Negative Space Tattoos

Negative Space Symbol

Negative space is an art form that has been around for a long time. Even longer than tattoos, which are a relatively new art form. It has been used in all forms of art from illustrations to logos (think NBC).

In a negative space piece, you allow the white space or skin to create the design for you. This can create a rather interesting optical illusion known as figure/ground, where your mind will fill in the image allowing you too see what it creates.

Negative space tattoos can come in a variety of forms. They can be simple pieces that allow the black or color ink to create the background, allowing the skin to become the design, like a symbol or name surrounded by dense black. They can also be used as complex geometric designs where the skin works with the ink to create an intricate pattern and flow. Another great way to use negative space tattoos are as a background to add depth and uniqueness. The options for these tattoos are honestly endless.

Negative Space Name Tattoos

If you're afraid your name tattoo will be boring, think outside of the box, literally. Using negative space to create your name tattoo can really make your name tattoo stand out in the crowd.

The way that you use the black or color, if you choose, to outline the name gives it a sort of 3-D feel on the skin. Additionally, if you have your artist vary the shades of black creating the black background, it works to give the piece depth, making it truly eye-catching.

Single Repeated Design

Butterfly tattoos are a common piece for women, but you can really jazz your tattoo up and make it unique by using the negative space technique. By varying the size and placement of a single outline, you get the feel of butterflies flying through the sky or scattering as you walk through a field. It's like the bat symbol for your butterfly obsession.

You could also modify this by adding a single color or multiple colors in the background rather than black and really spark an interesting conversation with friends.

Scenic Designs

Is it a cloud? Is it a leaf? Well actually, it is a bit of both. Scenic or woodsy design tattoos can be really fun and intricately detailed. Using the negative space technique in these designs can add depth and interest. They can be hidden in the sky or within the bracken covering the ground.

You can also hide designs within the scene using the negative space. The intricate detail of these types of designs tend to work better in larger areas like in a sleeve on the arm, leg or back, or chest piece. When working with your artist, you'll want to figure out how the negative space technique can add to the overall feel, like how they used the leaf in this piece.

Flower Tattoos

One-color pieces are generally more inexpensive than full color pieces, and there is a distinct classic look to black work that many people enjoy. Contrasting the skin and black ink to create a design within the negative space is really effective for creating a floral piece. The details of the flowers and the aspects of the leaves can add depth if you alternate between using negative space and black line work.

Additionally, the grey wash can make the intricate details of the petals pop. In creating a flower piece, you'll really want to work with your artist to ensure that the black work and negative space complement each other to add dimension.

Ornate Wording

Negative space tattoos aren't just for simple fonts; they work great for intricate wording as well. The decorative filigree ornamenting the words blends with the black, tricking our eyes at first. You might not see the words lost in the black work, but instead see a bridge or a city scape; however, on closer inspection you see the poetic, beautifully crafted words take shape.

When working with this kind of design, think about how the font and the words themselves can complement one another. For example, in this piece, you get a gothic romantic feel before you ever read the words themselves.

Tribal Designs

The way that the negative space is used doesn't have to be intricate to make an impact. Tribal or simple line work like swirls or spirals work well in the reverse. While simple, these hold a lot of potential and interest to viewers because of the way the skin stands out from the black.

The lack of ink in the spiral draws your eye in, really pulling your attention. The solidness of the black makes the tattoo very bold. If you are considering this type of tattoo, remember size matters. A smaller design wouldn't have as much potential as a large bold design.

Multiple Design Collage

You can use negative space to create an entire collage of images as well. This Disney-inspired piece uses reverse image tattooing to create a colorful sleeve that illustrates beautiful character work. The vibrant watercolor inking effect in the background makes you feel like you've stepped right into your favorite classic, while the blank spaces highlight a few of the characters you've come to know and love.

Not only does this create a great illusion, but also adds dimension to the piece as the characters flow through the rainbow of fog. The way that the artist used the black line work to highlight some of the characters really enhances the overall piece.

This same principle can be applied to several themes or characters, so don't feel like you'd be limited to a Disney motif if you like the flow of this design. It could work with butterflies, stars, birds, marine life, and more. The options are endless.

Face in the Negative

If you are under the assumption that negative space tattoos are simple, you only have to see this mysterious woman to know they can be anything but. You can work the blacks with the skin to create very intricate portraits.

Notice the way the blacks and greys are used to highlight the woman and clarify her features. The sharp angles of the black against the flesh of the negative space disappears and make you feel like she's looking right out of the arm. It is as if the skin has transformed into something new and unusual, and this woman lies within.

This piece also contrasts the very detailed work of her features with the simplistic outlines of the flowers in her hair and the leaves around the piece to keep the eyes interested. In mimicking this piece, you would really want to work with your artist to ensure the lines and angles of the negative space contrast with the detailed work of the face, hair, or other features.

Connecting Two Designs

Use negative space to combine two designs like in this bird and tree piece. Combining the two pieces not only adds interest, but symbolism to the piece. This might be a silent symbolism like the flight of the bird combined with the solid rootedness of the tree, which seem to contrast each other, but still work together because of the use of negative space.

When recreating a piece similar to this, it can be helpful to work with the artist and have an idea of the two pieces that you would like to use in this type of design. The artist can help you to figure out how to combine the pieces in the best way to convey the meaning you are looking for.

Nautical Design

Nautical designs, whether it is boats, stars, or anchors, are really popular pieces to create in reverse. Not only do these work well with most any space or design, but they are well known and easy to recognize. While black can work well with these negative space designs, colors, even light hues, can be effective as well. Stars can also work well as filler or background to another piece.

Negative space designs are an intricate way to add interest and depth to your tattoo because of the optical illusion they effectively create. They can be done as a main piece or as filler to a whole design. You can also have collaged pieces that are totally focused around the negative space designs. No matter how you decide to use it in your piece, it can be a great way to make your design as unique and special as you are.

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Negative Space Tattoos