Studying Notan will help you create better paintings. Whether you want to prepare for a painting workshop in Umbria or just for an afternoon painting in your local park, notan will help you simplify and test your composition or design.

What is notan? Notan is different than a value study. Rather than a sketch with different values indicating corresponding shapes, Notan studies group shapes together into just dark and light. When we see the world in color, our mind tends to mass all the greens together, all the blues, etc. When we make a value sketch, it is tempting to try to get each shade quite close to the actual values in a scene.

Grouping Shapes

But Notan asks us to group shapes together or mass them. So 3 small shapes of values 3, 4 and 5 might be joined into one large shape. Because the values perceived are mid-tones, the artist can decide whether to include this new large shape with the dark tones or the light.

This higher level of artist input allows for a lot of flexibility in design. Working at home from photos, I’ve given you a couple of examples for each of the photos below. The later variations of the sketches became simpler and stronger. I love doing this on the ipad using the Procreate app. I can adjust my layers so that the reference is barely visible. Then I can discard the reference and just work from my sketch.

Strive for Dominance

One thing to strive for with each notan sketch is a dominance of either dark or light. By changing mid-tones to darks the sketch may become more dominantly dark. On the other hand, changing those mid-tones to light helps create a higher key or light dominant sketch.

It can be difficult to discard accurate values and make changes to the design of your reference or scene. But it is so very valuable, I hope you’ll try it. It really does help you to see value more clearly. Additionally it helps you to see the dominance and design layout of your painting.

Getting Ready for Italy

 If you’ve considered joining me in Italy this fall, notan practice will be a great way to prepare. And if you’re just trying to get ready to paint your local garden or park, this is a great way to warm up. I’ve included some progress photos (thanks to Liz Walker) of a recent demonstration done from one of the above notan studies. Can you pick out the study from the painting?

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