Planning a Composition Around Notans

My next exercise for the Virtual Art Academy is to design a number of notans with a focus on sub-dominant values. What does this mean? A notan is typically made of two, three or four different values. A sub-dominant value is when one of those values takes up 50% or more of the composition.

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My next exercise for the Virtual Art Academy is to design a number of notans with a focus on sub-dominant values. What does this mean? A notan is typically made of two, three or four different values. A sub-dominant value is when one of those values takes up 50% or more of the composition.

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.

I did a plein air notan sketch the other day of the view outside my window. Due to the shaping of the walls the result is quite abstract.

Planning A Notan Composition
Planning A Notan Composition

The issue with this second notan structure was that I drew the shape outlines and not the mass values.

Planning A Notan Composition
Planning A Notan Composition

For this third notan sketch I split it up into four values. I also played around with adjusting some of the elements in the scene, such as adding the lighter zone on the right. As seen, it became instantly more complex. It did also become more recognisable.

Planning A Notan Composition
Planning A Notan Composition

I decided it was best to reduce the number of values to three as four just made the learning process a bit too complicated and unnecessarily difficult. Step number four kept the interesting shapes, whilst simplifying it too much in step 5 removed that dynamic composition.

I realised that I had reversed some of the values in step four, and step five removed most of the interesting shapes from the scene. Step six fixed this issue:

Planning A Notan Composition
Planning A Notan Composition

Something was still lacking… I liked the dark black bar on the right, but it drew too much attention to the edge of the canvas. I decided to incorporate another dark value object back into the scene like what I had in step 3.

Planning A Notan Composition
Planning A Notan Composition

Since this was a fairly abstract design, I was able to play with the values and positions much more easily than a real-life (or plein air) situation could. It was a great exercise at challenging how I saw values and how they could be manipulated to suit a design idea.

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