About Notan Drawing

Notan is a Japanese word meaning dark-light. The principle of Notan is the interaction between positive (light) and negative (dark) shape.

The idea of this interaction in Notan is embodied in the ancient Eastern symbol of the Yin and the Yang, which consists of mirror images, one white and one black, revolving around a point of equilibrium. Here the positive and negative areas together make a whole created through a unity of opposites that have equal and inseparable reality. In the Yin and the Yang symbol, as in Notan, opposites complement, they do not conflict. Neither seeks to negate or dominate the other, only to relate in harmony. It is the interaction of the light and the dark, therefore that is the most essential component of Notan drawing. The Notan concept is to develop positive white designs into black shapes and then reverse the artistic process. Ideally, the finished artistic work should be 50% light and 50% dark creating equilibrium and balance. The Western culture thinks in terms of opposed dualities and attaches the moral values of good to the positive of bad to the negative. Or we seize upon the positive as the only reality and dismiss the negative as invisible and nonexistent.

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the utility of the wheel depends. We turn clay to make a vessel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the utility of the vessel depends. We pierce doors and windows to make a house; and it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the utility of the house depends. Therefore, just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the utility of what is not. -Lao Tse 600 B.C.

To understand Notan, therefore, requires a special effort on our part; it demands a totally new orientation to seeing. Nevertheless, the effort is well worth the while if it enables us to see Notan -the basis of all good design -as it exists all around us.

About the Series
The following pen and ink drawings were produced in Mr. Tiner’s Art 1 program At Laguna Beach High School. The art students developed these drawings with a design emphasis on the interaction between positive and negative shapes. We studied design aesthetics from Japanese woodblock Notan studies of the eighteenth century and 8th - 9th century Cambodian Khmer design. The class took a nature walk around the high school and selected plants and leaves to use in a life drawing Study. Contrasting organic with geometric shapes, they drew white plant designs into a Negative black background and then reversed the tonal scheme. The students incorporated lessons of design techniques including static, dynamic shapes, and A-symmetry placement of shapes. Infusing art history and design principles together makes a great lesson in art, culture, and design. List of Student Artists Aaron Fusco Natasha Cook Clara Ross Kendall Cornell Sadie Drucker Melissa Lenker Lucas Lacy Jackson Yamasaki Tiffany Lupu Sarah Sampson Peter Tiner, Teacher Mariana Mesa Acevedo Hana Link Carly Savage Katharine Barton Zach Burkey Thea-Marie Sauca Celestina DeLeon Katelyn Walsh Bryn Valaika Katrina Carras