Positive and Negative Space- Expanding the Square

NOTAN is a Japanese word which means “dark-light”. The word, however, means more than that. The principle of NOTAN as it relates to design is defined as the interaction between a positive (light) and a negative (dark) space.

I had my fourth grade students do an “Expansion of the Square” exercise to study the interaction of positive and negative space. One space is as important as another space to bring to the design. They are still on the drying rack but here are a couple so far…

IMG_3155 IMG_3159

Big Idea: Students will explore the relationship between positive and negative space.

Essential Question: Does a negative space have a shape?

Learning Goal: To develop promote an awareness of shape and space. Students will create an original visual image using colored construction paper that will demonstrate that all spaces within a work of art have their own unique shapes.


  • 12×12 Sheet of light colored construction paper
  • 6×6 square of black construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Visual aides, examples



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