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Notan Composition: Share YOUR Vision (and YinYang cats)

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

In the last blog we talked about the theory of NOTAN, but how can you really apply these principles in your work?

That is a great question, but first let's see some yin yang cats...

There are SO many of these on the internet...

Seriously, NOTAN is at the essence of strong composition. If you get the balance of light and dark right, your composition will work and you can do whatever you like with colour.

Choosing your composition is one of the most exciting things we do as artists.

You choose what your viewers see and how they see it

. Through your painting, you share your vision of the world!

The person experiencing your artwork is seeing through your eyes..


So, first thing, really LOOK at your subject matter. SEE.. Your can FRAME your subject just with your hands, like this...

How much should you include?

What intrigues you about the subject?

How do you draw your viewer's attention to it?

Do the negative shapes of the background balance with the positive shapes of the subject matter. Give the positive and negative shapes EQUAL importance, like Yin and Yang.


Just cut shapes out of a piece of card, hold the card up to your eye, squint a bit, and create intriguing compositions.

Leave detail out.

Create mystery.

Think about the pattern and the shapes and how they balance.

Trust your viewer to understand and fill in the blanks. Remember how spare Felix Vallotton's work is...Notice the way the man's suit is part of the black background. We do not need the detail to understand what we are seeing.

Try this first with the simplest subject matter, like these strawberries. Try cropping in so close that it is hard to tell what they are. Then ZOOM out.

Be creative and curious and see them in a new way.

Try different formats, squares, slices, panoramas and even the dreaded A4 ratio.

I am sure you can do WAY better than these!

But if by any chance you DIDN'T think ahead, do not despair...


We have all done lots of paintings that we don't feel are successful.

DO NOT have a little tantrum, crumple them up and throw them away!!

In the picture above of pieces of cut paper, there are two L-shaped corners and one frame, and these can turn terrible big paintings into beautiful small paintings by judicious cropping.

It's like magic!

Take one of your old paintings and using the L-shaped corners find new and beautiful paintings with in it. Here is a painting of a woman I met in Ethiopia, with her son, and I have never been happy with it...

Perhaps there are some OK paintings with in it?

Try experimenting with purely abstract mark making and letting paint and ink slosh about... and then use your frame or corners to find pleasing compositions...

Never throw away your paintings!

They may be hiding lots of wonderful smaller paintings!

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