2 Value Notans Practice From The Old Masters

I am up to week 6 in the Virtual Art Academy and we have just begun to learn about notans. Notans can really use as many values as you want, although most artists will limit their sketches down to just two to four values. Of course it makes sense to start as simple as possible… with…

I am up to week 6 in the Virtual Art Academy and we have just begun to learn about notans. Notans can really use as many values as you want, although most artists will limit their sketches down to just two to four values. Of course it makes sense to start as simple as possible… with just 2 values.

If you want to learn more about creating notans then you should definitely check out the Virtual Art Academy. In fact this post has been strongly inspired by just one of the hundreds of lessons that the course covers, all aimed at teaching you to be a professional artist.

That means I am painting, or sketching, with just two colors; black and white. To be more precise; I’m sketching with a black pen on white paper. We are required to look at a number of artists and make notan sketches of their artworks as practice before planning our own artworks. Notans sketches are not designed to be neat or 100% accurate to the shapes.

My notan sketches are quite small so I have increased their sizes a bit for easier viewing on a computer screen.

Jacob Van Ruisdael

Waterfall With Castle Built On The Rock by Jacob van Ruisdael
Waterfall With Castle Built On The Rock by Jacob van Ruisdael

The painting Waterfall With Castle Built On The Rock (1665) looks like a really complicated painting, easily broken into a lot of light and dark zones. However I am trying to simplify blocks of values, ignoring little details.  I have drawn two notan studies of this painting – the first keeping more details and the second being much more broken down.

Notan Study of Waterfall With Castle Built On The Rock by Jacob van Ruisdael
Notan Study of Waterfall With Castle Built On The Rock by Jacob van Ruisdael

Claude Lorrain

River landscape with Tiburtine Temple at Tivoli 1635 Claude Lorrain
River landscape with Tiburtine Temple at Tivoli 1635 Claude Lorrain

The River Landscape with Tiburtine Temple at Tivoli (1635) is an excellent example of a painting that would shine when multiple values are used in a notan study. It still makes an excellent 2 value notan study; the back-casting light shades the foreground.

Notan Study of River Landscape with Tiburtine Temple at Tivoli 1635 Claude Lorrain
Notan Study of River Landscape with Tiburtine Temple at Tivoli 1635 Claude Lorrain

Sir Henry Raeburn

Mrs Campbell of Park by Sir Henry Raeburn
Mrs Campbell of Park by Sir Henry Raeburn

I liked the painting Mrs Campbell of Park (1807) for its very simple but interesting use of dark values. The portrait is quite plain in the sense that Mrs Campbell isn’t holding a unique pose. The interesting aspect is of her clothing; the interesting shape of her apron or blouse. I tried to capture this shape in my notan sketch, breaking up the lights into interesting shapes.

Notan Study of Mrs Campbell of Park by Sir Henry Raeburn
Notan Study of Mrs Campbell of Park by Sir Henry Raeburn

Benjamin West

Self Portrait of Benjamin West
Self Portrait of Benjamin West

In his self portrait (1763), Benjamin West is lit by bright light with strong shadows. I have kept the lit side of body, his right arm and right side of the face, as lighter values, whilst the rest of his body falls into dark values. The only other light elements in a scene are the canvas he is holding, the towel or paper under his elbow and the light behind him.

Self Portrait of Benjamin West
Self Portrait of Benjamin West

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