In visual design, the term “negative space“ refers to any empty area within a composition that does not contain subject matter. In the floral tattoo sleeve below, for example, the negative space is all the area left as empty skin, surrounding the flowers.
In both my tattooing and painting practice, negative space is definitely NOT “less visually important” (...as Wikipedia’s entry for "negative space" might lead you to believe). In fact, the negative space in my designs is just as important as the positive space.
The area in Jess’ floral sleeve that was left “empty” is not just the leftover space which I didn't place any of where I simply didn’t draw any flowers. There was great care and attention put on the actual shape and flow of the negative space in order to create a sense of harmony in the design. The negative and positive space in a design must work together as equals in order to create a harmonious composition.
Or, as my homie Drake once said, "I learned workin' with the negatives could make for better pictures.“
As depicted in the Yin Yang symbol, harmony is achieved when positive and negative forces are working in a balanced relationship to one another.
In order to experience the sensory world (which humans do through sight, sound, touch, smell, taste), we need to know both the subject and the object. Our experience is defined by the relationship of opposites. We cannot know hot without also knowing cold; we cannot know dark without also knowing light. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as mutual arising.
Our experience of opposites is also relative. For example, if are standing outside on a 95 degree day and walk into a 70 degree room, 70 degrees feels cool. If we are standing out side on a 30 degree day and walk into a 70 degree room, 70 degrees feels hot.
Our human experience of physical reality is defined solely through relationships between opposites. We explore and observe the world around us through relativity. Through this understanding, I’ve come to find in the tattoo process a visual metaphor that is Incredibly important when creating a balance design, that promotes harmony and cohesion.
Engaging in the creative process is all metaphorical; I look for internal parallels within what I’m working on in a moment. Through the observance of universal principles comes great knowledge that transcend tattooing and can be applied to daily life. In this case, my exploration of negative space serves as a reminder that our whole world is made up of the dance between the positive and negative.
Last Light Tattoo Studio blog is run by Adam LoRusso - a tattoo artist and painter living north of Boston, MA. He is well-known for his black and grey tattoo style, and artistic explorations in oil paint and charcoal.
It was created to share some of the process that goes into creating his tattoo work and his thoughts on the craft of tattooing.