Positive and Negative Perspectives

When I do monoprints, I have to think carefully and plan the negative and positive aspects of the print slowly. Negative space is still something I have trouble with. Looking at what isn’t there is a lot harder than seeing what is there.

Negative tag

The negative space of a gift-tag cutout–the part left after the tags are removed. It also looks like a box with a bow on top.

A stencil can be positive or negative–it can leave an imprint or it can create a shape through an empty space–the negative. What you see is a matter of your perspective. And for me, it can be confusing, particularly if the image itself is open to interpretation.

The positive tags are plain, blocking color and design

The positive tags are plain, blocking color and design

The positive pieces look like gift tags–all I need to do is punch a hole in them and they are ready to go. Except, of course, I want them to have color and design, so I will punch them out of painted papers.

On a different background, the negative space takes shape.

On a different background, the negative space takes shape.

But while I struggle with the visual aspects of positive and negative space, I also realize that the same is true in real life–what I think of as a negative isn’t necessarily bad or depressing. Sometimes there is a positive twist to a negative event.

Now the tags look like a children's book being held by chubby hands. Depends on your perspective.

Now the tags look like a children’s book being held by chubby hands. Depends on your perspective.

This past weekend I was scheduled to see the Sandhill crane migration and was too exhausted to drive the 10 hours to see it. I was bummed out until a storm moved through, dumping a lot of rain on the entire length of the trip–except for the elevation in which blowing snow and ice closed the interstate. It was worse at the site–fog, high winds and blowing snow blocked a lot of the visibility.

I was suddenly grateful not to be standing in a cold wind and driving snow pre-dawn. In fact, having stayed home and gotten enough sleep and a lot of backed-up work cleared off my desk seemed like a better outcome.

Maybe my next accomplishment will be getting better at understanding how to work with negative space in my monoprints.

–Quinn McDonald knows that life imitates art.

6 thoughts on “Positive and Negative Perspectives

    • Huh, shoulda seen that coming. “Negative space” in computational terms sometimes doesn’t exist! What I meant to say was:
           ,      ;       !        (      )        —           ,      ,          .

        • Just fighting with the unexamined preconceptions of the wordpress team. As usual!

          Anyway I was thinking about negative space in other contexts, and it also occurred to me that the way we think of negative space, not to mention our natural inclination to perceive “positive” rather than “negative” in most cases (I think) is a result of the way we’re built. In computing terms, we rely on input processing over cache processing. That is, we communicate textually in “positive space”, by listing the words, in order, that we want to include. But imagine a person with a vast and infallible memory and less concern for time. That person could communicate textually via a set of lists of, say, 10 words in alphabetical order with an empty space in the middle of each list. The words are from the dictionary, and the missing one in each case is the word you want.

          There are some really fascinating notions of “negative space” in math. Gödel’s incompleteness theorem is a famous one that points out that for any system (there are some constraints on “system”) there is “negative space” that it can’t, by definition, include. It’s basically the liar’s paradox — somebody who always tells the truth says “I am lying”.

          • The notion is really interesting. I noticed when I posted the images of positive and negative space, it looked different scanned, because the paper didn’t have shadows and all of the images had backgrounds. We always assume light comes from above, so without shadow, we see things differently.

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