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Art Lessons
by Donna Flood
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Lesson Two - The Seeing of Spaces

Like every craft art has its language. In studying any endeavor if you will learn the "words" or the vernacular, then the practice becomes easier. Some of the words we have already learned are: Depth or perspective, Area, Line, Value. Shorthand (DALV). Now, let us look at three more words to learn.

(1) One is: FORMAT
(3) Three is: POSITIVE SPACE

A variety of formats
A variety of formats

FORMAT is simply the shape of the drawing surface which is usually rectangular. However, circular is fun, and even triangular is possible. A couple of years ago I painted a picture on a large circular shape. Around the outside area of the circle was a very dark value. Against this dark value I painted the long stalks of ripe wheat in golden colors. In the center of the painting was a tiny grain storage building called a grain elevator which was made small by its distance. Also small going back into the picture was a man on a tractor plowing long rows readying the ground for fall planting after the wheat had already been harvested. I can tell you when a senator who was also a wheat farmer was pleased with the work I felt successful in having created a good composition.

For some reason the left brain does not deal well with empty spaces. It cannot name them, recognize them or match them with stored categories. It cannot produce ready-made symbols for them. The left brain is rather bored with spaces and simply refuses to deal with them. The following exercise takes advantage of this left brain's way.

Positive and Negative space
Positive and Negative space


Gather some objects-scissors, keys, anything small enough you can trace around on a sheet of paper. What you have traced around is called the POSITIVE SPACE. The space outside the object is called the NEGATIVE SPACE. In order to see this better take a black marking pen and fill in the Negative space.

Learn to study the work you wish to do in this manner. You will focus your gaze on the NEGATIVE SPACE. You will need to hold your gaze there for a moment, whatever it is, a barn, a vase in a still life, of a face. The left brain does not at first want to give up its authority but if you continue to gaze at the negative space it will finally relinquish its hold and pass the problem over to the right brain. Practice this seeing of negative space until you are able to shift back and forth from space to space waiting for the positive space to come into focus.

What probably happens is this. The left brain not being able to deal with spaces, as one gazes at the negative space, it stops intruding with what it knows about the object and lets the right brain take over to draw what is really there. The left brain is very strong and if I happen to try to work when I am tired for a moment I can become so sleepy until I shake the control of the left brain away and allow my mind to see the object as it is, often coming wide awake. Now in drawing the one shape, you have, of course, draw the other.


As you draw, make a mental note of how you feel, the loss of the sense of time, the feeling of focus in onto the object, the wonderful sense of amazement and the beauty of really seeing. Everything you need to know in order to do a drawing is there.

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