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The Value of Negative Space.


Negative space is a hard concept to explain to someone who isn’t an artist, but it’s something our brains recognize and instantly use to focus our attention on what matters.  We see it in photography, in art, in design, and in literature.  Down to the spaces between our words and our letters that have been thoughtfully designed and calculated so that our brains can process these scribbles of colors into words and sentences with meaning, negative space is an important and often unnoticed piece of our lives.

This is the purpose of negative space. To go unnoticed. To draw attention to that which requires notice.

No one realizes the power of this negative space more than designers.  They call it white space, and they fight for it dearly.  Everyone who has approached a designer needing an ad designed or a new web page built comes in with a stack of things that absolutely must be included, front and center.  They usually add a few more things in on top of that. A good designer will convince the client that less is more; to preserve that white space and not fill it with more details until it ceases to exist.

Why?  Because they know it’s how our brains work.

It would probably surprise you to hear that I used to be a really late adopter of technology.  I didn’t get a cell phone until years after many of my peers, and only then to be accessible in case my child needed me.  I only got a smartphone 7 years ago.  I didn’t create a Facebook account until I needed one for my businesses, and I still only have Twitter so that I can see what my teenager and our president are thinking.

I’ve always preferred silence to noise.  Simplicity over complexity.  But I’m also a knowledge junkie, and as Email and Facebook and Instagram and Podcasts and Audiobooks and Webinars and constantly checking in on this thing or that thing have increased, my clarity has decreased. I find myself pulling out that little mini computer from my pocket now when I don’t even NEED it, to mindlessly scroll through some feed or another.

This year, more than any other year of my life, my brain has become cluttered.  I’ve always been that person who could remember exactly what happened yesterday, or the day before, or sometimes years before that.  In an almost chronological timeline, I can remember the important moments and the minutia.  I’m usually a master of multitasking, juggling several different things at once, rarely dropping the ball on any of them.

Then something happened. This spring, the details of my life started becoming a bit of a muddy blur.  Particularly on the days where I needed to spend a lot of time in front of a screen, and especially if I allowed myself to wander off the beaten track and down some rabbit trail of the internet.

I think I’ve allowed the clutter of knowledge and connectivity invade my brain; to erode the actual knowledge and connectivity it needs to function.

So why am I sharing this sort of random, not overly professional personal struggle? Because I think it’s one we all struggle with at some point in time.

I definitely see it on wedding days.  There is just SO MUCH STUFF to fit in.  There’s getting all the people ready for the wedding.  Not just the bride and groom, but the bridesmaids and groomsmen and mothers and fathers.  Even for those not in the wedding party, spouses and kids need to be dressed and prepped.  Everyone wants a quick word with the couple on their special day.  Then there’s getting all the people to the places that they need to be, on the times that they need to be there.  Coordinating the pictures and the flowers and the food and the music.

It’s a lot.

Now, good planning can make things run more smoothly.  A wedding planner is a valuable secret weapon.  But every experienced wedding vendor in the business will tell you to plan extra time in your day. Corralling your wedding party on your wedding day is a bit like herding cats. The bigger the wedding party, the more cats there are to herd, and the more time it’s going to take to get them all where they need to be.

So plan for that.  If you have a large wedding party or large family, leave your photographer extra time to organize them for portraits.  If possible, have a cousin or in-law who knows everyone assist with gathering family groups and be sure everyone is ready when they are needed (your photographer likely will not recognize your Uncle Joe, as they’ve never met him before, but your cousin could grab him out of the crowd and get him in a photo if provided the same list you’ve given your photographer).

After you’ve planned for all of the things that will take more time than expected, plan for some white space.  This isn’t the ‘in case things run late, we steal time from here’ space.  This is the ‘this happens, no matter what’ space.

Give yourself 5 minutes before walking down the aisle to breathe and reflect.  Take 5 minutes alone with your new spouse after you’ve finished your portraits before you head to the reception.  (Your photo and video team will be happy to help make that happen).

The world will wait while you just take the time to live in that moment, to gather your thoughts and feel something other than stressed and busy.

Until we make it a priority to schedule a few moments of negative space in our day, our brains will not have the space to process the gravity of the important moments.

Wedding Day Reflection
Photo courtesy of Amberlee Christey Photography

As for me, I’m going to recommit to some of my goals for the year.  Goals that I made before my brain fog moved in, but goals that I feel will help me gain some clarity.  Goals that I have honestly really struggled with since the beginning of the year.  We head out to a family vacation next week, and I’m looking forward to using that time to force myself to disconnect from the electronic world and reconnect with my family (and hopefully myself).

And until I get that clarity, I’m just going to keep writing down all the important things, to keep my brain on track.

negative space

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