Notan and Compositional Rhythms

Each painter uses different approaches for communicating an idea or feeling by means of composition. In my previous post I shared a selection of my “scribble drawings” of figures in an environment. These drawings are the result of a particular compositional approach with which I’ve been experimenting over the past six months.

However, in starting a composition this way I was quickly faced with a challenge:

How can I transition from my initial linear sketches to the tonal studies that I could later use for developing my paintings?

I wanted to find a way to be able to quickly and easily try out different arrangements of light and dark shapes on top of the linear scribble sketches. Arthur Wesley Dow’s book, Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color was a very helpful resource in working through this challenge. According to Wikipedia, Notan refers to a Japanese design concept, which in turn involves “the play and placement of light and dark elements as they are placed next to the other in the composition of art.

The ideas and illustrations presented in Dow’s book — in combination with using a free (and easy-to-use) digital painting program called Krita — have provided a really good workflow for this stage in the overall process.

The following image sequence illustrates how I transitioned from linear sketch to tonal study. I’ve also included a preliminary color study.