Anyone remember this in art school? Well if you don't or if you don't know what it is then this technique will surely help you in any form of visual communication you embark on. Ever wondered why a certain piece you work on is not as strong as others you have made? It may be solved by seeing it in it's rawest form.
Notan, can be done by bringing down an image (or more effectively) starting a composition with a simple 2 value range. Solid whites and blacks. Notan is a Japanese art form using light and dark shapes placed in interesting ways that can create an emotional response from the viewer. These areas of light and dark can be abstract in form or they can be literal as those used in animation silhouettes to describe an action as strongly as possible. Notan can be utilized also at it's most basic level to create a strong composition. It can be used to distinguish foreground, mid ground, background in an image and isolate the main focus of a piece from supporting components. It is called the "music" of a painting whereas the theme is the "poetry"of what a piece may say to the viewer. Making use of it effectively can take some practice and like the blues, a lifetime to master. Using it now however, can have an immediate impact on your artwork for a life time.
I'll attempt to demonstrate this where it may make the most sense, in it's visual form.
Let's take a look at a simple character on a ground plane. We have a cowboy looking dude with a guitar. He gazes outward in a rather vacant and open environment (even for a vertical piece like this). Maybe he is on a long journey, overall there is a sense of him being alone. Only a cowboy, his guitar and the open road.
It utilizes the most basic 2 value / black and white treatment. However, we can make use of Notan to strengthen the composition in more interesting ways while at the same time maintain the vacancy of the environment and the loneliness of the character.
In this image, we have built upon the theme by strengthening the composition with more interesting juxtaposition of black and white shapes and how they interact on the page. The added element of the path or road shape is added along with his shadow. However, the vastness and sense of loneliness still exists.
Here is another take on utilization of more shapes and exploring composition. Does it support the theme of the piece? Yes but i think it also modifies it. With the framing and support of the shapes in the upper portion of the composition (cactus) we now bring in an element of the environment closing in on our character. The openness of the original composition has changed. The character is now nicely framed and the directional element that the cactus bring to the piece the appearance that our character has reached a summit and that maybe there is a level of uncertainty or mystery as to what awaits in the distance. Still probably a little more interesting than the last treatment but also a little difference in the message being delivered to the viewer.
Further exploration of shapes can be done at this stage and should be. This is just a very basic example of what a few shapes on a page can provide. These shapes can be moved around and scaled in any number of ways to create stronger and more interesting outcomes. More elements could be added. For instance, cactus, rocks, an armadillo maybe or coyote? One big thing to keep in mind however is the more number of shapes the more difficult and in many times less successful the composition. Certainly for this piece and its theme of aloness, adding more elements could easily work against that goal. It is a general rule that a maximum of 7 shapes is really all you need. This is massing in your Notan. Which is to say, defining the mass shapes that define the composition.
Next week, i will discuss how this basic study of shape, relates to each other and can be used in the next phase of discovery and design by evolving what we have here into 3 or 4 value thumbnail drawings.
a few Words on all these words
I do live and breathe game art, well at least a good 3rd of my day. More importantly when i am not concentrating on my full time job i am pondering all that is art. How does this relate to what we do as commercial artists at work? Process, creativity, advancement, techniques, direction, well being, how can we improve on all of these pieces? The continuing quest for knowledge and merging of art and technology drives me to delve further and improve my skills. Ultimately, reaching out and communicating through art and the art of video games is what drives me to continue on in what can be a highly competitive and stressful field. Art creates an emotional response. Entertainment art and technology. it's a great mixture and i can't think of another place i'd rather be.