Positive and negative space can be tricky concepts to teach. The Japanese art of notan, some simple leaf shapes, and a quick intro to complementary colors is a fun way to explore the idea.
Strat with a quick intro to the idea of complementary colors. (Not complimentary, hehe.) Complements are colors that are opposite each other on the colors wheel. They are striking when placed against one another and can even seem to “vibrate.”
Choose a set of complementary colors (Red & green, yellow & purple, or orange and blue.) Paint one side of the paper one color and the backside of the paper the complementary color of the front. Pairing complements becomes especially fun if you include tertiary colors.
We used half of a standard 8.5 x 11 paper, measuring 8.5 x 5.5 for this step. Lightweight general use paper will be fine for this step. We used these Alphacolor Biggie tempera paints. They come in cake form, just add water. I love them because they last forever and there is zero waste. If you have watercolors or regular tempera those will work too. The brighter the better.
Positive and negative shapes…
Now for the idea of Notan. Notan is a Japanese concept that relates to the play of light and dark. The positive shapes (main objects) in a work of art should balance or complement the negative shapes (the empty space around the main objects.) In our case the positive space in these compositions is the leaf shape. The negative shape is the area left behind the leaf.
Draw half of a leaf starting on the long edge of one of the painted pieces of paper. Cut the half leaf shape out being careful to keep it in one piece.
These pieces and parts will be mounted on an additional piece of paper, sized 8.5 x 11. I like plain black construction paper as it provides a nice “pop” regardless of the colors used. The negative shape will be glued to one side of the paper and the positive shape of the leaf itself will be flipped over and glued mirror image style.
These are simple to make and go quickly. Have students make more than one or two if time allows. These explorations of positive and negative space look amazing when displayed in a group!