Negative space – art imitates life

angry blue jay

Or is it the other way around – life imitating art?

I spent January with my camera, learning about negative space. In the simplest terms, negative space is the area that surrounds the subject. It is sometimes called “white space”, but it does not need to be white, or even, blank. When a photo has large areas of negative space, it often conveys a feeling of peacefulness or serenity, but it can also feel lonely. Since I am drawn to photos with lots of open space, it surprised me that I found this type of composition challenging – and just how much this challenge reflects my current life style.

Finding negative space in “crowded” areas

Winter forest

I spend my days in the crowded city – surrounded by buildings, noisy subways and sirens, and people – lots and lots of people. And while my weekends in the mountains are peaceful, there, too, it is challenging to find space that doesn’t add to the busy-ness of my photo.

winter leaf

Zooming in helps.


As does looking up.


And, a shallow depth of field, creates a blurry background.


In my art journal, I am trying to do the same – leaving some negative space in my compositions. And, wow – I am failing – miserably. I am like a little kid with art supplies – no matter what I plan, my page winds up an explosion of color. Perplexed, I think to myself, “hmmm, I certainly hope this is not my style…”

blue jay

Negative Space – art and life

This negative space thing, though, isn’t that what my recent minimizing has been about.? Finding more free time, less, busy-ness, less stress – space to breathe – to just be. This, too, has been a challenge. I wonder to myself, is my art imitating my life? If I find more peace in my art, will my life follow, imitating art?

So – without getting too philosophical – I am curious. If you were to think about your art – whether it is photography, crafts, writing, knitting… – do you feel that it reflects your current life – or that maybe, your art is a way to help guide your life?


9 responses to “Negative space – art imitates life”

  1. Sarah Avatar

    Great question! And yes I do think our art mirrors our life. When I had endless free time to wander and photograph, the photographs were filled with negative space. But when life is chaotic it is hard to see the single leaf because of the forest.

    Loved that one of the steeple and the tree branches. All I could think was I want to sketch that.

    I should text you some of my early art journal pages ( I dug out an old art journal from when I took a Brene Brown class) you would never guess that the person who created it was me. Even now with my sketching I sometimes get caught up in replicating instead of expressing me that I am not happy with the color results or chaotic feel. But I will continue to find my way to the truest me in all my art. #practiceisart

  2. Andy Avatar

    Karen judging from from your photos I believe you have negative space all figured out. I feel at my best when I have my camera in hand. It presents challenges for an old retired guy like me.

  3. Michelle B Avatar

    My photography reflects my current life. I capture what I appreciate and find beautiful about this moment. It is documentation of my life and finding those beautiful things/moments despite the ugliness that may be in the world. I will have to pay more attention to see if it guides my life too…. I think you have nailed the negative space lesson. I love the birds and the blur behind them. 🙂

  4. Barb Avatar

    A reflection or a guide? That’s hard to decide! I think maybe my photos and even my writing reflect my life. I thrive on simplicity, and much of what I create tends to be simple rather than complex. I think sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary! Your photos are amazing. Hard to pick a favorite. However, I’m drawn to that leaf photo and the last Blue Jay with Peanut pic. Today, I posted a pattern one (from your list) – maybe I could consider it negative space too.

  5. Debbie Avatar

    first – why are you so hard on yourself?? you are so amazing. someone i really look up to….i could read your well thought out posts all day long. you are such a creative spirit, i find your pictures, art and words to be so interesting!!

    second – your pictures today are amazing, all of them but mr. blue jay is wow!!!

    third – to answer your question, my art, which happens to be crocheting right now, definitely reflects my current life. i have been told that my knitting is neat, tight, colorful and very beautiful, my life is the same!!

  6. Jeevan Avatar

    I don’t think my life reflects what I usually- taking photos and writing blogs – because my point of view is far different from my life. I look out for things even though I could not reach, but keep trying all possible ways. Crowd is something not my kind but perhaps that’s why I go for solo shots on birds and flowers the most.

  7. Beatrice P. Boyd Avatar

    I found this question about whether my art (photography and writing) reflects my current life, difficult to answer, Karen. Lately, There have been some negative thoughts in my mind, but I haven’t consciously applied them to either art, at least not consciously. I have been working on de-cluttering both in physical and mental terms and in a way that has been applied to blog writing as I no longer do so on a daily basis. Finding the time to do so was sometimes stressful, so in a way I have mirrored my current life activity. As far as photography I have been minimal there as well. Next week, we are taking one of our short getaways, this time to VT, and hopefully I will find be less minimal in terms of using my camera again. We will be in Wilmington…anywhere near your favorite place?
    Also, as Debbie commented, I always enjoy your writing and photography, both of which I too find very creative and thought-provoking.

  8. Wisps of Words Avatar

    Love the idea of “negative space” in photography! Although I have never consciously worked on it. I will….! I will……! Even though I don’t have a marvelous camera like yours, I will try! Thank you!

    Always trying to de-clutter here! But there is just so much I can do. We live in a 50 year old home, and we have it suited to our comfort. This does not really look, that simple. But I keep table tops neat, and without piles and piles of stuff. 🙂 And we do not have lots and lots of furniture, etc. But our Hearth Room will never look minimalist. Which is fine. Minimalism is not our style anyway.

    I love clear counters, and our kitchen is that way!!!! Clutter anywhere, makes me upset. So neatness is necessary, for my peace of mind.

    As you can see, my writing needs paring down though!!!!!! ,-) I write and par down, and write and par down. But it is not easy. Something I have to work on!!!!!! Since the truth is, sad to say, but people today do not have much time, to spend, reading anything. Too many words, make their eyes gloss over. Sooooo, I have my work cut out for me.

    Interesting post. Thank you!


  9. Carola Avatar

    That is hard to answer. My journal reflects my life for sure, but that’s a different story anyway. My art journal certainly contains part of my life and so does my photography. I take pictures of what speaks to me – but does that reflect my life? I really don’t know and need to think about it more.
    I love the negative space in your images. The top photo is just wonderful – I love birds. The leaves are so beautiful as well. These are gorgeous photos and I think you got the negative space. down.

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