The Calm Call of White Space

kanso, simplicity, wabi sabi zen,

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,
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
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



“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,
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
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
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!






Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at and,

33 thoughts on “The Calm Call of White Space

      1. Well, they are slowly getting better, I think it wasn’t the art itself but the attention to detail….on the computer, looking at photos, reading blogs….and then reading in the evening. It all went caboom on me!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Such great advice as always Debi. The negative spaces whether they be white or dark are such integral parts of the composition. I can look at a sheet of Arches for some time time and enjoy its purity and texture before starting the journey. Thanks for this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting, nearly philosophic post, dear Debi. I liked the painting from Tony Smibert a lot, too, as well as the fantastic Japanese paintings. That’s true mastership. Today I like the first photo and the landscape best of all, because they tickle my inspiration. Have a wonderful day, kind regards Mitza

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you Mitza! I so agree, Smibert and Toko are so good 🙂 that first photo I lucked out I think, but still… I do like it. hoping its drier today ! cheers, Debi

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I sometimes wish I could reduce some more, but I want to tell stories with a lot of scrollwork in everything I do. Might be too much sometimes. It has become drier and believe it or not – just now the sun has been sent by you to my room. wonderful. Cheers Mitza

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  3. I need to get acquainted with white space. 🙂 I understand all the concepts behind leaving it, but I’m still at the “gotta fill it all in” stage. I think I’m going to cut a few small sheets of watercolor paper, limit my brush strokes, and make a series of quiet, calming pictures with lots of gorgeous white space.:) Thanks for the inspiring post, Debi.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I still… have to ‘remind my Self’!! The urge to fill it all in, remains. I think its left over from school days perhaps.
      I’m quite happy that you found the post helpful and inspiring! It makes it all worthwhile when someone says it helps!!! cheers, Debi

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  4. Another terrific lesson; thanks Debi. Wow, just love the vase of flowers. Really beautiful work. And the landscape too, another bonus. You’re really inspiring all of us. I need to make little mini posters and put them all over so I can remind myself before picking up a brush … to rest the eyes and embrace the friend that is white space! Thank you. (You don’t have to keep going every day through May – M and I have both dropped out! Not that I want you to stop but if you’re tired, totally understood. I saw your comments this AM, just went to the reader first and haven’t responded yet. Hope you have a great weekend Debi.)

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  5. So so so much good stuff here Debi! You are so generous with sharing for all of us trying so hard to be as wonderful as you at this amazing artistic journey. I am really learning so much about that white space. And I never thought about making it calm or an aerobic workout. Such good food for thought. THANK YOU THANK YOU – and your photo and paintings are as SWOONworthy as ever!!!!


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