True Lies: Warp Negative Space by Michael Newberry
“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
With this tutorial I will show how to shape negative space by warping it, thereby creating a believable 3-D image on a 2-D surface.
Painting is made up of positive forms and negative spaces. Think of planets and the empty space between them. In this Rembrandt, one example of negative space is the dark triangular space between the bust, the back edge of the table, and the folds of the man’s sleeve.
Lost in Space.
Many artists spend a great deal of energy on making the forms of the solid objects, such as people and tables. But when it comes to the space between the objects they tend to get lost in the emptiness.
Warping the negative space into a shape is the way to go.
This is a detail of the above painting’s negative space. Rembrandt has warped the negative space by a subtle tone shift. The triangular dark shape is more diffused, softer, as it goes back towards the sleeve. And it gets darker as it comes closer to the edge of the bust.
This change is indicated by the gray and black stripe.
Here I isolated the negative space, and stylized it a little bit to show that it is not a flat space. Rather, the negative space curves to come forward, towards the bust, then it goes back towards the sleeve.
This is my favorite Vermeer painting. The back of her head is turning away from us and the collar of the wrap is coming towards us.
Here is a detail of the negative background space.
Notice how carefully the space changes: the tones get cooler and darker as they rotate back around the hair, and they get warmer and lighter as they rotate forward.
Another favorite work of mine is this Monet.
Here is a cast shadow inside the cavernous entrance to a doorway. It is a little tricky to discern Monet’s shifts of tone due to the ornateness of the building, and to Monet’s style of mark making.
But the tones do change and do warp the space. The front edge is flicked with darker tones, shifting the right edge towards us.
Here is a little demo of the idea.
This is a painting by one of my contemporaries, William Wray.
If you think of the rocks as planets and the reflective sand and water as space, you can see how he warped the shape of the water–it comes zooming towards us on a dramatic diagonal.
Vermeer uses infinitesimal changes in tone to carve out space and light.
Yet, he manages to warp the negative space of the back wall with very little changes of tone.
She has the slightest halo of light, which comes towards up to the edge of her headdress. The light then dims imperceptively, receding a few feet back towards the map.
Here again I stylize the concept. The tones of the back wall change to bend the space forward.
Rembrandt, The Blinding of Samson.
I wanted to use lots of examples for showing how negative space can be warped. It is really a very difficult problem. But once you have the idea of it, it makes it easier to isolate it when you visually study real life.
The sky in the tent opening changes dramatically in tone to shift the shape of the space.
It follows the inner flap of the opening from some distance away and increases in light vibrancy as it wraps around and swings towards the soldier’s back.
In closing I would like to share one of my own.
This study of the problem gives a good idea how much I warped the space.
I had to shift the space quite some distance from her arm and the back wall to come against the edge of the bust.
Again many artists would simply think that the back is a flat space somewhere back there. But to be true to 3-dimensionality it is crucial to warp the negative space.
I hope you enjoyed seeing true lies in a fresh way.