Focused practice: notans

Landscape notan studies Jul 8 2019
Exploring shape, pattern, and dark/light harmony with notan

When I look back at my older posts, the focused practice projects stand out as some of my favorites. The list of things I want to practice is infinitely huge, but one topic I’ve noticed comes up a lot in my paintings is composition. Often times I complete a painting or study and then notice something about the composition I would like to have done differently.

The 30 Days of Value Thumbnails project (I didn’t frame it as a focused practice, but in retrospect it fit the bill) helped me get quicker at spotting very dull compositions. But I still ended up with several that have uninteresting shapes, so I feel like a natural next step is to work on those shapes and patterns that form the structure of a painting.

Which brings me to notans! A year ago, during my focused practice project on values, I did a short section on creating 2-value notans. Those were based on in-shadow and not-in-shadow divisions of dark and light, and I stayed pretty faithful to the reference image. For this new project, I’m approaching it with a mindset of finding light and dark harmony, which means adjusting shapes when needed to make a pleasing pattern instead of just following the reference.

My focused practice goal:

I want to design better notans for landscape paintings.

This goal has a number of smaller problems I’d like to address:

  1. Designing a pleasing and interesting pattern
  2. Making a variety of shapes with no two intervals the same
  3. Creating dark/light harmony that will give me a solid structure for contrasting elements in my painting (values, temperature, intensity, edges, texture, details)

Time commitment:

15 minutes of practice time every day. Using one landscape photo that I took, I’ll create 5 notans (3 minutes each). I should be able to create 100 notans in 20 days.

Day 1

I’m super excited to be using Procreate for this project. I can quickly draw and erase with it (important because these are just 3 minutes each), and now that the thumbnail template is created it’ll be a snap to start each day’s studies. A variety of formats (horizontal, vertical, square) and some basic prompts (high horizon, low horizon, mostly dark, mostly light) provide structure so I’m not staring at the blank page every day wondering where to begin.

Having the prompts to do mostly dark or mostly light has already proven very helpful: my tendency is to make things evenly balanced, and I’d like to be more intentional about adding greater variety. And the short time limit is going to help me focus on the simple shapes instead of getting bogged down in detail at this preliminary stage.