space and an illustration of tree branches with human figures making up the space in between them. Here are the early sketches below.

I decided to develop the tree branch idea further, partly because it felt the least rigid of the three designs, and also because there was an eeriness to it that I really liked and wanted to expand upon. Something about the jagged, twisting nature of branches forming human figures is a creepy thought to begin with, so I figured it would be fun to make the human-looking shapes more ghoul-inspired! Thus we have the developing stages of my nosferatus!

At this point I was pretty confident at how the image would take shape. I wanted to add other figures to the black part of the image, for instance, by possibly making bats out of the branch shapes in the upper part of the drawing. I just ran out of time! Eventually I would work more tree branches in between the shapes of the figures and use photoshop to warp certain parts of the image so it would appear more upright and less right-ward slanting. I also removed the white hands of the right vampire as it didn’t exactly fit the assignment (although I thought it was cool). The final result is below! For anyone interested as well, I made a phone wallpaper for myself out of the rightmost nosferatu, I will include it as an image below for anyone else that wants it!

The Final Result!
And a free phone wallpaper! Enjoy

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