Saturday/Sunday October 5–6 in Seattle, 9:30 am – 4:30 pm daily
Cost: $195 payable to Gage Academy
Visit my CLASSES page to see all 2013 offerings.
Read the expanded definition of notan below.
If a composition has a soul, then the notan is the doorway to that soul. The greatest gift the notan gives us is access to the underlying energies that drive a composition. Thus, learning about the notan teaches us to be better composers.
East Meets West
Western artists have at times been influenced by traditional Asian art. However, the two styles have very different approaches to representation. The notan as it is presented in this workshop does not encourage an Asian style. Rather, it aims to show that a universal principle in composition —dark-light balance as a means to express beauty and harmony — can be just as applicable to a Western style of painting. While the word “notan” may be Japanese, the principle it stands for is universal, regardless of the style that adopts it.
Every composition is fundamentally an arrangement of abstract shapes — and nothing defines those shapes more effectively than the distribution of lights and darks. Notan is a Japanese word that means “light-dark harmony.” It expresses this most elemental aspect of a composition through a type of study that uses only two values. In the Western tradition, this is called the “light-dark composition.” This strict dark-light arrangement has a unique way of revealing the underlying structure of a composition, thereby allowing us to take an active role in the manipulation of the compositional energies. Working first from masterworks, then photographs, and finally from life (still lifes) in both painting, drawing, and collage, students will learn to identify the dark-light composition and, most importantly, to “think in notan” — to make better choices in the formative stages of their work, so as to bring greater order, harmony and power to their compositions. Note: This is not a class that teaches Asian-style painting; rather, it explores a universal principle that is applicable to all types of painting and drawing. Level: All
Left: Mitchell Albala, Garden Steps in Winter, oil on canvas, 28 x 21. Compositions built upon a solid notan design project a directness and simplicity that can be felt on both a conscious and subconscious level. The balance between light and dark is also developed to meet several tenets of good notan design. The eye is able to take in the entire composition at once; any smaller or recessive shapes do not distract from the primary ones. The darks and lights and are not used in equal measure; there are a limited number of major shapes; and the “negative” shapes are just as interesting as the “positive” ones.
Expanded definition: what is notan?
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, or in graphic parlance, a “posterized” study. 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.
Every composition, be it a plein air study or a more developed studio painting, is fundamentally an arrangement of simplified shapes. And our ability to truly compose—to take control of those shapes and arrange them beautifully—requires that we be able to identify those shapes. Artists traditionally cultivate shape perception by working with limited values. When we restrict ourselves to just three, four, or five discrete tones, we discover that these simplified tones also conform to simplified shapes. Furthermore, we see that those shapes are fundamentally abstract.
If we push the exercise one step further and develop the composition in just two values—black and white—then the underlying foundation becomes even more apparent. This is the notan. It is a type of perceptual lens that allows us to explore the composition in its most basic, irreducible shape-terms. When we observe the human form, we don’t actually see the bones, yet the balance and integrity of the skeletal structure is clearly reflected in the outer form. Similarly, if the underlying notan design is strong and balanced, then the painting based upon it is also strong and balanced—regardless of the subject or the colors, details, and additional tones that may be added later.
The class studies masterworks that use the notan to produce enduring compostions. We learn that the notan is less about identifying darks and lights than it is finding the balance between them.