Have you heard of Notan?
Teaching an introductory drawing class required me to reeducate myself in the basic design elements of artistic expression. As a watercolorist, line and mark making may not take on much importance, but composition is always part of the planning stages of a successful watercolor painting. First using a thumbnail sketch to plan value, movement and provide a center of focus, I then have a guideline to use for the final painting. These thumbnail sketches are valuable tools for artists of all 2D mediums.
I came across a mention of Notan in looking for exercises in simplifying composition. The Japanese term, Notan, is defined as dark-light harmony, according to Mitchell Albala, in his painting and composition workshop at www.mitchalbala.com. Any artwork described as having a strong or beautiful composition has as its foundation, a strong and balanced Notan. The Notan reveals the underlying structure of a composition, the essential spirit, taking a value study to its most simplistic form, a strict black and white, dark-light arrangement. If a composition has a soul, then the Notan is the doorway to that soul. Learning about the Notan teaches us to be better composers, to make better choices in the preliminary stages of a work to bring greater order and power to those works.
It’s always interesting to come across a new idea in the art world, or at least new to me! Even though value studies are a common and necessary step in composition planning, defining the Notan takes it one step further. Any help in creating a stronger painting is a step in the right direction. More information about Notan can be found on Albala’s website, or at other sites about Notan. Learn something new – it’s as simple as black and white.