If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that I’m always out here . . . 

The last couple of years, well . . . they’ve been tough. Looking for hope . . . has become a hardscrabble occupation, and sometimes I just can’t find any. Each new day seems to bring more outrages, more tragedies. It’s often hard to muster any . . . hope . . . at all.

But lately, I’ve been feeling just a teeny glimmer of perhaps what might be more hope in my heart. I’m not really sure why. It’s not so much that I’ve found some new, magic source. Or that things are at all better in the world. I think I’ve just started to look at things . . . differently.

There is a tricky but fundamental principle of art known as negative space – which is “the area around and between a subject.” Negative space is always there. You’re just not meant to notice it (until you do). Any work of art – painting, drawing, sculpture, design, dance, literature, music – uses both positive and negative space to achieve compositional balance. You might not see it, but negative space is always there. It’s what you don’t see. Details that are left out. Words unsaid. (As an example, here on this page that you’re reading right now . . . the black letters represent the positive space – what you’re meant to notice. The white space between and around the black letters? That’s the negative space.)

A lot of art students initially struggle with the concept of negative space, but once they get it and start to incorporate it into their work, it elevates their art. Painting the Not Object (the negative space) is key to seeing the Object (the positive space).

In my own painting, I love working with negative space. In fact, I often chose to work on paintings . . .  where I only paint the negative space!

While these paintings may look like I painted . . . Leaves . . . I did not.
I painted layer upon layer of . . . Not Leaves. 

By focusing on the negative space (the Not Leaves), I ended up giving shape and depth to . . .  Leaves.

So what does any of this have to do with finding hope?

Well. It’s always easiest for us to see the Obvious Thing, the Subject (the leaves, for example), the thing that is filling the positive space, the thing that is right there smacking us in the face and taking up all the room . . . defining reality. 


The negative space is there, too, all round and between the Obvious Thing. And that negative space – the Not Obvious Thing – is ALSO taking up space and defining reality. It’s just probably not smacking us right in the face. We have to notice it. We have to look for it.

Right now, it feels like everything happening in the world is dark, bad, distressing, outrageous. It’s Bad Stuff, and it’s demanding to be seen, to be noticed . . . sucking all the joy from the room. If we can train our eyes to look for the Not Bad Stuff – to seek out that negative space around and between – well. I’d say that’s where the hope lies.

For the last few months, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about seeking out the Not Bad Stuff — to look for and live more . . . in the negative space. And I think that might be the “secret sauce” that’s helping me feel just that teeny glimmer of perhaps what might be more hope in my heart.

(I know it’s confusing for me to equate “negative” space with the Not Bad Stuff. It’s just semantics, though. “Negative space” does not mean “bad space” in this context. It means . . . the space around and between. That’s all.)

The world seems to keep spinning, despite all the Bad Stuff.

So what keeps it spinning?
I’d say it’s hope. The Not Bad Stuff.
(Balancing the composition.)

If you want to find hope, look to what’s . . . around and between.
Try not to get distracted by what you think is defining reality.
Look for what you don’t see.

It is the negative space
that gives the positive its place.
The empty air between our bodies,
the tree limbs and leaves,
the clouds and mountains,
tiny drops suspended in air
from the city fountains.
Creating the tension to touch,
to need, to come together.
Empty space, the greatest conductor
of love ever created!

— S Rowland


About that quote. I can’t find anything out about “S Rowland,” or even the original source of the quote. The name was on an image along with the quote, but I’m not sure if “S Rowland” wrote the words, or put together the image. Despite my uncertainty about proper attribution, it’s too perfect a quote for me to pass up today. So. There you go.