Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Notan Paper Cuttings- RES

Notan is a Japanese word that translates to mean a harmony between light and dark in a visual composition. Think of yin and yang, and how the dark-light balance works as a means to express the beauty and harmony of opposites. Notan is the way that the dark and light patterns in an image form the foundation of the design and composition.

This concept can be extended into any artwork of any media, but works especially well with innately high-contrast materials, such as India ink, black-and-white photography, and construction paper collage.   The dark/light balance of any image can be analyzed, but the more color an image has, the more complicated it can be for young students to see the shades versus the hues.

These paper cuttings focus on the interaction between positive and negative space as well.  Artists began with a simple starting shape, such as a triangle, square, rectangle, etc. made of black construction paper. 

Each time that the artist cut out a shape from the black paper, he or she flipped the image over onto the white paper.  They could then cut another shape from the first one cut, and flip it back into the white negative space.

That repetitive flipping happens here in the diamond and teardrop shapes

 This project is a great way for students to explore visual weight in a composition. Imagine a paper that is all white, with the exception of a small black dot.  Our eye would be drawn to looking at the black dot, and it would be difficult to focus elsewhere, because the dot has a lot of visual weight in the image.  Adding another black dot in a different place would give our eyes a different place to rest, and would lessen the visual weight of the first dot.

 As an artist you can choose where to draw the viewer's eye through your use of visual weight.  Visual weight is not only about light and dark balance, but also about balancing elements that are cool and warm, large and small, or sharp and soft.

This project also forces students to work very carefully- for the image to work, nothing is waste, nothing can be thrown away.  That's a lot of tiny pieces to keep track of.

The content of the image- letters, shapes, designs, images- were completely up to the artist.  The fourth graders loved this, and each design ended up as unique as each artist.

The play of positive and negative becomes very interesting here. In the work above, the little white hearts are all lined up, and almost appear to be looking at their own shadows, making the white the positive shape.  But the black shapes were the ones cut out, leaving the negative white space, so maybe the black hearts are the positive, with inverse white shadows.

In the student work above, I love the references to shapes that look antiquated, like old-fashioned keys and ornately-shaped picture frames. The optical effect becomes almost difficult to look at, in a way that Bridget Riley might make (see image below).  

Fragment 3/11, 1965, Bridget Riley. Image from www.tate.org.uk
To truly understand the idea of notan, consider these three images from my classroom. In this first image, there is full color, so it is hard to see the notan of the image. 

In this second image, I have discarded the color, to make it easier to see where the darks and lights are.

In this third image, I have increased the contrast to 100% so that all you can see are the lights and the darks.  The balance of these is the notan of the image.

I encouraged students to cut a minimum of ten pieces to keep their images challenging, but some, like the work below, went beyond by beginning with a particularly complex shape, sort of a square donut, which meant that work cut from the inner edge had to be flipped inward.

These marvelous artists always take pride in going above and beyond!

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