What Is Notan?
Notan is a word taken from Japanese art. It refers to seeing a subject in terms of flat shapes of black and white. It sometimes uses just 2 values: black and white. More practically we can use 3 values: white, black and mid grey. You can of course use more values but I find the real benefit is to translate a subject into 3 values. It’s a fabulous discipline.
The point is if the 3 value study works then you can be pretty confident that the painting will work. If your pattern of lights and darks doesn’t work it will show up in these quick little sketches. Notan is a skill that has to be practiced to master it. It’s very easy to understand it but not so easy to do it.
One thing we learn is that there are so many decisions that go into simplifying a subject. I guess I would say that simplifying is not simple. Not simple but very worthwhile.
Practicing Notan enables us to analyze a subject or photo before we paint it. This is part of the journey of improving our art.
Examples of Notan
Like any new skill it takes time and practice to master Notan. However, the benefits are truly worth while. It’s a lens through which we see subjects differently. It simplifies and focuses the way we look at a subject. It gives us a tremendous advantage when we come to paint a subject. Finally it’s quick and a lot of fun.
One of the main benefits is that Notan forces us to simplify the subject. When we simplify we learn that a lot of the detail doesn’t actually add much to the painting.
Adding Notan to your arsenal of painting tools will, without doubt, take your painting to new levels. I really encourage you to give it a shot. It makes our painting process more intentional. It will lead inevitably to better paintings!