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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Want to Simplify? Try Notans

'Perry's Water Garden'          8x10         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available by auction opening bid $50
I am energized by Notans!  I have know about notans for awhile but for some reason I never really used them.  But in preparing for my pastel class yesterday it became clear how useful notans can be.  What is a notan you might ask?  Here is an excerpt from an article on Notan on EmptyEasel.com by Dianne Mize:
"Notan means lightness/darkness and is pronounced just like it looks (no tan). When used in paintings, a Notan drawing is the underlying light and dark structure.
Seeing Notan is the act of identifying patterns of light and dark. A good Notan drawing will simplify the full range of a subject’s values into a black and white design—the white represents areas directly in the light, while the black depicts areas in shadow." Dianne Mize
Doing notans would be perfect for my lesson on simplification! 

An example of a notan (on right) compared to a 'spotty' block-in of darks
The Class topic was how to simplify a complicated subject and how to block in a strong composition with interesting abstract shapes. I always encourage students to do a value thumbnail to work out values/composition but we usually do a 4 value study using Tombow markers. See my blog post on Value studies here.  Four values seems simple enough but sometimes it is challenging to keep cohesive shapes. It is so easy to end up with  a spotty arrangement of lights and darks.  There is a tendency to break up the masses into too many values. I try to look at a shape and decide what value is it MOSTLY made of.....so is that sunlit bush Mostly dark ,middle or light value?  I know I can bring out the variations in value later on in the painting but I try to keep my block-in simple. It isn't always easy.  Notans to the rescue!!

By limiting the value study to just two values...dark or light, white or black, it is much easier to simplify the masses. It's either dark or light. Simple!  Now you can evaluate the design and the shapes without the distractions of color and details.  We tried doing notans in last night's class and everyone's paintings were stronger as a result.  I will be doing them more often!
You can read the entire article by Dianne Mize on Empty Easel HERE


Donna T said...

Nice painting Karen! Notans rule!

Karen said...

Thanks Donna! I am certainly going to use them more often!

High School Diploma said...

awesome painting...i like the colors..