Saturday, October 30, 2010

2.3 Positive and Negative Space

The last thing we need to learn is Positive and Negative space. Most people treat this as a per panel rule, but for what we’re trying to accomplish I feel it’s something that needs to be utilized on the entire Pagination Area. While we’re thumbnailing our One-shot we’ll keep in mind the positive and negative space as we go along. This will include both backgrounds and black fills.

This will help us getting a better understanding of what the finished product will look like, no matter if you plan to color or tone your One-Shot, or if you’re doing western or manga style. Some people will talk to death about this subject and make claims like “ Pro don’t mess this up “. The reason why pros don’t mess this up is because it’s so simple to do. You could screw it up, but even so it will still be effective. The best way I found about managing Positive and Negative space without killing myself over it was in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Now I’m going to be a little harsh here, but it doesn’t matter if you’re doing a manga, that book as a lot of useful information in it.

Their way of managing Positive and Negative space came down to one simple guideline. Direct the reader into seeing what you want them to see. The easiest way for us to do that is to manage our backgrounds and black fills. When we ink our One-Shot we will use different thickness’s of pen strokes to create a field of depth and variety to our lined work. But we’ll also add backgrounds to show the reader where our characters are, and black fills to help direct the reader’s eyes into seeing what we want them to see.

How we handle small and large panels will also help the reader. Same goes for the flow and the designs for each panel. So when we manage our backgrounds and black fills to our panels in each Pagination Area, we have to make sure we highlight what we want the reader to be focused on in each one.

Lets take a look at an example of a Pagination Area I penciled a year ago. Keep in mind this was a One-Shot that I failed to finish. Despite not finishing that One-Shot, the pages I had done lead me to make this tutorial. I knew something was working in this, but I didn’t know what it was until now. So lets take a look at it.

As you can see this is a pretty standard penciled drawing of a Pagination Area. I have a total of 9 panels spread across it. Out of those 9 panels, only 4 contain backgrounds. I didn’t know it at the time, but by only having 4 panels with backgrounds I was creating balance. Another thing I didn’t know I was doing was using a variety of panel designs between each panel. Even though I have Close-ups occupying the middle of both pages, each one uses a different composition or is slightly different from the next one.

I did all of this not really understanding what I was doing, I was just going through the motions. Even though it looks flat and boring, this is just the pencils. The next step will be to highlight what we want the reader to see in each panel. This will create Positive and Negative space that will help direct the reader even more. So lets see how this will look with a little bit of ink on it.

With an ink outline it still looks flat. Even so I decided to add a little help in directing the reader. Notice the bottom gutters of the first panels on both pages. I added a little angle to them in this step to direct the reader. However page 2’s first panel is angled in the wrong direction. It makes you jump from that panel on to the 3rd one. That’s another powerful tool we can use to help the reader. Even though it’s angle isn’t much, our eyes are directed to the wrong panel completely missing the one we should go to.

One page 3 the first panel’s bottom gutter is angled in the correct direction and leads us to the right panel. I try to keep angled panels to a minimum, one maybe two a page. If I wanted this done correctly, I would have had the top gutter on the bottom panel of page 2 angled to direct the reader to the first panel of page 3. A helpful little tool to keep the reader on that Pagination Are without getting lost.

Besides that bad angle on page 2. I have the right idea in directing the reader through this Pagination Area with my choice in panel designs, but I’m going to need a little help. That’s where backgrounds and black fills come in. Those areas are where we’ll manage the Positive and Negative space, and there really isn’t much too it. It’s mostly about managing our black fills. We have two choices on how to accomplish this.

We could either add more black to the backgrounds, making the lightness of the characters stand out. Or we could add more black to the characters, making them standout from the lightness of the backgrounds. Either one will suffice and accomplish the same thing. Help direct the reader. We can also swap where add more black between each panel to create more variety. Whichever one we chose, we need more black added to this Pagination Area.

The simple reason is this. If we can’t tell what’s going on in the images without color, then we didn’t successfully manage our Positive and Negative space. If this was colored right now,  we would have a better idea of what’s going on, but we still won’t be focused on the most important parts of each panel. It will still look flat and boring.

By using black fills and creating a little bit of depth, we will successful keep the reader focused on the important parts. So lets add some more black ( but not too much )

Well maybe I used too much, but by using a black fills in or around the characters of each panel I pretty much circled what I wanted the reader to see in each panel without doing exactly that. I also used it sparingly. Some people will say “ Use more black to create a gloomy comic,” but in reality we have to keep in mind that colors and tones will also help us balance that out. Those too will be determine the mood we want to give our comic book when it’s nearly finished.

What we want to accomplish by using black fills is to balance our Positive and Negative space and highlight the points of interest in each panel. We can add black to them like I did in most of it. Or add black around them like I did in the first panel on page 3. Either way we want the reader to be directed to the most important thing with in those borders. And overall you want to use it sparingly so our Pagination Area as a perfect balance of Positive and Negative space. Remember the Traditional Composition method? Try to manage your blacks in 1/3rd’s. For this example I’d say that the whole Pagination Area is 1/3rd black, 2/3rd white.

Now the last panel is one that can be done either way. I decided to add more black to the characters to make them standout, but I also could have added more black to the background. Let’s see how that would look.

By making the grassy hill they are laying on more black then the characters, I’ve made the them standout more. They’d standout even more if the background had a line width that was less then the line width used on the characters. However I did add more black to the tree line to illustrate that they were looking down on a little valley. By swapping the use of my thick black fills I’ve made that panel look more different than the last panel on the previous page. I’ve also created a better balance of black on the Pagination Area itself.

This is a trick that’s commonly used by most artists. It’s also a cheap way to make anything you do stand out more. Common places it’s used is around characters faces, mostly around the face in either the hair or the shadow under the chin. Entire bodies when they want the figure to stand out more compared to the background. Or in the background to make the character standout in a scene that could be taking place at night or in a dimly lightened area.

Managing this as we do our thumbnails will give us a better idea of how we’re directing the reader, and how our key points of interest in each panel that we want displayed. Although these examples take it to the extreme ( I’d probably never fill that hill in with all black ) there are ways of breaking it so it doesn’t look like we just colored in an area with black.

The best way to get better at this is to remember the basics and of course practice, but if I had stopped at just adding ink lines to these pages, the reader wouldn’t really know what to look at in each panel. The whole Pagination Area would look neutral and they would be totally dependant on the dialog to help them through it.

By laying down some thick areas of black we’re helping the reader see what’s happening in each panel without having to rely on colors or tones. Probably the best example of doing this was done by Frank Miller in his Sin City series. Although in that he took it to a whole new level, those books alone show how a creator can direct the reader through whole book by properly managing the Positive and Negative space without he use of colors or tones.


I wanted to talk about this separately because this was a topic that always bothered me. I use to think backgrounds we necessary in every panel. However I’ve come to realize this isn’t true. Like I showed in those previous pages, I used a background in 4 of the 9 panels. That is, so far. There are also special effect backgrounds I could add to the other panels to portray a mood or an emotion. A technique that’s commonly used in mangas.

I guess what I’m trying to say is backgrounds that show a location shouldn’t be overused. They’re critical for Mid and Wide shots, but when it comes to the other panels shots there are alternatives like the ones I just mentioned. Another thing to note is the backgrounds shouldn’t overshadow the points of interest in each panel.

This holds true for special effect backgrounds. They should be subtle compare to the points of interest, or be managed with black fills. Location backgrounds don’t have to be in great detail, and should be drawn with a thinner line than what was used on the characters. The idea behind this all is this, a reader will focus on the points of interest of each panel while everything else is just filler to them.

In reality a reader will get a glance of a panel, read the dialog, and move on to the next. This gives us the creators an advantage. We don’t have to sit and concentrate all our efforts to making the best looking backgrounds. If the characters fit in the background correctly and it offers just enough information for the reader then the mission is accomplished.

So if you’re worried that it doesn’t look good, don’t be. Our overall goal is get the reader from panel to panel, page to page. And we can make it as simple or as complex as we want too. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, just concentrate on your own abilities and do the best job you can do. You never know, you might even surprise yourself at some point down the road.

But it’s a road nonetheless, not a teleporter that will magically get you from point A to B.

This is an esential read. Also be sure to check out Scott's website to explore other ideas and exercises. Like the 24 hour comic.

Even if you prefer manga, this book is old school. It's full of the basics to get the ball rolling.

Even more old school. This is a must have book to learn how to create Sequential Art. Even the pros use this book.

There are a ton of How to Draw Manga Books, but this one is the complete package. It covers everything one will need to know to get started. Highly recommended.

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