Yeah I know you hate to do Notans, but they work!

This past weekend I taught a class to the Baltimore Urban Sketchers on Composition in Harve De Grace, MD. One topic we covered was values and how they help you to paint the story that you see. Making a small thumbnail or sketch in black and a mid tone grey on white paper  (three values), or even just using black and the white of the paper, (two), will make painting 95% easier. These sketches are called “Notans”. Notan is a Japanese term which literally means “light dark harmony”. It’s basically a small ( 3×4 pr smaller) where you draw with only a black marker and a 50% marker; I find the brush style the best.  It can be done in pencil but it takes longer. Create your Notan shapes using the side of the brush. Just block in the shapes.  By establishing where your darks and lights will be before you paint, you set up a road map to follow. You can then spend your time thinking more about the colors that match your grey values when you are painting, and less about the composition ( cause you have just set that up!).

Notans can be as complicated or difficult as you want to make them. Below are two examples

Forest HIlls Inn, Forest Hills, NY

If you squint at the Value sketch, and look back at the color sketch, it will become clear to you how I used those values to create the spine of my painting, making sure the darks got dark and the lights remained the white of the paper.

Below, the Guggenheim Museum which I attempted in just black on white. It took a great deal of concentration to decide where to put the blacks, but I think it worked out well.

After the class @toddpop1 and @sunamisue and I painted on the dock opposing the Concord Point Lighthouse. You can see that I followed my notan fairly accurately, although I did lighten the water significantly, and It made for a much easier paint. perhaps we painted for an hour and a half.

Concord Point Lighthouse, Harve de Grace, MD

Sadly I lost my Craig Young palette paint. It lays somewhere in the brackish water at the bottom of the Susquehanna River. Special thanks to Craig Young as he had an extra one on hand. ( should be here in two weeks. sigh) So you see as much as none of us want to do it. Those pre paint value sketches or Notans are truly a wonderful assist in getting both your colors, and your composition on the right track. Give it a try, after you do one I am betting you will start to do them all the time- and let me know!

Values or: It’s cold and, look there’s my backyard.

Honestly I am not a fan of painting in NYC weather in February. I don’t think it’s an unusual stance. I think, most people would feel that way. But, I felt like painting and I have a set of windows that when I sit in my living room I can see the whole backyard. I chose to focus in on one panel of glass and caught my garden chairs and the pillar for the corrugated plastic awning . Don’t be fooled by the composition, it was a bit of an exercise in values. Values, values, values. It’s all about the values. They say, ” color gets all of the credit, but values do all of the work.”

In order to get the values right, I followed my own teaching and did a notan sketch first. Mapping out the values in three shades of grey and the white of the paper. It really does help. A lot. Why do I resist so?

Once the greys are in place, it actually frees me up to match colors to values and go wild. No my chairs are not eggplant, they are dark umber and the back trees are pines, certainly not cobalt turquoise.

I did both pieces in a Stillman and Birn Beta book; the color one in an 8″x10″ and the black and white in the smaller 5.5″x 8.5″. The grey is markers by Tombow and the watercolors are mostly Daniel Smith