Is This Amount of White Space Right or Wrong?


I got a question that was such a good one I decided to share it with everybody in an email.

Irene Dunne sent me a layout for feedback. All her photos and the title were against the edges of the page. She wanted to know how she could fill the space of her layout without moving the rub-on title. I gave some suggestions in my live webinar forMembers for NSD and Vicki Lee sent this question after attending:

“I’ve seen some layouts that have a lot of white space. When is itappropriate to have that much white space, and if you want to haveit, what are the parameters about how big that space can be? The page looked pretty good to me, even with all the empty space, but I know that [you] said that it really needed something there.I
understood the solution, but just wonder about the use of large amounts of white space.”

At the beginning of the session I said that any feedback I give is subjective, not “right.” I wouldn’t say that her page “needed” to have something in the white space — just that I found myself feeling like the layout wasn’t complete.

You see the difference? I told her the result her page had on me,and answered her question for how she could adjust her focal point if she wants to.

So what’s the answer to Vicki’s general question about white space?

There is not a set appropriate amount of white space. There aren’t parameters for how big a space can be, but there are design principle for what seems to work most often for most purposes that tell you what your white space will cause in the viewer of your page.

1. Placement:

If you put your subject one-third of the way in from the edge it feels comfortable and intriguing.

Things on the side feel like they’re side things and not the main thing.

Since Irene’s photos and title were at the edge, the main subjectwas in the bottom corner, and she was asking me for help, I suggested she add a new focal point to the spot that was about 1/3rd of the way up from the bottom, and that she make it black and white so it would blend into the grayish background and preserve her intention of soothing white space.

2. Size:

Here’s the best guideline I can share in terms of size: Do you like it? Is the attention going where you want it to go? Does it feel the way you want it to feel?

The more white space you have, the more your eye goes to that empty space instead of the subject. Also, the more white space you have, the more calming the effect is. Some people find a lot of space too calming — in other words, boring. Others find it peaceful and beautiful.

I’m in the second camp. I love art with a lot of white space. But in photography and scrapbooking I tend to want the subject to stand out more immediately, so my subjects are a little bigger. But if you love the calming experience of noticing the beautiful white space first, and then being eventually drawn into your subject second (because yes, the eye will go there before it’s done looking!), then do it! Especially if a calm feeling will enhance your story!

I’m constantly trying to remind people that design principles aren’t rules. They’re there to help you know what type of effect you cause when you place things in certain ways. You get to choose what effects you want to cause.

With Irene’s subject on the edge, it looked like a border to me and I found myself looking again and again at the center and feeling like the page wasn’t finished yet. At the same time, I really enjoyed her page and how soothing it was. Irene gets to decide whether she’s happy with that result or not.

So if Irene is reading this and thinking, “I was just trying to follow the “rule” of thirds when I asked for feedback, but I actually love the page as it is,” then she shouldn’t feel like she needs to “fix” her layout at all.

Hopefully that helps both Vicki and Irene, and anyone else who’swondered about this!

P.S.> If you think you’d benefit from seeing design feedback on layouts people are struggling with, I added a recording of this webinar to the Member Videos last Friday. If you’re a member you can find it there now. If not, follow the link to learn about getting a membership for yourself.


  • Mr Mister

    Great article! This is a good topic that is relevant to artists on all levels of all disciplines. In the broader sense, this can be a discussion of the relationship between contrasts: busy/calm, brights/neutrals, darks/lights. It all starts with your subject because even though something is small it can be insignificant, like a stone, or precious like a diamond ring. Centering it, with white space all around it can signify either loneliness or extreme importance (think of the barriers holding back crowds from the red carpet). Although to some people, scrap-lifting and working from sketches can feel like copying, sometimes this is the best way to learn to make white space do what you want for your subject.

  • Krystal Britt

    Your posts
    are such great quality. Thank you for writing them. I know I really enjoy the

    Also- I was
    reading your personal blog the other day- LOVE IT! Do you plan on updating
    anytime? I feel weird asking that honestly, because after reading your posts
    and listening to PRT for a while, I know you don’t ‘plan’, but hoping you know
    what I mean :)

    Thank you,
    Noell & Izzy!

  • Irene

    I love white space (but not as much as in my “JAG” layout) LOL.  I get so much out of PRT and the recent webinar – it has kept me sane and intouch with scrapbooking during the past year when everything was put on hold while my daughter was treated for leukemia. Thankfully she has responded very well to the treatment and the future looks great.  Getting back to PRT, I have purged my scrapbooking supplies, only keeping the stuff I “LOVE”, donating a carton to charity and selling over 14 kilos.  I couldn’t have done it without listening to PRT 111.  I totaly relate to what Wilna had to say. I appreciated all the opinions and input that my layout received during the free Members Webinar and now I feel confident I can turn this layout into one that I will love.  When it is finished, I plan to share it.