Thursday, September 3, 2015

Notan sketches, St. Louis

Belleville Exchange Club sketch, 3" x 5". The sketch is post dated to coincide with a fund raising auction to benefit  the Belleville(IL) Historical Society.  I will not be able to attend the event but organizers requested all donated works bear the date of the auction. They are after all historians!
Recently I have been reading about what artists refer to as the art of Notan. It is the practice of establishing relationships of light and dark patterns used by master Japanese & Chinese brush artists. There is a great explanation of the method in a USK Singapore Symposium class hand-out by Urban Sketcher Virginia Hein just published and made available in the most recent edition of Drawing Attention. The USK newsletter also provided links to several several class handouts. They are all free and are a great resource for sketchers.

I have been attempting to use Notan sketching as a preliminary step in my plein air painting efforts and have found it to be a great help. The sketches here are done in a small Strathmore spiral bound sketch book of recycled paper with a set of 6 Pitt shades of grey artist pens by Faber Castell. The sketches are quickly composed layers of tones that are begun by laying down the lightest areas first followed by the darkest shapes in the scene. I keep the sketch book on my easel and refer to it like a road map of pattern and value throughout the painting process. I sometimes add the color relationships I am going for such as the triad of Red Orange/Blue Violet/Yellow Green or record the pigments I used in my palette.

Urban sketching is really an art & method unto itself to be sure but the same techniques practiced by sketch artists are useful in other fields including painting, design and architecture. The ability to sketch and the portability of a sketch book makes it possible to design anywhere at anytime.
Snapshots of my easel with sketch book.                                                                                               


  1. Neat commentary. I've worked a similar technique with graphite portraits...doing the shadows first. I'm starting to try the approach with my watercolors. Really like the pieces on your easel.

  2. Wow, how did I miss these, Michael! Great sketches!


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