Tuesday, August 27, 2013


RIVER CANYON    8x10   oil on canvas panel
I want to use this post to, again, touch on something that continues to be the most powerful tool I use to make painting more fun and satisfying. NOTAN.

It can seem overwhelming, when we consider how many things there are to learn and bring in to practice in our paintings.  Right?  Well, I can't over emphasize how much developing an awareness of notan can greatly simplify the process of integrating what you know, and open doors to further understanding.  Notan moves us out of the mindset of trying to copy what we see, and into the realm of creatively responding to, and designing what we want to paint.  And, THAT'S where the fun is!  Notan thinking deals with the essence of planning values, shapes, edges, composition and color.  At its core it deals with what's in the light shape, and what's in the shadow shape.  But this gives us a very simple and useful handle on everything else.  Once you become aware of this in the scene you're looking at, you're in a position to identify and creatively arrange things to bring out what you want to emphasize.  You begin to see opportunities to compose things intuitively according to how you like them.  Best of all it gives you a chance to discover why things do or don't seem to "work".  That's how we grow!

To keep this manageable, I'll relate things to my painting, "River Canyon". First, here's a black and white version, revealing the value structure, but still rather complex in what is happening visually.

But, below it is a notan version of the basic idea for the painting.  This was arrived at, after several very quick, small (no bigger than 2"x3")
marker roughs.  The power derives from beginning to see the whole scene as an interlocking arrangement of light and dark, rather than beginning with the subtleties of multiple values and shapes.  A strong arrangement at this stage will allow you to orchestrate all that comes after.

The notan sketch gives the visually exciting "big view" of what will make the painting  compelling, and helps us to avoid the pitfalls of becoming bogged down in description and detail.  Shapes can be adjusted, balanced and made more interesting. Focal area and eye movement can be enhanced.  Brushwork becomes more confident.  Even our color mixing improves as we now know when we're mixing colors that must hold either to the shade or the light shapes, and this is the major key to beautiful natural color.

Try it.  Experiment with it.  See if NOTAN helps you have more fun and confidence in your paintings.

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