Every part of the creative process of the Collage Coaching Technique™ (CCT) provides opportunities for insight, clarity and meaning-making for clients. The *white spaces are no different offering as much knowledge and breakthroughs as the images themselves. These spaces are the gaps that appear between images because clients haven’t covered the entire canvas with pictures.
Valuing the Spaces In-between
In art and photography, these empty spaces around and between objects is known as the negative space. As such, with ‘negative space art’ the focus is on what’s between the objects.
The Dutch painter Vermeer was willing to leave areas of ‘visual silence’ in his paintings. Unlike his contemporaries who would fill empty spaces on the canvas with objects rather than leave the area blank, or ‘silent.’
Another artist, the collagist Romare Bearden would listen to Earl Hines (Jazz pianist) on the piano for hours until he no longer heard the melody, but the spacing in between his notes. He describes how these spacings helped create the rhythm and flow of the piece and how he incorporated this idea into his collage work.
Within art, it’s clear that empty spaces serve an important role and as an arts-based approach, the same is true of coaching with collage.
White Space as Container
As clients create their collage the white spaces may emerge consciously or unconsciously. While in the absence of images, these areas appear empty, this is not the case. The white space is a container which holds meaning that emerges through storytelling, the coaching conversation and clean language.
As coaches, our role is to notice these spaces and their absence on behalf of our clients. Especially, with a focus on the images, clients may initially overlook or consider them incidental. However, these gaps in-between are integral to the collage composition and therefore the meaning-making process. As such, the coach must make their observation without projection, remaining curious about the client’s interpretation. It’s worth noting that drawing these spaces to the client’s attention and holding the silence is often enough to trigger personal reflection and further conversation without immediately adding a question.
A Look Inside the White Space?
A Space to Breathe
The most common interpretation of white spaces encompasses the idea of creating time to pause, rest and stop. It speaks of moments of calm and stillness that enable reflection and thinking space in a decluttered mind. At times poetically described a ‘Space to breathe,’ clients often express a desire to escape the busyness and overwhelm in their lives. Heeding the call from their unconscious to practice self-care, while trusting that everything will still be okay.
Another frequent meaning emerging from the white spaces is accepting uncertainty while allowing space (as they have on their collage) for what may come. These clients describe feeling comfortable leaving what tends to be relatively large blocks of the canvas uncovered. This reflects that even though it lacks detail (like the white space) in ‘allowing’, clients have a sense of acceptance, peace, openness and excitement for the future.
Expressing the Unknown
Sometimes, the white space indicates when a client struggles to conceptualise abstract thoughts or feelings. For example, they may not clearly understand what friendship means to them, or how it manifests in their lives. “I don’t know how I define friendship and I think that’s why no image connected with me and that’s the white space. So I guess friendship is in the white space, because right now I don’t know what it means to me.” In this instance, the white space holds what cannot be expressed visually, metaphorically or symbolically yet still allows the client to share their thoughts and feelings.
Similarly, the white space may also represent gaps in knowledge, such as aspects of their nature, character, and abilities that clients have yet to discover.
In coaching collages, white space is also used to draw attention to a specific image(s). Aesthetically, this creates a visual container that sets an image apart, creating a focal point. The space can serve two purposes, to emphasise the significance of an image and its meaning or/and allow it room to move and grow. Rather than emerging from the unconscious, the gap left by the client around these images tends to be intentional. When this is the case, it becomes clear during the storytelling and coaching conversation.
The Absence of White Space
As mentioned, noticing white spaces includes an awareness of their absence. Here coaches hold the same position, approaching the observation without an agenda and remaining open to all the client brings. However, there is an additional consideration. Sometimes clients finish their collage leaving white spaces. Although their story is complete, they may also desire to fill or cover these spaces. Understanding why they feel this way offers clients insights, and asking them ‘why?’ or using clean language to explore ‘what kind of fill/ cover?’ affords further discovery and meaning-making.
Recurring reasons why clients say they covered the canvas include:
- reflecting overwhelm and busyness
- recognition that life is full of possibilities and opportunities
- anxiety at the idea of white space because of the silence and stillness it evokes
- otherwise it’s incomplete
The collage appears positive. The words are joyful, purposeful with a ‘can do’ attitude, yet when I put it together, I realised I wasn’t. This wasn’t the discovery of my drive; this was a revelation that I feel overwhelmed. Even by things that are not essentially bad. What it revealed in its busyness to me, was how much I try to cram into my pandemic reduced capacity.
“Be productive, Relax. Work Hard, Don’t Burnout. Exercise, Be Kind to Yourself. Eat Well, Treat Yourself. Check-in with friends, Take Time for You. Look to the Future, Live in the Now. Seek Development, Don’t Compare.” Trying to strike the balance can feel like a full-time job, never 100% sure you’re doing it right. My collage helped me see I require more stillness.
The Power of Absence
By clarifying what they represent for clients and the feelings they engender, the white spaces and their absence provide as much information as an image. Significantly, these areas only appear as a source of exploration because of external visualisation within the creative process. In this respect, as a coaching tool, the Collage Coaching Technique™ is unique in enabling clients to work powerfully with the absence of form or detail.
* When clients create a digital collage this space may be another colour, but its meaning-making capacity remains the same.