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Negative space is a term for an empty space in your sketch: space around the objects or inside them. Negative space directs the viewer's attention to the main objects in the sketch, to the center of your composition.

It is an interesting concept to explore and use in your sketches. However, today I'd like to give you a simple way of using negative space that will immediately enhance your sketching style.

Drawing of an old cafe De Sluyswacht in Amsterdam as an example of applying negative space in watercolor urban sketches

Look at the two pictures below. What do they have in common? I mean, besides the bright colors and my Mijello palette?

Do you like the color of the sky? Oh wait, there is no color! I did not paint the sky at all.

So here is my tip for you: you don't have to color the entire sketch! Leave parts of it blank. Do not color the sky, for example. If you look at my sketches on Instagram, you'll notice that I use the same trick in many of my sketches.

Leaving the sky white helps me bring out the buildings and makes the sketch light and visually appealing.

So this is your first step to making the most of negative space. Use bright colors for architecture and don't paint the sky.

Are you worried that it's not going to work for your sketch? Make a thumbnail and see what it looks like. A thumbnail is a miniature version of your sketch, done very roughly. It allows you to do a preliminary test of the composition and color scheme.

In the photos below you can see a thumbnail (left) and the final sketch next to the thumbnail (right).

There is a post here on my blog about thumbnails and why everyone should use them.

In fact, all of my tutorials, recent classes and lessons inside Brave Brushes Studio include creating a thumbnail as a step in the sketching process:

Here are a couple more sketches in which I deliberately left a lot of white space (and not just the sky!).

Let me know in the comments below what you think about this trick. Is this something you would like to use in your sketches?

In a recent live workshop, I painted a beautiful house in the city of Tallinn, Estonia. It's a colorful sketch -- but the sky is white, too. Click on the image below to get the recording of this free live workshop.

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Hello, I'm Julia Henze.



Art is my passion. Urban Sketching is my love.

My work (and this site) is devoted to sharing ideas, tools, and resources that will help you to find your way in the world of art.

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  • Resource library (classes and tutorials)

  • New sketching lesson every week

  • Monthly LIVE sketching sessions

  • Regular Q&A Sessions

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