Whenever a child has trouble drawing something, encourage them to focus on drawing the shape of the negative space instead.
I like to explain “negative space” as the area around the thing you’re drawing – the space that’s touching it but not part of it.
To help kids visualize this, you can stand in front of them with one hand on your hip and your feet about 12″ – 18″ apart. Then explain that the shape made by the area between the floor and the inside edges of your legs (roughly a triangle shape) is the negative space. The area between your bent arm and the side of your body is also a negative space. So is the area all around the outside edge of your body.
So what makes negative space a positive thing? How is it helpful when drawing?
When you pay attention to the negative space as you draw, it helps you get out of “memory mode” where you (subconsciously) draw what you remember about something, instead of drawing what you actually see. Drawing the negative space helps you “see like an artist” and makes your drawings much more interesting and also more accurate.
My blog post, “The Surprising Truth About Teaching Drawing to Kids” explains more about how to see like an artist. Read all the way to the end for a few of my favorite books for teaching kids how to draw!
An Inspiring Quote:
“Instead of looking at things, look between things.” ~ John Baldessari
This is the quote that got me thinking about negative space, or as Baldessari puts it, the space between things.
Why limit the attention we give to negative space only to those times when we’re drawing? It could be fun to help kids discover these in-between spaces all throughout the day. It’s a great way to encourage them to “see like an artist”!