Positive & Negative Space Reversal Collage

positive negative space reversal collage

The Positive and Negative Space Reversal Collage is an excellent lesson for  4th-8th grades. This project can be made more complex & challenging with older students-explore the art of Notan. For older students, make sure to emphasize safety using the Exacto Knives! Here’s a more challenging Notan Lesson for older students: Notan Expansion of the Square

Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design (Dover Art Instruction)
This is a great book that explains the history & meaning behind Notan.

Key Vocabulary:

  1. Space: the area above, below, between & through objects in a piece of art.
  2. Positive Space: the main shapes or forms (main objects or shapes) in an artwork
  3. Negative Space: the empty or non-interesting space between and around the main objects
  4. Positive & Negative Space Reversal: visually switching back and forth between the positive and negative space. Positive space becomes negative and visa versa.
  5. Symmetrical Balance: a design is the same or almost exactly the same on both sides

Supplies: 12×18 sheets of colored art paper, 9×12″ sheets of colored art paper, pencils, scissors, optional: exacto knives, stick glue, gallon ziplock bags for cut pieces


  1. Students select 1 sheet each of 9×12″ & 12×18″ construction paper of contrasting colors.
  2. On the 9×12″ sheet placed vertically, use a pencil to draw in designs-they must be full shapes, not just a single line. Some shapes can come from the edges as well. (this example shows the design on a white sheet of paper so you can see the design-it was actually drawn onto the turquoise paper).
  3. Place 9×12″ sheet onto a cutting board & use scissors or an exacto knife to precisely cut the design out. Give each student a gallon size ziplock back to keep all the pieces in. DO NOT THROW ANY PIECES AWAY!   
  4. Place the 12×18″ paper down first, glue the main piece of 9×12″ cut paper on to it. Use a glue stick so the paper doesn’t warp.
  5. Place all your pieces back onto the 9×12″ paper-DO NOT GLUE THEM. Pick each on up, flip it over & place it so that it is mirror image on the “blank” side of the 12×18″ paper. If you have a shape within a shape, you will leave the next shape on the first side & glue it. Continue placing the shapes until you have all of your pieces glued down.


Positive Negative Space Reversal Collage If you choose to use this lesson or repost it (written or photos), please link back to my blog Create Art with ME.

MORE Collage Art Lessons:

NOTAN Positive & Negative Space ProjectNotan



Types of Balance Cut Paper CollageTypes of Balance Collage



Mixed-Media Drawing Collage Project

Mixed Media Still Life and Collage

Here are some more student examples: (click on image to see FULL view)

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  1. Hello. I would like to use ur images for a blog post about jazz music, to visually demonstrate the concept of negative space. my site is speakingcode.com, I write about programming, code-related concepts and things I find interesting. I will give you credit on the page for the image. Please let me know if that isn’t okay. THank you very much!

  2. Love this lesson, have seen it elsewhere , but with scissors. I prefer this version as with the knife, one can get much more detail. How well do the 5th graders handle the Exacto knives? Do you get a release from their parents prior to their using them?
    Love your blog too!

    • Hi! Before we begin any cutting we always go over correct cutting & safety techniques. Students know if they don’t use the tools properly they will be given an alternative project that doesn’t involve using the exacto knives (this is a big motivator to use the knives correctly). I have not sent home info to parents, I really haven’t feel the need to. Thank you for your encouragement-I love teaching art & this blog is a really fun adventure!

      Have fun creating!