Virtual Art Academy

Notan Design

Geraniums by Barry John Raybould, oil on linen, showing how to use focal point in your painting
Geraniums by Barry John Raybould

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The impact a painting has on the viewer often does not depend on how much detail you put in. Rather, it depends much more on how you simplify the scene in front of you using notan design. In this article I explain how I used the notan design concept to create a small, but very effective painting. Follow this idea and you too will have a lot more successful paintings.

What is notan?

In order to simplify your painting, you have to understand the basics of notan design. You do not need more than one minute to do it. You can save hours of wasted work using this technique. The quickest and easiest way is to create a mass notan painting.

A mass notan painting is a small sketch that captures the notan structure of your final painting very quickly, without needing too much detail. This two-minute sketch help to will ensure you have a good design for your painting, saving you hours of work.

All it takes is four simple steps and you can do as many of them as needed before you put paint to canvas, saving a lot of time, energy and paint!

Read on to learn how I used these steps, plus a couple of other techniques, to create this simple but effective painting.

Three-value mass notan design

I painted this small sketch in the studio of a friend of mine in China. The thing that attracted me to the scene in the first place was the play of light on the red flowers and the simple shapes around it it the room.

three-value notan design
This is a simplified value structure for the painting showing just three values


image in grayscale to show notan design
This is the grayscale version of the painting showing the full range of values

The design of this painting was based on some very simple ideas. The notan structure was designed in only three values. But to make the design more interesting I added a few major gradations in the background in the form of very soft edges.

Gradations in notan design

There are two major gradations in this painting. These gradations consist of very soft edges that gradually transition between two values in the painting.

first major gradation in the notan design
First major gradation
second major gradation in the notan design
Second major gradation

The first transition is a transition from the base of the window sill to the background. The other transition however is based on the form shadow on the clay pot. This is the shadow that is formed as the light on the pot turns from the light into the shade.

Color map

color map

Added to this three-value notan design structure with two major gradations, was a simple color plan. This plan involved a warm/cool color contrast. I painted a few warm red color spots against a background of low saturation blue violet and red violet grays. Not only was this a contrast of temperature but it was also of contrast of saturation. The cool colors were lower saturation and the warm reds a higher saturation.

Learn more about creating color maps.

The lesson to learn here is not to make your paintings too complicated, or add too much detail. Sometimes the simpler the better!

To learn more about the notan design lessons, see the details of my Virtual Art Academy® Apprentice Program

Final painting

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, and want to learn more about my Visual Music & Poetry® model, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

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