White space in paintings and photos is a bit like white noise. How? They both help to create and foster a calm and peaceful ambience.  You can use white space to create better compositions and convey a story. If, … you want.

kanso, simplicity, wabi sabi zen, debiriley.com
Whispers on the Wind



The Calm Restfulness of White

There is a sense of peace we feel when we see expanses of flat white.


It is restful.  After being bombarded by busy, visually exciting things all day long, our eyes long for some rest.  White, flat neutral spaces provide this.


We are all different.   But generally, I find that an overall happy balanced ratio of calm to busy is right about 2/3  calm  and 1/3  busy.

(With variations and exceptions, depending on the subject.)



Watercolours Wild Floral fast and loose painting debiriley.com
Wild Floral fast, loose, Busy


Its a Workout – all those details!

When we view the daily goings on, everyday life, our eyes get a work out.

When we view a painting filled to the brim with details, cluttered as closet,  our eyes get another marathon workout.


Busy people living hectic lives, simply may find themselves wishing for some space.

White space will do quite nicely.    It will balance  the ‘busy-ness’ and the workout we’ve been getting from all those details.



Get Busy

Alternatively,  we may be wishing for some enlivenment,  for a moment.


Step into a child’s room.

The ratio of busy to calm is probably nearer  90%  busy action  to 10% calm.

A busy painting, with a lot of detail, texture and movement won’t be quite as high a ratio as that. But when assessed,  many tend to be right about the 75% busy 25% calm ratio.

This is a busy painting.

This will provide a visual workout for the viewer.



The question is:

do I want my viewers to find some rest and relax for a moment?

Or do I want to provide them a aerobic workout?



Its all about the White Space used.


Flames of the Flower.  There are no expanses of white spaces.  This is sheer Busy. Complete Drama. Up in Flames!

There was no rest to be had.  None was intended.   It was planned.

colorful abstract contemporary watercolor, flower in flames, debi riley art
Flames of a Flower debiriley.com



“Anyone can do that!”

A well considered painting with limited brush strokes and generous white space is a beautiful thing.

Toko Shinoda is a wonderful example.

art of Toko Shinoda, Japanese abstract, calligraphy, debiriley.com
Art of Toko Shinoda

Tony Smibert   is another fine example!


Initially, one may think those 5-7 brush strokes are so easy and so simple that a child could do it.



Anyone can apply 7 brush strokes onto canvas.

But. Will those strokes have the same power?

The same balance and harmony?  The same sensitivity?  The same purpose and design and intensity?  I think not.





The practicing artist will look. Will observe.  Will study.



Because they won’t take no for an answer.

They refuse to quit.

But resolve to  ‘Commit.’


They are serious about creating art with beauty, with depth, with spirit.

They want to ‘feel’ it.

And will immerse themselves into the subject.  No. Its not a quick pillage of the subject merely for the sake of getting a Product.

Its by experience,  the master has learned that depth,  is always of more value than the shallow and the Instant.



Watercolour mountain indigo naples yellow debiriley.com
Watercolour Mountain landscape, naples yellow, indigo, indanthrone blue


The practicing artist  considers the essence, the foundation, the bones of the subject.

Then reflects – how their arm and brush must move as one – to make those few brush strokes.


And by leaving  a higher ratio of   White Space,  ‘Air’,  this creates room to breathe.

White Space in a painting leaves us with a sense of spaciousness and calmness that an overfilled, cluttered composition generally doesn’t provide.



Cobalt Teal Blue Pb50 debiriley.com
From the Beach



Final Tips On White Space


Before…… I begin to paint,  decide if I want the viewers’ to get a workout or have a nice little rest.

Don’t worry that ‘all my paper must be filled up, filled in.’    It doesn’t.

Mask off, Tape off  predetermined white areas, if I know I have a ‘problem’ with ‘filling in.’

The White of your paper, is your friend.  Say hello more often!