Are You Aware of the Negative Space?

Sketcher on Castle Hill (all rights reserved, Geoff Higgins)
I seem to be coming across a lot of references to 'negative space' at the moment.  Guy Kawasaki's book Enchantment includes a quote at the start of a chapter with the innocuous title 'How to Launch'.  The quote is from Pablo Picasso and says:
There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.
Alexa Meade (TED talk 'Your body is my canvas' here) was on her way to Washington having completed a degree in political science. Instead she started painting shadows, and then went on to paint people.
I loved that I could hide within this shadow my own painted version, and it would be almost invisible until the light changed, and all of a sudden my shadow would be brought to the light.
And in my budding enjoyment of iphoneography, I have found myself using camera angles and contrast while editing to create silhouettes in nature.  Another form of negative space in photos is the empty space you might leave in front of something that is facing in a particular direction, alluding to where the thing is moving or looking.  Leanna Lofte has written a great blog post about this at imore - How to make your iPhone photographs more powerful with negative space.

Negative space is important for facilitators!  Before you read on, please stop and have a think about what this could mean to you.  And below my silhouette, you can read some of my ideas.

Grass Trees & Gum Trees at The Saddle, Mt Archer (Geoff Higgins, all rights reserved) 
For facilitators, negative space can mean:

  • The time people spend talking with each other 'off topic'.  This may be during small group exercises and in breaks.  This can be a rich mine for anecdotes and recent events you can use as examples or to anchor key points.
  • The  diversions that crop up and take the group on another trajectory, useful, interesting and perplexing as these may be.
  • Economists have a concept of 'opportinity cost'.  Perhaps the things people could be doing instead of coming to the session is negative space. 
  • When things get chaotic and I am tolerant of multiple conversations, the negative space may be the content of those over conversations.
  • The time you get to spend getting ready for the next topic while people are completing a small group activity.
  • When I get close to, but intentionally avoid, talking about something I want someone in the group to raise, I am using negative space - a void that could draw that person or someone else out. 
  • And my most obvious use of negative space is the long, drawn out, uncomfortable for me and sometimes for others, pregnant in the final trimester, even in the final weeks or days, pause.  Hoping that someone will step in and respond to my question or make a comment.

I hope that you can see that negative space is not 'bad space', it is just different space.  And it may help you see the space you need to be occupying.