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Positive and Negative Space Lesson Plan

Lesson Plans

Does a negative space have shape? In this exercise, the students will explore the relationship between positive and negative space. After all, one can't exist without the other.


Grade Levels

Elementary through Junior High


Time Required

One class period (45 - 60 minutes)


Lesson Objectives

To develop promote an awareness of shape and space. Students will create an original visual image using colored construction paper that will demonstrate that all spaces within a work of art have their own unique shapes.



Space and shape, two of the elements of design, work together to form a finished work of art. There are two kinds of space: positive and negative. Positive spaces are those occupied by the main subjects of the work. The Negative spaces are the areas around and behind the positive spaces. Negative space can also be referred to as the background.

It is no mystery that the shapes of positive spaces are determined by the shapes of the main subjects of the work. However, negative spaces have shapes as well. If one removes the subjects from a work, the negative spaces are left with a blank in the shapes of the parts removed. Therefore, the shapes of the negative spaces are determined by the shapes of the positive spaces.

  1. Select one color of construction paper and cut to 9" × 6". Distribute one color of 9" × 12" and the contrasting color of 9" × 6" construction paper to each student.
  2. Using the half sheet (9" × 6"), students draw and carefully cut out half of a picture or design along the 9" length.
  3. The full sheet (9" × 12") can be folded in half along the 9" length to determine the center of the sheet. The parts cut from the half sheet are arranged along the fold forming half the design. The remaining parts are placed on the opposite side of the full sheet in locations opposite those from which they were cut. Glue the parts down.
  4. The final project will have a positive image on one side of the full sheet and a negative image on the other.
  5. An optional approach would be to "hinge" everything down the center using transparent tape. This will produce an image that is at first simply two contrasting vertical rectangles. When the design is "opened" the positive-negative images appear.

In summary, the images can be as simple or as complex as the age level of the students will allow. Positive-negative images are interesting in that nothing is wasted. Everything that is cut from one side is used on the other. The resulting visual images are challenging and stimulate the imagination of students.



Teacher reviews each student's work to verify that each project meets with the minimum lesson requirements.

  1. All shapes have been placed symmetrically.
  2. Check craftsmanship, quality and neatness of line and fill.


Extended Lesson

If time permits, or if an additional day of discussion is available, experiment with different colors and shapes. Once may not be enough for this project, it will stimulate their imagination, and they'll want more!


Positive and Negative Space Lesson Plan



1. 9" × 12" sheets of construction paper of two contrasting colors per student.

Construction Paper

2. Scissors, Trimmers, and Shears .


3. Glues .



Positive Negative Example 2


Positive Negative Example 3



Info and Ideas  >  2003 Lesson Plans

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