Basic Art Element — Space

Space is one of the basic elements of art. It refers to the distance between or the area around and within shapes, forms, colors and lines. Space can be positive or negative. It includes the background, foreground and middle ground. Both positive and negative space can play important roles in the overall success of a work of art. By understanding the difference between the two, you will:

  • Become better at designing unified compositions.
  • Be more successful in visually communicating your story.
  • Gain important clues about the meaning of an art piece.

positive and negative spaceThere are two types of space that exist within art — positive space and negative space. Positive space is the actual objects or shapes within an artwork and negative space is the space around and between those objects. A good way to demonstrate positive and negative space is by utilizing Rubin’s vase. (Refer to illustration.) As you can see the vase occupies what would be referred to as positive space and the space surrounding the vase is negative space. Notice how the negative space is forming silhouettes of two faces in profile.


lunar landscape painting on canvas“Moonset”
Space Art by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on gallery wrap stretch canvas

>> More info


Positive Space

Positive space is the area or part of the composition that an object or subject occupies. It is usually the main focus of the painting, such as a vase of flowers, fruit, or candle in a still life, a person’s face in a portrait, or an animal in a wild life painting, or a building, trees and hills in a landscape. When used skillfully, positive space will add interest by enhancing and balancing the negative space in a composition.

Negative Space

Negative space is that empty or open space that surrounds an object. It helps to define the object, gives it some breathing room to prevent the painting from being too crowded and has a huge impact on how the art piece is perceived.

An interesting thing about negative space is it can be used to prompt viewers to seek out subtle hidden images within the negative space causing your design to get more attention and to be remembered while other less interesting works aren’t.

Why is negative space so important?

  1. It can add interest and is an excellent way to draw attention to your works of art. A good balance between great negative space and intrigue will cause the viewer to desire more time looking at your work of art.
  2. It can draw the viewer in giving them a sense of inclusion because they discovered a subtle hidden message or image in the composition. Even though it may be a simple composition, great negative space reveals there is more to the piece than first meets the eye making it a more rewarding experience for the viewer.
  3. It gives the eye a “place to rest,” thereby adding to the subtle appeal of the composition. The equal amounts of both negative and positive is considered by many to be good design.

Questions

  1. Does a negative space have shape?
  2. In what ways is negative space important to the overall success of a composition?

Additional Information

Principles of Good Design: Space

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Form

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Shape

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Basic Art Element — Texture

Anything that has a surface has some type of texture. Texture is the way a surface looks and feels. It is experienced in two ways — with touch (tactile) and with our eyes (visually). Fine artists often use texture in the following ways to:

  • create a focal point
  • add interest
  • provide contrast
  • visually balance their compositions

tractor tire oil paintingTractor Tire
Still life by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 16″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


Texture is essential in paintings to make objects appear to be real. Even in abstract paintings texture can serve to enhance the viewers experience by suggesting certain feelings or mood regarding the artwork. Texture can also serve to organize and unify various areas of a composition.

Texture can either add to or take away from the overall effect of the composition. When it is used haphazardly or in the wrong way, it can confuse or clutter the painting. However, when used with deliberate skill, texture will bring a composition together creating the illusion of realism and adding unity.

There are two types of texture — tactile and visual.

Tactile texture is the real thing. It is the actual way a surface feels when it is felt or touched, such as rough, smooth, soft, hard, silky, slimy, sticky, etc. 3-D art such as sculpture and architectural structures are tactile in nature because they can be felt. An example of real texture would be wood, sandpaper, canvas, rocks, glass, granite, metal, etc.

Even the brush strokes used in a painting can create a textured surface that can be felt and seen. The building up of paint on the surface of a canvas or board, so that it creates actual texture, is called impasto. Painters may choose to apply their paints thickly or thinly depending on overall effect that is wished to be achieved.

Visual texture is not real texture. All textures you observe in photographs are visual textures. No matter how rough objects may seem to appear in a photograph, the surface of the photograph is always going to be smooth and flat to the touch.

Artists can create the illusion of texture in their paintings by simulation or implying it through the use of various art elements such as line, shading and color. It is created by repeating lines, dot or other shapes to create a pattern. Varying the size, density, and orientation of these marks will produce other desired effects as well.


boat fenders canvas artStill Life with Boat Fenders
Marine life by Teresa Bernard
9″ x 12″
Oils on canvas panel board

>> More info


Common Textures

Although there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of different types of texture, nonetheless, all texture will fall under two broad categories — rough and smooth. For example:

Rough Smooth
Course Fine
Bumpy Slick
Dry Wet
Flat Wrinkled
Scaly Silky
Glossy Matte
Sandy Slimy
Hairy Bald
Hard Soft
Prickly Velvety
Sharp Dull
Sticky Slippery

What other textures can you think of? Comment below.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Form

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Shape

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value


Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

tube of oil paint
Color, also called “hue”.

Color is the element of art that involves light. It is produced when light waves strike an object and are reflected into our eyes. It consists of three properties: hue, intensity, and value.

  • Hue — This is simply the name that is given to a color, such as red, yellow, blue, purple, green, orange, etc.
  • Intensity (or saturation) — This refers to the purity or dullness of a color. Purity is determined by whether or not a color has been mixed with another color and if so, to what degree. Colors straight from the tube are considered the most intense. Those mixed with other colors are considered less intense.  There are two methods that can be used to dull the intensity of a color:
    1) Mix the color with gray
    2) Mix the color with its complement
  • Value — This is the lightness or darkness of a color. A color’s value changes when white or black is added. Adding white creates a “tint” of that color and adding black creates a “shade”.

Marine still lifeBoat Fenders
Marine Still life by Teresa Bernard
9″ x 12″
Oils on canvas panel board

>> More info


Using color effectively in the creation of art involves understanding three basic areas: the color wheel, color value, and color schemes or as it is also referred to, color harmony.

The Color Wheel

basic color wheelThe color wheel (sometimes called a color circle) is a handy tool often used by artists and interior decorators as a visual aid in understanding the relationship between colors. It was developed in 1666 by Sir Isaac Newton when he took the color spectrum and bent it into a circle. The color wheel is a circular chart divided into 12 sections with each sector showing a different color. It is made up of three different types of colors – primary, secondary, and tertiary. The term “tertiary” means third, by the way.

  • primary colors on the color wheelPrimary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These colors are equally distanced apart on the color wheel. There only three primary colors and they are the most basic colors on the wheel. They cannot be created by mixing any other colors together and can only be derived through natural pigments. All other colors found on the color wheel can be mixed from these three basic colors.
  • secondary colors on the color wheelSecondary colors are orange, green and purple (or violet). These colors are created from mixing equal parts of any two primary colors together.
    • Red + yellow = orange
    • Yellow + blue = green
    • Blue + red = violet (purple)
  • Tertiary colors are red-purple, red-orange, blue-green, blue-purple, yellow-green, and yellow-orange. There are six tertiary colors and they are the result from mixing equal parts of a primary color with a secondary color. The proper way to refer to tertiary colors is by listing the primary color first and then the secondary color. That’s why tertiary colors are referred to by a two word name.
    • tertiary colors on the color wheelRed + violet (purple) = red-violet (red-purple)
    • Red + orange = red-orange
    • Blue + green = blue-green
    • Blue + violet (purple) = blue-violet (blue-purple)
    • Yellow + orange = yellow-orange
    • Yellow + green = yellow-green

Color Values

Color also has a value. Value is a measurement to describe the lightness or darkness of a color. It is determined based on how close the color is to white. For instance, lighter colors such as yellow will have lighter values than darker colors like navy blue.

A good way to see the difference in the values of colors is to look at the greyscale. White is the lightest value, while black is the darkest. Middle gray is the value halfway between these two extremes.

basic art element value

The value of a color value can be affected simply by adding white or black to it. By adding white to a hue, a lighter value is the result. Lighter values are called “tints”. When is black added to a hue, the value becomes darker, creating a “shade” of that color. See example below.

colorscale_value_art_element

Color Temperature

The temperature of color is how we perceive a particular color, either warm or cool. Warm colors range from red to yellow on the color wheel, whereas cool colors range from blue to green and to violet. Each temperature takes-up one-half of the color wheel (see images below). Somewhere in the green and violet spectrums the temperature changes between warm and cool.

The characteristics of warm and cool colors include:

Warm Colors

Warm colors• are made with red, orange, or yellow and combinations of them
• tend to feel warm reminding us of heat and sunshine
• tend to advance into the foreground, i.e. come toward the viewer
• may feel more energetic, attention-grabbing and aggressive

Cool colors

Cool colors• are made with blue, green, or violet and combinations of them
• tend to feel cool reminding us of water and sky
• tend to recede into the background, i.e. move away from the viewer
• are more calming and soothing

Neutral Colors

Neutral colors do not appear on the color chart and are neither warm nor cool. They are called neutral because they lack color and are derived by mixing equal parts of color opposites together (i.e. red + green, blue + orange, or yellow + purple) resulting in drab looking grays.

Black and white are also consider neutral because they are neither warm or cool and do not change color.

This lesson on color continues in part 2 where color harmony is discussed.

Test your knowledge of color by taking this simple online test.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Form

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Shape

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value


Basic Art Element — Value

Value is a basic element of art that refers to the gradual change of lightness or darkness of a color. It is created when a light source shines upon an object creating highlights, form shadows and cast shadows.

basic art element valueValue is most evident on the gray scale where black is represented as lowest or darkest and white is represented as the highest or lightest value. Or more simply said, they are the various shades of grey between white and black. Artists us them to create highlights and shadows (shading) in objects and create depth in their paintings or drawings.

Colors can have value too. In painting, value changes can be achieved by adding either black or white to the chosen color. Some colors, like yellow and orange, are naturally light in value.


rose flower painting“Yellow Rose of Texas”
Flower Art by Teresa Bernard
18″ x 18″
Oils on stretch canvas

>> More info


The Benefits of Values in an Oil Painting

Successful paintings have a full range of value. This means that there are ample amounts of both light values and dark values. Paintings which possess a full range of values tend to stand out more and are more pleasing to the eye.

emphasis in artValue creates contrast and adds emphasis. The human eye tends to be drawn to areas of high contrast. High contrast occurs when lighter elements are placed directly next to much darker ones thereby creating a dramatic effect. This is a technique that is used to draw attention to specific areas of a painting that the artist wants to emphasize thus creating a focal point. For example, a light figure on a dark background will become the center of attention, and a dark figure on a mostly white background will command the eye’s attention as well.

shading graphicValue creates the illusion of depth. Value is an important tool to suggest roundness or depth. It helps to create depth within by making an object look three-dimensional or a landscape to appear to recede into the distance. Light values make elements feel like they are further away and dark values make them seem closer.

Value creates opportunity to set the mood.

  • Low Key — These are paintings that exhibit mostly dark values and very few lights. Low key paintings have very little contrast and seem to communicate a depressing, sad, or mysterious mood. Paintings with predominantly dark values often conveys a sense of the nocturnal and secretive, of things hidden just beyond sight.
  • High Key — These are paintings that feature mostly light values and very few darks. There isn’t much contrast in a high key painting. Usually these paintings possess a light, happy mood. Female portraits are often high key as they can convey delicacy, innocence and dreaminess.

Using both high and low key colors in a painting can create contrast which often feels dramatic or exciting.

Additional Reading

Creating Depth in Your Paintings via Atmospheric Perspective

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Form

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Shape

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value