Lesson #4: Exploring Positive and Negative Space

Part of the unit: Nature Inspired Collage Compositions |


Why are negative spaces an important part of a composition?
Students will be able to:
Create an interesting composition by varying the size and shape of negative spaces.
Students will understand that:
Artists manipulate art elements to achieve interesting compositions

12"x16" construction paper in assorted colors; manilla envelopes with students' cut shapes; student drawings from lesson 1; scissors; stick glue


Photograph or painting of a scene that clearly shows positive and negative space


Explain that collage is an exciting art form because the artist can experiment before deciding on a final arrangement.  Students will be experimenting with different arrangements on a colored background before gluing the shapes down. 

  • Why is the color we choose for our background an important choice?

Ask one volunteer to arrange his/her shapes on a 12"x16" paper of their choice.  Invite students to gather around. 

The shapes can be arranged to completely cover the background or to let the background show through.  Then ask the student to change the arrangement of shapes, noting that there is more than one way to make a composition.

Invite another student to find a shape that is created by the background paper.  Explain that these shapes are called negative spaces.

  • What does the word negative mean?
  • Why is it important to consider these negative spaces when creating your composition?
  • If these are negative spaces, what do you call the shapes that you place on the background?
  • What does the word positive mean?

Explain that in language we use words in many different ways.

  • Where else are the terms positive and negative used? (yes/no; attitudes - good/bad; math - integers; science - battery charges...)

Show a photograph or a painting of a scene that clearly shows positive and negative areas and ask students to identify both postive and negative spaces in the image.

Explain that the way the positive organic shapes are placed on the background will determine the size and shapes of the negative space.


The teacher will demonstrate creating an arrangement made from pre-cut organic shapes. The teacher should explain the changes being made and should emphasize how varying the size and shapes of negative spaces alters the composition.

The teacher should then demonstrate how to apply a glue stick to the back of the shapes before attaching them to the background.


Students will select the colored construction paper for their background. They will experiment arranging their shapes before gluing.

The teacher should observe the work-in-progress and offer suggestions.  Students should be reminded that the positive and negative shapes create interest in the composition.

Post student collages.

  • What specific compositional choices did you make before gluing?

Ask students to identify and discuss collages that show :

  • varied positive and negative spaces



Cut out 5 or more different visual textures from magazines for use in the next lesson.