EST. 2009

October 12, 2017

That Reserved Space

IN THE GRAPHIC ARTS, WHITE SPACE makes or breaks visual communication. Too much of it makes the design look unfinished. Too little makes it hard to understand.

White space refers to any portion of a page left unmarked, including margins and gutters, as well as the space between columns, lines of type, characters, images, and graphics. The widespread use of black ink on white paper throughout history has given rise to the term, although white space doesn’t necessarily need to be white in color.

As a designer by trade, I love white space, and use it liberally. This preference extends beyond graphic design and typesetting, and into the broader fields of applied and visual arts.

Of the applied arts, I seek white space in packaging labels, interiors, and textiles. Premium products are therefore a weakness, as are the minimalist interiors that dominate Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards. In the visual arts, portraits and depictions of individual objects normally exhibit good use of white space, balancing positive and negative spaces to direct the viewer's gaze.

I've gathered a selection of works demonstrating fine use of white space; mostly etchings by some leading figures of 20th century art. Matisse's bold yet sparse Nadia portraits use white space around and within the drawings. Hockney's Tulips and Potted Daffodils juxtapose densely-shaded subjects with a generous amount of unmarked page. Picasso's L'Age de soleil uses white space similarly to Matisse's portraits, while his Salomé leaves white space to inspire imagination.

White space isn't for everyone, with consumers and creators, audiences and artists alike favoring richer, or fuller compositions. I personally find it sublime. In a cluttered world, beauty reserves restful spaces for tired eyes.

Nadia au menton pointu by Henri Matisse, Potted Daffodils by David Hockney, Salomé by Pablo Picasso, Nadia regardant à droite by Henri Matisse, L'Age de soleil - Pour Roby by Pablo Picasso, and Tulips by David Hockney. All images from