An unfortunate trend in digital art is the tendency to over-illustrate. We’ve all seen it, pieces that are so busy that you just. Can’t. Make. out. Anything. Negative space is important in good composition, though hard to master.
Negative space doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t anything there, it is more about setting a wide range between busy/open, light/dark, detailed/spacious. About framing the object/subject in a work.
Here are three pieces that nail this idea, and some explanation as to how it works.
Mortal Kombat X Scorpion by Serg Soul
Serg Soul’s Mortal Kombat X Scorpion is a great example of how to do a portrait with negative space. Sometimes in art we forget that even when you’re sitting right in front of someone, you can make out their every detail. The light source in this piece casts shadows all over, highlighting a tension that having a white background and an infinite source of light couldn’t convey.
The background choice as a darkness surrounding his subject in an almost creeping way, makes Soul’s piece that much more menacing to look at.
Neo Paris by Geoffrey Ernault
UK artist Geoffrey Ernault’s piece, Neo Paris, is beautiful and complex. Here we see the detail/space contrast more clearly as a relative marker within the work, not on a spectrum from not drawing anything to filling each pixel with data. The sky and water in this certainly isn’t empty, but it gives us a feeling of space contrasted with the stacking detail of the high-rise buildings and the floating slums. Placing these two bits of open space in the center, with the city filling in on either side is an excellent choice. This places the viewer in the sky when they first look at the work, then their eye is caught by the Eiffel tower, basically the only familiar object in frame. The Eiffel tower leads to the ground, which brings us to the towering buildings and the floating swathes of housing. Negative space gives us movement, whereas a wash of urban architecture might not.
Black King Tomb by Damian Audino
Black King Tomb by Damian Audino shows how negative space can set a mood. The tomb of this king, whoever he is, is set against a gray lake with a small shore. The grey wash which fills the background gives the center of light in the piece much more focus than illustrating the distant spaces would. We don’t see all of the detail in a landscape when we see them in real life, and Audino’s choice to include that in the work strengthens it.