People say that darkness is the absence of light. And it is known that white is not one colour, but rather all the colours of the spectrum combined. That is when we’re talking about colours in the visual sense, though. So what about when we are talking about ink?

Of course, combining all the colours of a tattoo artist’s palette would result in nothing but a big mess. But what if you left him working with only a few basic colours? Like only black? Or black and red? This is where negative space comes into play.

What are negative space tattoos?

Negative space tattoos are images created by omitting the object, by leaving the empty space of a silhouette where ink should be. Which is different from leaving skin breaks in a colourful piece for the tattoo to “breathe”. Negative space can simply be a reversed image – like an old camera film, for those of us old enough to remember! Only with much less crazy colours. Or it could merely be a suggestion of what should be there, but is left out.

Palm snowflake tattoo
Tattoo Easily

The ingenuity of an artist

I can’t tell who came up with the idea, or when exactly, but I’m pretty sure it had to do with limited resources. So what can you do if you can’t add stuff? Try and take stuff out doesn’t always sound like the logical choice but here it is. One of the earliest examples of negative space that I know are the drawings of M.C. Escher. The endless staircases and impossible polygons are forever eye catching and intriguing. So it makes perfect sense that people would chose to ink themselves with some of his optical illusions – they are just perfect for negative space pieces.

M.C. Escher Fish Tattoo
M.C. Escher Tattoo. Ratta Tattoo

The problems with negative space tattoos

Well, it’s not really a problem if you think before you ink, as the saying goes. It’s more the commitment of a negative space piece. By it’s nature, it is practically impossible to cover up, unless you go for a blackout, which, I guess, is always an option. Also, a big part of the commitment lies with what kind you will go for, because if you want a stark negative image, you’ll need a black background to do that. Like this next piece. I love the look. I love the Earth-Air-Fire script, I love the runes low on the forearm… But I don’t have the guts to commit to that.

negative space tattoos
Next Luxury

Size, Style, Placement

Obviously, it’s not a matter of go big or go home here. There are countless versions of what your negative space tattoo could be – from a beautiful flower on your forearm to a romantic silhouette of a ship on your calf to a full sleeve or even a back piece. Remember those pictures where you either see a vase or two faces? Yeah, it could be something like that too!┬áCheck out a few more examples that we’ve selected for you and let your imagination go wild!

negative violet elbow tattoo

Negative Trees Sleeve

Negative lace sleeve
Tattoo Esily
Negative Rose, forearm


Negative shoulder octopus, geometrics

Negative red ship in frame

Rib cage, black and red tree

Watercolour backpiece with script

Blue negative crab, forearm

Negative om, hand, dotwork

Double armband, negative keys
Next Luxury


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