Improving Your Composition – What Is Notan?
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Improving Your Composition – What Is Notan?

October 18, 2019


Notan is the harmonious arrangement of the dark and light shapes in a picture, In Japanese notan means dark light harmony A well-designed arrangement of dark and light creates an impression of beauty regardless of either the colors used or of the subject matter This means that notan design is therefore the key to a strong painting. Without it both color and line cannot by themselves create a beautiful painting Many of the old master paintings have very simple notan structures. They also have very few shapes. For example many of Monet’s masterpieces are just two values. You can see these two values if we convert this picture to black and white here we have just dark shapes and light shapes So you can see that very simple notan structures can produce very strong compositions. We call this type of painting a two value notan. this is a notan that has just a dark value and a light value Often this type of notan is created by the effect of a dark object silhouetted against a backlight The other French Impressionists learned a lot about notan from Japanese master printmakers For example in this painting by Degas. We can again see two values We have a dark shapes And we have light shapes. These dark and light shapes make up the whole painting The second most common type of notan structure is the three value notan structure this structure is the basis of many beautiful paintings such as this painting by Degas . If we convert this painting to black and white you can see the three values. We have a dark value, a series of light value shapes and some gray shapes Here is another example of a three value notan structure in this painting by Sargent Again if we look at it in three values we can see dark values light value shapes and gray shapes and This simple three value structure is the basis of many great masterpieces. The last type of notan structure that is commonly seen is the four-value notan structure here We have a light value, a dark value, and then two gray values, a light and dark gray Here’s an example. If we convert this painting to black and white we can see the light shape and here a series of dark shapes and then to the light gray and the dark gray Let’s look at another example in this case a more complicated painting by Turner If we look at this again in black and white we can find the same four values Here’s the light shape The dark shapes The light gray and the dark gray So you can see that in studying a large number of great masters I found that they nearly always have strong two three or four value notan structures and These very simple structures create very beautiful paintings

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