Three Dimensional Positive/Negative Designs


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Student Examples

Purpose: To create a black & white 3 dimensional sculpture, using rules of composition, demonstrating the concept of "Notan", a balance between black & white, and the element of space.


From Tim McCreight's book Design Language,
…Here are a few of the rules of composition:
• symmetry tends to promote stability
• diagonals are more active than horizontals
• proximity creates tension
• sameness is frequently boring
• regularity creates rhythm
• equal amounts of figure / ground confuse the eye
• contrast exaggerates and effects

Extension: For those students who complete one design before the time allocated for this project, they will work on the opposite shape from their original sculpture.

Process: Part A

  1. Use a 6 x 9 piece of black or white paper as the base for your relief sculpture.
  2. Use a 6 x 9 piece of white or black paper from which to cut shapes.
  3. Choose either a geometric (linear, hard edge) or organic (curvy edges) for your shapes.
  4. Cut your shapes neatly, using scissors or x-acto knives.
  5. Your shapes may vary in size and style, but they should be either organic or geometric.
  6. Glue your shapes onto the background, creating three dimensions.
  7. You may choose to glue a few shapes flat onto the background.
  8. Be sure your sculpture touches at least 3 edges of the base.
  9. Try to balance the amount of white and black.
  10. When you are finished, you will have a paper relief sculpture that activates the negative space, by the placement of the positive shapes.
  11. HINT: It is VERY helpful to keep your lines flowing across the negative space. Where you end one line, begin another. This will automatically help break apart the negative space. Please see examples above.


Process: Part B (complete only if finished early)

Repeat the process using the opposite shape (geometric vs. organic).