Virtual Art Academy® Notan Painting Lessons

What is included in the Notan Building Block?

Why does a certain painting win first place in an art competition? The answer lies a lot in the harmonious arrangement of black and white in the painting. A well organized arrangement of dark and light shapes creates an impression of beauty, regardless of either the colors used or of the subject matter. This is called "notan" from the Japanese word that means "dark light harmony". Just about every successful master painting has a very strong notan structure. Notan is such a powerful factor in the success of your painting that it is one of the first things you should study.

notan painting lessons

The process may seem simple, but it takes a lot of practice to do well. My starting point for this Building Block was Arthur Wesley Dow's (1857-1922) book on composition, but I've learned a lot more since then from the last ten years of my own experience in putting these ideas into practice. Most students have found that studying this Building Blocks pays off very quickly in improving their paintings. That is as true for experienced painters as it is for beginners.

The Notan Building Block consists of six course units (in pdf format) and a total of 100 pages:

  • Course Unit 1 - Mass Notan I
  • Course Unit 2 - Mass Notan II
  • Course Unit 3 - Contour Notan
  • Course Unit 4 - Limited Value Studies
  • Course Unit 5 - Color and Edge Notan
  • Course Unit 6 - Notan Gallery

Course Unit 1 - Mass Notan I

This course unit introduces you to the concept of notan and to the three main types of notan structures you can use in your painting: two, three and four value notans. In fact many of the greatest old master paintings use one of these three notan structures, that is to say, they only use two, three, or four major values. For example, many of Monet’s masterpieces are just two value notans.

In this course unit I also show you how to do a mass notan. This is a small sketch that captures the notan structure of your final painting very quickly.You will learn the difference between mass notan, contour notan and limited value studies. From what I have seen on the web, few people seem to understand the difference between these three types of study, so be careful with what you are reading. If you do not understand the difference, you will waste a lot of time when planning you painting.

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • the three main types of notan: two, three and four-value notans
  • the difference between mass and contour notans and when to use each of them
  • a step-by-step procedure for how to create a mass notan, and which are the best materials to use
  • tips, techniques and common problems you are likely to run into when doing mass notan paintings
  • the pros and cons of using graphite versus brush pens (a lot of people do not know how to use these brush pens which can save so much time in the notan process)

Course Unit 2 - Mass Notan II

In this course unit I go beyond the basics principles of what are notans and explain how to design them well. The basic concept I talk about in course unit one is fairly simple. However the secret is in how to make the notan structure of you painting beautiful. In this course unit I explain the three major design principles that will result in a beautiful notan structure in your painting. Nearly all beginner paintings (and a lot of the work I see in commercial galleries!) suffer from one of these three problems.

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • how to simplify the complexity of nature by flattening the values you see into a simpler and stronger structure
  • how to use the computer to analyze your paintings for a strong notan structure
  • the key principle of dominant values and the four simple types of dominant structure you can use
  • how to consider and use negative spaces in your notan planning
  • exercises for how to improve your creativity for developing new design idea

Course Unit 3 - Contour Notan

In contour notans you explore the beauty of line and and shape. Since this is a fairly time consuming process, learning how to differentiate between mass and contour notan paintings will greatly speed up the process of planning your painting. You might ask why it is important to speed up the process of painting? It is a good question, and the answer is that if you use an efficient process, you can explore more design options in less time. The chances are that the more different design options to explore before you start your painting, the better painting you will end up with. Plus it will give you a little more time to put your feet up and relax while you are painting!

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • the difference between a mass notan and a contour notan and why it is important to differentiate these two ideas if you want to learn how to develop more creative ideas in a shorter time
  • one of the secrets for learning great notan design: how to learn from the Oriental masters

Course Unit 4 - Limited Value Studies

A key planning stage in a painting that comes after the initial notan studies is the limited value study. Most artists do not understand the difference between this and a notan study, with the result that they waste a lot of time in the early creative stages of producing a painting. This type of study is essential if you are working on a large painting. With small paintings I don't do this type of study because the notan study is enough. A notan study takes me about one minute. A limited value study about a quarter of an hour, so that is why it is important to know the difference!

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • the key differences between notan studies and the limited value study
  • alternative materials you can use for the limited value study
  • tips and what to avoid when creating limited value studies
  • the difference between the dark darks in a notan painting and the dark accents in a limited value study
  • how to learn to use this effective planning tool for your paintings

Course Unit 5 - Edge and Color Notans

In this unit you will learn how to use color notans to help plan the color harmony in your painting and explore alternative color harmonies. These studies are very different from mass and contour notan paintings but are a powerful tool for exploring your design before you commit to paint. Since they take only a few minutes to do, they can make the difference between a poor and a very strong color harmony in your paintings. I also explain when it is a good idea to do one of these studies and when you do not need to do them.

Edge notan paintings explore the transitions between the values in your notan design. They give you a way of exploring the design of your paintings more thoroughly than simple two, three and four-value notan paintings. In this course unit I will show you how to strengthen your paintings with a simplified value transition structure (like JMW Turner, and Thomas Moran).

Once you have mastered the basic techniques. you can do them in an incredibly short time, yet they can give you a very good feeling for the final paintings. In fact these small design sketches can turn out to be beautiful paintings in their own right. Also they are fun to do!

In this course unit, you will learn:

  • how to create a color notan and what materials to use
  • how to use edge notans to explore fast and slow edges quickly and effectively
  • how to avoid the two most common problems most people run into when they add edges to notan paintings
  • an efficient four-step procedure for using brush pens to create edge notan paintings
  • which old master paintings you can examine to explore the edge notan concept more
  • how to use these small studies to enhance your creativity in design

Course Unit 6 - Notan Gallery

This unit is a companion to the six notan course units. It includes a gallery of thirty paintings together with the actual notan studies that were created before the paintings were done. This will help you see how this process works in actual practice.

What does it cost?

This course is equivalent to a two week specialist course of study with a professional artist that would cost around $3,000 including travel and lodging.

Many of my students have told me that this is the most thorough information they have found anywhere on the internet (read the emails that students have sent me over the past few years) so I will happily give you a 30-day Money Back Guarantee.

Complete Set of Notan Course Units

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