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Lesson 7 Exercise: The Negative-Space Chair or "Drawing the Chair by Drawing Nothing"


As in all the other exercises, read through the directions first before drawing. I've duplicated the first animation from Lesson 6. It's very informing for this exercise. I think it ties together well with the Lesson 7 assignment and the second animation. Click the following link to see it again. (To come back to this page make sure you click the "back" button on your browser - not in the demonstration window. It's like 50 or so kb in size.)

Duplicated from Lesson 6:


Chair / format / negative space: animation


This is a sizable download but should be worth a 103 kb of your time. (I hope so anyway.) There's lots more text in this animation than other ones you've seen here - take your time reading as you go. It's designed to repeat endlessly until you leave the page, so watch it two or three times. And of course you can refer to it as often as you wish. Understanding comes with leisurely repetition

Lesson 7 exercise: animation


Step 1


Pick a chair, any chair. Just make sure it's a real chair and not a photograph. I recommend a real chair but if you're really at a loss for a chair with lots of negative spaces, click chairs.


Step 2


Look at your chair through the viewfinder. (That is, hold up the viewfinder and look through it like in the illustration.) Close one eye. This will flatten the chair into 2 dimensions. Mother Nature has given us two eyes in order to view things with depth perception, that is, in three dimensions. Drawing on paper allows us to render a likeness in 2 dimensions. So it's a helpful step to experiment seeing in 2 dimensions.

Lining up your chair within the viewfinder

If this feels awkward or uncomfortable, no problem. Draw with both eyes open. You'll do just fine. Closing one eye is a technique artists often use to help get a flat image on to the flat paper. (They do it because it makes the transition from 3 dimensions to 2 dimensions easier.)


Step 3


Manipulate the viewfinder until the chair fills the opening in it. Move it so that the chair touches the edges of the frame in at least 2 places. This will help partition off negative spaces that have definite shapes of their own.

Pick yourself a chair to draw - one with lots of spaces

Note: To help maintain the position of the viewfinder in one spot, build a holder for your viewfinder. Prop it up on top a couple phone books. Or try this: get a Styrofoam cup, flip the cup over, take a knife and slit a groove in the top (the narrow, solid end - it's flipped over, remember?), so you can stand the viewfinder in it. Like this:

Propping up your viewfinder

[This viewfinder has a much larger opening than the one shown in this exercise. You can use a larger opening and do the assignment exactly the same. How? Just move the chair or the viewfinder close enough so the chair still touches the inside border of the aperture - i.e. the format - as you look at it through the viewfinder.]


Step 4


Now give it a good long look. Gaze at it. Non-judgingly look at it until you feel you've practically memorized the shape of the chair. Follow around it's shapes and its borders with your eyes, just like you did in the pure contour exercise. After a few moments of scanning take a mental step back: try to look through the image and notice how the entire shape of the chair fills the opening in the viewfinder. (This might be 10 seconds or even up to a couple minutes - you'll know.)


Step 5


Now look down on the paper you'll be drawing on. Picture, that is imagine you see the outline of the chair right there on the paper. Are you starting to see it? Imagine seeing the chair touch the edge of the frame- i.e. the edges of the paper - in the same two or three places. Watch it fill up the paper.

(Have you ever stared at something for awhile, abruptly closed your eyes and then saw it for a moment, almost burned into your retina? This step is an extension of that, except I want you to use your memory.)


Step 6


Pick any side of the chair. Focus on an area of "nothing", that is, an area of negative space. Look at it until you see it as a complete shape with edges. Remember, no need to name it or relate it to anything you night recognize. No need for language entering here.

Start drawing any of the negative spaces. Then go to 
the one next to it, then the one next to it, etc.

When you see it as a shape, look down at your drawing paper and imagine you see the same shape, touching the edge of the paper in the same place as the "real" negative space contacts the edge of the viewfinder.

(A sometimes not so obvious detail: consider the frame imposed by the viewfinder, that is it's edges, as the same frame imposed by the edges of the paper.)


Step 7


Now it's time to start drawing. Go ahead and draw the space you've just visualized. Then, go to the very next outside shape. (I.e., the outside negative shapes surrounding the chair). Draw it. Once you've done that, go to the very next shape, then on to the next. All you need concern yourself with in this exercise is drawing the spaces.

Do this without thinking about the chair. Work your way around the chair one negative shape at a time. Then, when the outside shapes are drawn, turn your attention to drawing the negative shapes within the chair. (It's fine if you started on the inside shapes first.)

Don't worry about the chair. There's nothing you have to know about it. Just keep drawing the "not-chair" negative spaces. Amazingly all the shapes will fit together. Your composition will take care of itself. There's no need to ask "why does this shape goes here?". Just draw what you see.

A Negative space drawing of the beach chair


A. All negative space colored red

Illustration "A" shows the negative spaces colored red. In illustration "B", I've separated and isolated all the negative spaces as stand alone objects. It looks like abstract art. I'd like you to try this: look in illustration "B". Pick any red section. Now find it in illustration "A" - there are no scale changes (they're all in their original proportion), no extra pieces, or any rotation of any of the red spaces-which-are-now objects. (The overall picture is a little smaller than the original in "A".)

B. Abstract art? No - just negative spaces


Step 8


Dealing with angles. Consider the vertical edge of your paper to be the same as the vertical edge of your viewfinder, and the horizontal edge of your paper to be the equivalent of the horizontal edge of your viewfinder.

When you come to a shape or line that angles up or down away from an edge of the viewfinder, ask yourself this: "When I compare it to the vertical edge, how much does it go up or down, what direction does it go?" Then go to the drawing paper and do the same using the vertical of the paper as the substitute for the vertical of the viewfinder. (And do the same if it's closer to the horizontal edge. Lot's more on this in lesson 8.)


Step 9


As in every exercise, you want to be open to the experience of being in R-mode. Keep a sense, "back pocket" awareness that this feels different than your analytical, language-centered L-mode.

  • Your sense of time disappears;

  • You become deeply involved with your subject, it's detail and intricacies; negative space will take on a complexity that's interesting and new to your eye;

  • You become aware of the beauty and uniqueness of everything you're drawing;

If you find yourself stuck, Ask yourself "R-mode" kinds of questions like: "How does this angle compare to vertical or horizontal? How long is this line compared to that one? Does this line or space move towards or away from the adjacent one?"

Then wait for your brain to switch back to R-mode and continue drawing. Remember, EVERYTHING you need to know about what you're drawing is right there in front of you. It's literally "under your nose".


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