Virtual Art Academy
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Notan Design

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. In this article I explain how I used this design concept to create a small, but very effective painting. Follow this idea and you too will have a lot more successful paintings.

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

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 is not to make your paintings too complicated or add too much detail. Sometimes the simpler the better!

To learn more about notan design, see my Beginners Guide to Notan.

Final painting

Notan Design 2

Comments from Barry’s Virtual Art Academy students

The most comprehensive, in depth and well-organized painting course available online

The most comprehensive, in depth and well-organized painting course available online 1

After a thorough research, my personal conclusion is that the Virtual Art Academy (VAA) is, by wide margin, the most comprehensive, in depth and well-organized painting course available in the internet. Unlike most tutorials and color mixing recipes commonly found online, VAA’s philosophy is rather to provide the students with detailed information about all aspects of painting – color theory, brushwork, drawing, composition, techniques, materials – in an organized manner, in a way to allow for short-term improvements while optimizing the learning curve throughout the course. And, while the VAA curriculum, by itself, is already among the most valuable literature about art one can find (both online or offline) – for its depth and comprehensiveness –, the online platform adds a lot more to the learning experience, since the exchange in information and experience with other students is of immense help. Finally, what is most unique about the VAA, in my opinion, is that its creator Barry J. Raybould not only has a successful career as an artist himself – with an economic style and distinguished understanding of color – but he was also able to distill his own knowledge and experience into an accessible and effective method (as can be proven by the works of some of his earlier students). If you are serious about learning art and (as was my case) can’t enroll formal art schools, I would say there’s zero chance you will regret joining the VAA. In fact, I truly believe that, in the centuries to come, people will still learn to paint through Barry’s method.

Bruno Villela