Focused practice: 2-value notan studies

Now that I’ve actually painted a few acrylic paintings (like the fish and landscape) and gotten more comfortable with handling the brushes and paint, I decided to create a new focused practice assignment. I’m a big believer in the importance of values in painting so that’s the subject of this one.

My goal: To accurately determine the values of a subject as a foundation for composition and color.

This involves:

  1. 2-value studies (notans) to identify value divisions (what’s in shadow and what’s not in shadow)
  2. designing 3-value plans as compositional studies
  3. 4-value black, white, and grey paintings from still life using simple forms
  4. 3-value exercises where the values are split into 2 light/1 shadow and 1 light/2 shadow
  5. 4-value black, white, and grey paintings with good compositional plans using photo references of landscapes, animals, and still life

I’ll spend two hours each weekday working on these assignments, covering one topic each week. Over the course of five weeks I should be through all of the sections and ready to move on to color studies.

I got started this week with the 2-value notans and already feel like I’m learning a lot. There are the things I read about and study up on, but putting them into practice is a different experience for sure. It’s been great practice for making thumbnails and setting aside time for planning rather than jumping right into a drawing or painting.

notan studies Jul 23-27 2018
Five days of notan studies from my sketchbooks (day one is a white book, days two through five are a grey toned paper). It’s so rewarding to see these adding up and to learn something from each one!

Sometimes a thumbnail would have potential, so I’d rework it in a slightly different way — like with a different crop and center of interest placement, or changing the black (in shadow) or white (not in shadow) proportions. My goal was to keep the black and white unequal, in roughly a 1/3 to 2/3 ratio. It’s interesting to find that some photos that I was sure would be good subjects end up being quite dull in the value study. And some that seemed dull have much more potential as a notan.

value plans with two values notan studies in acrylic paint
These larger studies are done in black and white acrylic and are each approximately 5×7. Ganging them together onto one panel helps keep them from getting precious. The grey smears are a sign of impatience when the paint wasn’t fully dried.

I took some of my favorite notans that looked to have more potential and painted them onto a larger board. I wanted to make sure I was still applying paint to a surface during these value studies and not get stuck in my sketchbook.

By building off of the thumbnail sketch it gave me a feel for carrying a painting to the next step. It’s easy to sketch out a little translation in a thumbnail, but would it still be interesting if I had to redraw it larger? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I lost a bit of interest in the upper left, and lower left might be helped with better cropping, but the two on the right still have me captivated. They might be worth taking to the 3-value and 4-value stages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s