Use Negative Space In Maps To Add Visual Interest
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Negative space can either be a power ally or a distractive enemy to good design. In the previous posts about ocean textures, the oceans balanced the land in overall tone. Therefore, oceans were not the focus of the maps. In this map by Sanson (1685) the oceans are left empty, creating a high contrast negative space to the land masses.
This map is an excellent design. Because of the negative weight the open waters have, the theme of the map becomes the Mediterranean Sea (the title describes the maps as a map showing the Mediterranean Sea divided into its principle parts (smaller seas, gulfs, etc.). Had the Mediterranean Sea not been the focus, simple ways to have reduced the impact of its negative space could have been compass roses with rhumb lines or a simple texture such as stippling. This shows that the composition should create focus on the theme of the map.
Notice how the negative space becomes active in focusing attention to the Mediterranean Sea label. This is reinforced by the label being active with movement, not straight and passive
Controlling negative space
Here's another map by Sanson (1665) of Ireland from the Library of Congress. Again, the water presents negative space on the map. But, while in the Map of the Mediterranean Sea the water was the focus of the map, this time the land is the focus.
How did Sanson offset the land so that it isn't dominated by the waterÕs negative space?
- The shoreline is softened with a gradient outline.
- Ocean space is kept approximately the same amount around the shoreline creating an extension of the frame.
- The potentially large negative space in the south-east corner is filled with a cartouche to ensure the ocean frame remains even..
- The ocean labels are balanced all around the ocean space and are in large type to help give the negative space a weight.
Creating land-based negative space
The previous maps focused on ocean as negative space. It is also possible to create negative space for land features to minimize the oceanic areas.
In Captain John Smith's Map of Virginia the ocean makes the ocean dark with heavy texture and the land much lighter with no texture. The lighter land works well even though the land is filled with symbols.
If you make maps, consider using the power of negative space.
If you enjoy looking at maps, notice how cartographers and map-artists use negative space.
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