In a recent blog post, one of our favorite natural science illustrators, Lizzie Harper shares her insights on using negative space in your botanical illustrations.

According to Lizzie, she uses negative space as an effective tool on an almost daily basis.

Here are her tips for incorporating this technique into your body of work.

The easiest way to think of negative space is as the space between and around objects; the triangles between spokes of a bike wheel, the ovals in the handles of scissors, the shapes made by overlapping leaves.   Here’s a demo I did for a botanical illustration workshop recently.



Negative space demo- Lizzie Harper


I first learned about negative space from my mother, a fine artist, and then far more from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  Although originally published many years ago, the ideas in this book are still current and formed not only the basis of a recent children’s workshop I ran, but also ofcourses run in the UK by Anna Black.


Lizzie Harper

Using negative space to illustrate a rose- Lizzie Harper


Painting a rose is one of the times I rely heavily on negative space; plotting in the spaces between the leaves and the stems.  Negative space is such a handy tool; if ever I’m totally stuck as to what a line should do, if I just concentrate on drawing the shape of the space that surrounds the object, then I can sort it out.



Drawing of rose, heavily reliant on using negative space- Lizzie Harper


(For more on the evolution of this illustration, check out my blog from 2013).

Drawings of negative space can be gorgeous and strong, and can stand alone, like this 10 minute sketch done by a 12 year old on my drawing course.



Child’s illustration of bicycle using negative space- Lizzie Harper


Other times I rely heavily on negative space is when drawing up a plant with a whole load of tiny parts, an elder flower, the leaflets of a fern, or the needles of a douglas fir.


Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris from The Garden Forager by Adele Nozedar- Lizzie Harper

Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii from The Garden Forager by Adele Nozedar- Lizzie Harper


It’s not just plants that benefit from a touch of negative space; the shapes between hairs on an insect leg, shapes formed where space touches the edge of a bird’s feathers, the dark spaces between teeth inside the mouth of a mammal…


For a good tutorial in using negative space, please check out the tutorial by Marian Boddy-Evans.


Without using negative space my job would be a great deal harder; and give me less pleasure.  I love the way drawing negative space gives you a feeling like you’re cheating, you’re beating your drawing, and it always feels brilliant to have such an effective tool in your illustrating toolbox.