What is Space in Art? — How to use it

In Art, Artists by Toni Justamante Jacobs

Usually, when you represent real-life objects on a two-dimensional surface your purpose is to make it look like it is in three dimensions. You would want your work to come to life at any viewer’s sight. And this is where space in art plays an important role. When your art can depict space or create an illusion that there is space, only then will it look 3 dimensional and real.

Also, it will sort of spring to life at a viewer’s first sight. In this piece, you’ll understand what space in art is — The definition of space and how to use it. Although artists doing their work on a two-dimensional piece need to apply the knowledge of space in their works to make it come alive, they are not the only ones who can utilize space in art.

3D artists like sculptors and architects also make use of space in different ways. So, in this space, 2D artists need it, and 3D artists do make use of it. Then, what exactly is space in art, How can we define it?

What is Space in Art?

Space is the region surrounding an object. This space could be within an object, and around it in every direction.

To understand this space which we talk about, place a bowl of fruits on any surface. Step back and take a look. You would realize that depending on where you place the bowl. First, the object is taking up space. Also, around the bowl and the fruits, there is space. There is space in how a fruit overlaps the order in your arrangement.

Even the entire object; bowl and fruits are overlapping the background. Utilizing this space which we refer to in certain ways will give life to your art. A famous art icon once said, “Space is the breath of art”. That is, without the application of space, art is dead. Even novice artists who do not know what makes art do utilize space without fully understanding it. And that is why this piece is important. You need to understand how space works in art and how to use it so that your art will breathe.

” The Library ” by Jacob Lawrence

Now, there are several ways to show space in your work and you might not need to depict all of these in your artworks. Take a look at ‘The Library’ by Jacob Lawrence in 1960. In this piece, the artist uses the method of depicting space called overlapping. Although what is supposed to be humans only looks more figurative than realistic.

In ‘The Library’ by Jacob Lawrence, the artist represents space well by overlapping the objects in the art piece. You can easily tell who is nearer in the picture and who is beyond. The closer figures overlap the distant once, hence, the entire composition gives you an illusion of depth. This work is one of the many that projected him into becoming one of the most famous African American artists of his time.

Creating space to give an illusion of reality in your art cannot be overstated. Whether you’re a 2D artist or a 3D artist, creating an impression of space in and around your work is important. In summary, space is key to all artists, and it is no wonder that it is an element of art.

If you do not pay attention to space in your art the whole composition would appear wack. Objects would look like they are dancing in mid-air. Else, the paintings and drawings especially would look plain — not lively.

We have six  ways for you  to show  illusions of space, they are:

  • Overlapping
  • 2. Use of Size to your advantage
  • 3. Space and perspective
  • 4. Use of color and value to create depth
  • 5. Negative and Positive Space
  • 6. Opening Spaces

Overlapping

” Ta Tele Gabon ” by Trigo Piula

The concept of overlapping is when an object covers another so that the foremost object appears to be closer than the one which is partially blocked from view. If you take a look at Trigo Piula‘s work titled Ta Tele Gabon there is an obvious use of overlapping. Although the context of the piece is not our concern, what inspired Trigo to create this piece then was the wars at the time and the influence of the west on Congo precisely.

There is a sort of fetish standing before the people in the image. The people have their heads filled with the ideas of the west. And it is with these people that Trigo Piula uses to show the concept of overlapping. The people closer in view are partially blocking the distant ones.

Use Size to your Advantage

Although the use of size is quite common to show the disparity in objects, it might not quickly strike a common person to use it to represent space adequately. In the use of size, the closer objects are bigger than the ones that are far off. You know that in creating an illusion of depth you needed to manipulate space around your objects so that the distance you wish for is what you will represent adequately.

The bigger an object is when compared to another in the same composition, the greater the distance that is between them. If you take another good look at Trigo Piula’s piece, Ta Tele, she uses size, as well as overlapping. Also, if you observe the people watching the fetish, you would realize that the people that are closer to the fetish are smaller. While those closest to the viewer are larger.

Pierre Adolphe Valette’s “Albert Square

Another example that adequately represents this way of creating an illusion is Pierre Adolphe Valette’s Albert Square, Manchester in 1910. The cart pusher is at the forefront of this image, and he is the biggest object in the piece. Elsewhere, the concept of size could be referred to as a relative size. It simply explains better how sizes of objects relative to each other are being used to create illusions of space.

Space and Perspective

Before anything, it’s important to note that to depict space there many ways to do perspective. These are some of the common terms that you will find in a relationship with perspective.

1. Linear Perspective

2. Aerial Perspective

3. Isometric Perspective

4. Multiple point Perspective

5. Exaggerated Perspective

Linear Perspective

In using perspective, the artist distorts the object so that it represents the space around it and about other objects adequately. When you hear Perspective or linear Perspective,  it simply means that the artist is distorting the objects with lines across horizontal and vertical planes. Perspectives are one of the best ways to create the illusion of space in art.

“The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci

Many people believe that Leonardo Da Vinci is the inventor of perspectives. In his work, “The Last Supper”, of 1498, Da Vinci creates the illusion of distance down what looks like a hallway. One can see that the objects on the side diminish towards the middle.

Multiple Perspective

Sometimes, even in real life, you are in a space and you realize that there are several vanishing points as you look around you. You refer to perspectives as multiple when an artist utilizes 3 or more perspectives in one piece. So when there are two or more vanishing points in a space, then the use of multiple perspectives is necessary for a good illusion of space. One famous artwork that replicates this is “The Subway” by George Tooker in 1950.

The Subway” by George Tooker
Isometric Perspective

When you can see the height, length, and breadth of objects in a piece of art, then the artist must have utilized the isometric perspective. This is like the most basic form of perspective. When used alone, isometric perspectives cannot show the illusion of depth as much as the other types of perspectives that we have mentioned.

While the isometric perspective cannot adequately show depth or distance, the art is a 3Dimensional object on a 2D surface. “The Self-Portrait With Blue Guitar” by David Hockney in 1977 shows what isometric projection should look like. The isometric aspect of the job is very obvious in the table beyond which reveals all the three axes.

Exaggerated Perspective

Take a look at Salvador Dalí’s work Christ of Saint John of the Cross or Giorgio de Chirico‘s Mystery and Melancholy of a Street. You’ll realize that the artists used perspective in these art pieces.  However, the contrast between the big and small aspects of the objects is highly exaggerated.

Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

Taking a close look at Christ of Saint John, naturally, the head and feet are about the same size but in this piece, the head looks about twice the size of the feet. This is what we mean by an exaggerated perspective. What the artist is simply trying to communicate in this piece is that the legs are far away from the head.

Aerial Perspective

Linear perspective is the general idea behind perspectives that the line that is trusted uses recedes so that it gets to a vanishing point of almost nothing. However, an Aerial Perspective is used to adequately represent depth in a piece. Aerial perspective is also called atmospheric perspective. The reason for this is that the form of perspective is commonly used for landscape purposes.

And this is how artists apply atmospheric or aerial perspective to art: to make the object in the art look distant relative to others, artists will manipulate the color. A good example of this is by Sanford R. Gifford, October in the Catskills, 1880. In this artwork, you can see how the closer objects maintain a sharp hue and the distant ones wash off the farther it goes.

Negative and Positive Space

Recumbent Figure by Henry Moore

Another popular work of art that utilizes the application of space adequately is Henry Moore’s “Recumbent Figure” which was created in 1938. The idea behind this figure is a woman who is lying down. If you’ve ever seen this piece, while it doesn’t immediately strike its description as a woman lying down, one can figure out what looks like the head, breasts, and knees.

Now, when it comes to the use of space in this piece, Henry Moore makes use of positive and negative spaces. the negative spaces in this piece are the spaces within the piece so that you can see whatever is behind the piece of any. The negative spaces in Henry Moore’s work also give a 3dimensional look because of the way the light bounces off the roundness of the bounding positive space.

On the other hand, positive space is that which the solid part of the work occupies.

Opening Spaces

In art, open spaces are negative spaces. But some art pieces use them in some sort of excess. However, this seeming excessive use of negative space serves a purpose and it is intentional. Open spaces show that the space around the object is great. Also, the more vast the space in a piece is, the more serene it looks. Some examples of works like this include The Monk by the Sea which is a painting by Caspar Friedrich and Maruyama Okyo’s Geese Over a Beach.

Eventually, we hope that what you take away from this piece is that you know exactly what space is, and the techniques that you can use to depict space in your artwork. In art, space is 3 dimensional, and it is the area all around an object and within. Yet adequate knowledge about space and the correct application of techniques will allow you to create an illusion of depth in your paintings, drafts, and solid works.

We have sighted several examples of artworks in this piece. You might have seen some of these works, and have adequate knowledge about them. Otherwise, the idea of space in art is foreign to you, check these works and they will help to get a quick grip on how space matters in your artwork and the way several artists manipulate the spaces around the objects that they create.

To master the use of space to create an illusion of depth you’ll need techniques like overlapping, perspective, and varying the sizes of objects. And while you apply value to the strokes in your drawings, you can intensify the colors in a painting to achieve the illusion of depth.  The use of perspective is diverse.

The ways to use perspective range from aerial perspectives, one point, two points, and more. With all of these, there are a lot of ways that any artist can show depth in their work. You might not be able to use all the techniques in this piece to manipulate the space around an object. But you can choose the ones that apply to your particular piece.

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What is Space in Art? — How to use it
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What is Space in Art? — How to use it
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Space is the region surrounding an object. This space could be within an object, and around it in every direction.
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Improve Your Drawings
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Toni Justamante Jacobs

About the author: Hi, I’m Toni Justamante Jacobs. I´m a professional Concept Artist and Illustrator with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. Some of my clients are Gameloft, Fantasy Flight Games, Kunlun Games and Games Workshop. Currently, I´m working at Socialpoint as an in-house Senior Concept Artist.