Exercise Negative space in a plant

Aim of Exercise: A large potted plant, preferably set up against a plain background, then using A3 paper and a graphite stick, pencil, ballpoint or pen and ink, do not draw the plant but the spaces within and around the plant.

What I experienced and what I learnt from that:

Completed 21/09/12. This was a tiring but very useful exercise. The drawing took me six hours to complete, so I was very slow at it, but it was time well spent.

As preparation for this exercise I had tried a couple of drawings in my sketch books. First of all I tried combining a continuous line drawing with drawing negative space, A4 sketch book p.87 (please see figure 1). 

Figure 1
Practise sketch book drawing using continuous line and negative space

I chose quite a simple shaped cactus. I drew where possible without lifting the pen. I found that I did better following the negative shapes around the cactus than I did with the pot although I think that it would be more accurate to say that the pot shows up my inaccuracies more than the cactus does. I next tried drawing the negative spaces of a plant that was a little more complicated, A3 sketch book p.33 (please see figure 2). I drew this first in pencil and found that it was surprisingly hard to keep my place within the drawing and I needed to make several adjustments as the drawing progressed. When it came to the bowl I could not get the two sides to match and finally I traced the left side and flipped the tracing to give me an idea as to where I was going wrong and then looked back to the object to try and understand the negative shape better and made the necessary adjustments. Considering the size of this drawing I was amazed that it took me nearly two hours to complete.

Figure 2
Practise sketch book drawing drawn using negative space

I learnt from doing these drawings how important it was to try and keep my head in the same position as the slightest movement of me or the chair caused the shapes of the negative spaces to change.

When it came to doing the exercise I found that it was straight forward but tiring. I drew in pencil first and then drew over/or corrected as necessary in pen. It took a lot of concentration to keep track of the negative spaces and particularly in more complicated areas I found that it was very easy, on looking down to the paper to draw, for me to lose my place once I looked up again. I also found if I lost concentration then it was hard not to start drawing leaves and stems again rather than the negative shapes. I found that it was easy to forget not to move my head. I had learnt from doing the drawings in my sketch book that I did this quite a lot so I had a mark on the wall to be able to bring my head position back into neutral. One thing that I hadn’t expected was how much the leaves moved over the space of time I was drawing. 

Figure 3
Drawing for Exercise Negative space in a plant

I think that the top half of the drawing is as accurate as I could make it and I was able to keep track of the negative spaces quite well but in some areas of the bottom half of the drawing I found it harder to keep track, A3 sketch book p.35 (please see figure 3). Near the bottom, left hand side I drew a stem as a positive shape rather than the negative shapes surrounding it. Once I had drawn the negative shapes in round this I found the stem cutting straight through so distracting that I corrected with tipex. I also lost concentration when drawing the negative spaces surrounding some leaves on the near bottom right hand side resulting in the two leaf shapes being overly elongated. On the whole I found it easier to draw contained internal negative spaces than the outer negative spaces surrounding the plant, with the outer it was harder not to automatically concentrate more on and draw the positive shape of the leaves. I feel that my composition is poor with far too large an area of negative space on the upper right hand side and the plant looks too small on the paper. I drew with the paper in landscape mode as the plant was quite wide and I misjudged how much it would fill the paper. I think that I would actually have done better to have drawn it portrait mode and cropped it on one side. I shaded with diagonal hatching using two pencils, a purple and a magenta crayola pencil. This looked quite insipid so I darkened the hatching throughout while trying to have some variation in the tone (the camera has had trouble picking up the colours accurately). The background has slightly more interest in real life than the photo but I do not think that it has been very successful.


I regularly use negative space to help me draw normally but I don’t normally do the whole drawing that way and I was surprised how hard I found it at times not to start drawing the positive shapes. I was also surprised just how tired I felt by the time I had finished this drawing considering all I was doing was drawing shapes which in itself is very straightforward, but boy I found those shapes hard to keep track of at times. I reviewed and checked throughout the drawing and several areas needed correcting and I need to continue to work at being able to record what I see more accurately. I think that drawing the negative shapes has actually resulted in a more accurate drawing of the plant than if I had been drawing the positive shapes alone and this exercise demonstrates very well just how important and helpful using negative shapes are when drawing. At the end of the drawing I sat and compared positive to negative shapes and particularly on leaves that I found it hard to work out exactly how they went, the negative shapes gave the more accurate depiction because of just looking at the shape and recording that rather than drawing how I thought the leaf went. It has also been very useful to concentrate so much on shape. Throughout the drawing I found that it highlighted that my observational skills still need a lot of work. I also need to continue to work at not being so slow when I draw.


This entry was posted in Part 2 Observation in nature, Project 5 Drawing plants and flowers. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Exercise Negative space in a plant

  1. Mags Phelan says:

    The outcome looks very successful, particularly on the last two pieces – I particularly like the last one. I can see it would have been challenging to do, though. I’m rather relieved to hear of someone else who feels they’re slow at drawing. That concerns me a little, but then I suppose it’s only likely to change with practise.

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