“International Artist” Magazine presents Mitchell Albala’s “The Power of Notan in Landscape Composition”


notan-article-coverInternational 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.

The Power of Notan

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.



Notan-based painting by Mitchell Albala
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.


About Author

Mitchell Albala is a Seattle-based painter known for his semi-abstract and atmospheric landscapes. His book, "Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice," is a national bestseller with nearly 40,000 copies in print. Mitchell is also a popular workshop instructor at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Art School, and Daniel Smith Artist’s Materials. He led painting adventures in Italy in 2015 with Arte Umbria and in 2017 with Winslow Art Center. He has lectured on Impressionism and landscape painting at the Seattle Art Museum and written for International Artist and Artists & Illustrators magazines. His popular painting blog, which serves as a companion to his book, was awarded #12 on feedspot.com’s Top 75 Painting Blogs.


  1. Thank you Mitch. With both figure and landscape work, I do an initial quick sketch and try to keep dynamic shapes in mind.