Negative Space: Art (And Leadership) Lessons for the Pandemic

Caroline Brumfield, AWSP Graphic Designer
May 12, 2020

Negative Space Blog Header

In the spirit of learning at home, here’s a little art lesson for today. In the art and graphic design world, there is a concept known as negative space. Negative space is the area around an image or design – the edges, the background, the “white” of the paper.

Contrary to what its name sounds like, negative space is not “bad” or “wasted” space. Negative space on a page or in a composition is just as important as the subject itself. It helps identify the focal point, directs our attention to important details, and gives the viewer’s eyes a place to relax.

Too little negative space makes a design feel crammed, cluttered, and difficult to understand. Too much negative space limits the amount of information an artist can communicate. It’s all about finding the right balance.

Sometimes, negative space can form a beautiful or clever image of its own, simply by existing on its artistic plane. You’ve probably seen those “is it a vase, or a face?” optical illusions. Here are a few more creative examples:


FedEx Logo
Movers Logo

Did you ever notice the FedEx logo has an arrow hidden between the E and the X?
Is it a hand helping someone move, or the house being moved into? Both!
Pittsburg zoo logo
Guild of Food Writers logo
This Pittsburgh Zoo logo looks like a tree at first glance, but it’s also a gorilla and a lion facing each other.
See the cute little spoon inside the tip of the pen? A nod to the “food” in “food writers.”

So how do negative space and graphic design relate to the principalship? As we navigate through the pandemic, where our lives have essentially been turned inside out, we have an opportunity to see the “negative space” in our home lives, in our careers, and in our leadership. Suddenly, we see negative where we used to see normal, as our usual routines, thought processes, and expectations fall by the wayside.

Taking inventory of the past several weeks, it’s easy to look at the negative space with resentment and longing, wishing it was fuller or more colorful. Or, we can choose to embrace it for its inherent beauty, allowing it to guide our eyes toward what should be the focus of our work. We've watched school leaders across the state turn challenges into new, creative ways to reach students and community groups.

Negative space is not the absence of what’s important; rather, it is an arrow pointing towards it. What is the negative space of the past several weeks helping you to see more clearly? The pandemic forces us to change our perspective and see things differently – in the absence of what was, we have the opportunity to see what could be.

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