International Artist Magazine
The Power of Notan in Landscape Composition by Mitchell Albala
A 2-part series that offers the clearest and most comprehensive primer on the notan to date.
Part 1 – August/September 2013 – on newsstands July 25
A composition is only as strong and enduring as the integrity of its underlying design. Part 1 introduces the principle of notan and shows how it expresses the essential energies of a composition through an arrangement of dark and light patterns.
Part 2 – October/November 2013
A practicum in notan development, reviewing the qualities of effective notan design including five exercises that will help us “think in notan.”
Plus ›› An exhibition at Gage Academy of Art’s Second Floor Gallery will feature the article as well as student works from the recent notan workshop. August 2 – September 26. Opening reception, Friday August 2nd.
From Part 1:
Notan is a word that is unfamiliar to many artists, yet the visual precept it describes is at the foundation of any work of art we would recognize as having a “strong” or “beautiful” composition. Notan is a Japanese word that translates as “dark-light harmony.” It refers to the arrangement of dark and light patterns that serve as the foundation of a composition. In the Western tradition this is sometimes called the dark-light composition. Artists work with darks and lights every day as they consider value relationships; however, the notan is more specific. It gets at the essential spirit of a composition, its pattern and design, through a strict black-and-white, dark-light arrangement.
Mitchell Albala, 2013, Salmon Bay, oil on panel, 10 x 24″ A notan design can be so strong that it becomes the very subject of the painting. In Salmon Bay, the composition is built upon just three primary shapes, which are all different proportions. There are many smaller accents; these add interest, but don’t distract form the primary masses. As a strongly horizontal composition, the placement of the rectangular building left of center does much to draw the eye toward the middle of the painting, and not let it run off the edges.