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"WIsdom" 慧 (huì)— cursive Chinese inscribed in a pebble – ©2015  P. Fraterdeus

Emptiness Design Seminars

The discovery of Emptiness, (ie, negative space in all its connotations) is a deep positive source of creativity and mindfulness

Accentuate the Positive! Emptiness is a design pattern!

Drawing Letters without Lines: Opening Creative Space for Innovation

This series of seminars is designed for non-artists, but uses "The Artist's Way" to uncover the perception of negative-space in all its forms. Dr. Betty Edwards, best-selling author of "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" endorses our seminar, saying "I think your plan is brilliant and bound to be successful: no one else is doing it, and someone needs to do it."  


The new seminar series “Emptiness is a Design Pattern”, explores principles of creative development and mindfulness through calligraphic and drawing exercises, contemporary neuroscience and Zen meditation.

Using these  exercises to get past the L-mode (linear, "left brain" ) allows us to address projects with increased awareness of the spaces that help define the components, and to address life with an enhanced mindful appreciation of the dynamic relationship between figure and ground, in all their manifestations.

#emptiness_is_a _design_pattern


We use the drawing of letterforms and abstract marks with pencils, markers, and the east-Asian brush as a exercise in perception of negative space and non-obvious pattern relationships. 


The principles behind this series have been inspired by the groundbreaking work of Dr Betty Edward's "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" and "Drawing on the Artist Within", as well as the teaching of Welsh master calligrapher and lettering designer Ieuan Rees, MDesRCA; Zen Shodo master Kazuaki Tanahashi; and my own practice.

Yet, the power of emptiness is not solely in the visual realm, but every art and domain.

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides — Artur Schnabel


Outcomes can be executed in numerous ways, including as eraser-carved rubber stamps, cut with a scalpel to experience the physical meaning of negative space. However, the lasting benefits are an increased awareness of one's own 'boundless' inner-space and an introduction to methods of accessing the well of creativity within.


Any of these workshops can be adapted for institutional seminars, university or corporate retreat settings. Please share with your networks!

Amor Vincit Omnia - Three-color Letterpress Note Card - Figure & Ground Study - card from SlowPrint by Peter Fraterdeus

"Amor Omnia Vincit" — Three color Figure/Ground study – ©2008  P. Fraterdeus — Letterpress note card (2008)

Introduction: Modes of Perception

The eye doesn’t see the black on the page, it sees the white. Ieuan Rees 

The Right Brain or R-mode provides the 'negative' space against which thought (Left Brain or L-mode) marks time,  sequence and order. This is the quiet space, the empty vessel which holds the mind, yet is the mind's easel. It is the complementary, the ground on which the figure plays, yet is also primary, for without it, thought itself could not exist, as we cannot perceive form without its context.
We can think of L-mode as Logical and Linear,  while R-mode is Reflective, Receptive — spacial and immediate. While these are not exclusive to the physical hemispheres of the brain, they are models of perception. 

Life in exoteric, materialistic, Apollonian cultures tends to favor the L-Mode with its linear logical sequential processing. But the Arts, Meditation, Music, Passion, Exhaustion, Trauma, Psychoactive Herbs and Alcohol — the Dionysian influences— all can be paths to R-mode awareness. Yet it's fleeting...
Betty Edwards developed practices in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain ( which are designed to quiet the chattering, 'rational,' sequential, symbolic mind, allowing the intuitive perceptual mind to come forward. The conscious recognition of entering R-mode is like a light turning on, a veil lifted, or a window suddenly blown open by a fresh breeze. 
In fact, "enlightenment" is a term used for the attainment of that continuous conscious state, when both R & L modes are fully engaged! Drawing (letterforms) is as good a practice as any! It challenges both analytic reason and intuitive perception in much the same way that music does.
Our approach will be to inform the 'rational' mind, but to prefer the pattern-recognizing, synthesizing, relationship-appreciating mode of the 'empty' mind, which takes what the eye offers without judgement, in order to see 'negative' space as something real and substantial. To perceive the substance of emptiness.

Designing forms, seeing space, consider Lao Tse's advice to designers in the Tao Te Ching:

"Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub; It is the center hole that makes it useful. 
Shape clay into a vessel;  It is the space within that makes it useful. 
Cut doors and windows for a room;  It is the holes which make it useful. 
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;  Usefulness from what is not there." 

(trans J. English & Gia-fu Feng 1989)


Marks made with the pencil, graphite sticks, brush, the drawing pen, all with consideration of the power of emptiness.

Letterforms and Asian characters are studied as pure figure and ground relationships. A variety of techniques push our boundaries of observation, using the eye, the mind, and the hands to open doors of perception.

Perceptual drawing exercises help us develop a toolkit of practical approaches to drawing glyphs or sequences of letters. The same exercises also strengthen and refine pure drawing of any subject.


Download our two-page brochure.

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Peter Fraterdeus is a two-time NEA Fellowship grantee (1981, 1986), and has taught seminars on calligraphy, type and printing, in Berlin, Venice, Barcelona, Chicago, Two Rivers, and elsewhere. Full Bio 

Seminars and Workshops from 1 to 5 days.
Longer workshops can include elements of instruction in carving and inscribing forms in various materials.
Conducted in English