notan, part two 2.11.2021

In my continuing study of Notan, these are the remaining exercises I completed from the book Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design, by Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield. You can read Part One of my Notan study here.

The third exercise in the book was about the control of tension, balance and movement in a design. Notan occurs when: “the negative space is sufficiently enclosed by the format to produce a shape that the eye and mind can grasp; there is reversibility of positive and negative space; and the shapes in the design exchange value.”

I was supposed to design and arrange three identical patterns in sufficient tension with one another to create three negative shapes that have an exchange value with the positive shapes. I think it was successful. The black and white shapes each have their own weight and importance, yet they play well together. When I posted this image on my Instagram account, one commenter wrote “Almost can’t tell if it is black images on white paper or vice versa.”

Exercise four was about dominance and subordination, and added another value besides black and white. This third value of gray added even more tension and interest.

The gray is in subordination to and has tension with the black. And the gray and black remain together to create tension with the white negative space. The gray, black and white each have their own “reality of form,” as the author writes. They each stand alone, for themselves – they have their own presence – while at the same time playing WITH the other shapes and values.

The fourth exercise was about compartmented design.

The assignment was to divide the space into 5 rectangles of black, white and gray, no two of which were alike, with no triangles or curves allowed. This looks simple, but it took longer than you’d think to come up with the sizing and placement which would achieve balance, with no shape having much more importance than another, while at the same time getting my eye to move around the paper.

The final exercise of the book incorporated the previous compartmented design study with an abstracted and distorted drawing of a common implement or tool. I chose my garlic press. Each design is a sequence of distortion, from what is obviously a garlic press to the completely abstract shape.

The bottom right is the undistorted garlic press. In the other four rectangles, I abstracted and distorted the garlic press to fit each area, while at the same time attempting to create Notan. I think the one that works best is the top middle because the white negative space is as dynamic as the black positive space.

This Notan book was so much better than I expected. And sure, I could’ve just sat down on the couch and read the 80-page book in an hour. But I learned so much more by actually working through the exercises! I want to keep this knowledge of balance, positive negative space, tension and design elements in mind when I practice my art. Notan forever!


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