Working with No-Tan´s - value-scetches

The word “Notan” comes from the traditional japanese art and means the tone-value of a picture. 

"No" has the meaning of dark, saturated ink ( traditional japanese painting is mostly done in black-white ), while "Tan" has the meaning of more diluted, and brighter ink.

I started now, making such small “Notans”, finding them to be a good help in planning a picture. Even if the later painting is with colors, the tone-values have a very important rule, in how the picture impact on the viewers eyes.

You can have the most beautifully colors, but the will not work, if you use no different values, and on the other hand, with a good composition of dark and lighter values, it must not be necessary to use too much colors, for the image to bound the viewers eyes.

See some of my “Notans” here:

In difference to the traditional asian artists, I use not only black and white for my “Notans”.

As you can see ( I don´t now if you can read the text in my sketchbook, first because I am german, and second because of my handscript :P  )

I first use coffee. Yes, that´s right, coffee. I never had the excitement for this drink, even tho I really like the smell of it. But I am a pure Tea-drinker, so never regarded coffee to much. Until now. 

I use instant ( Fair-Trade ! ) coffee for this small sketches, for two good reasons:

1. I like the color. It is quite neutral, so I can imagine the picture good in warm or cold


2. The coffee is really easy to lift and really variable on the paper. That means, if the coffee has dried once, it is no problem to change the shapes afterwards with a little bit of water on the brush. This makes the coffee much more flexible than other watercolors, or ink. Try it !

After I am happy with the basic shapes, I go over the sketch very fast and rough with a pencil, defining some clear borders and contours.

Then, when this is done, I finally go over the “Notan” with a brush and black japanese Ink, for bring in the dark values. 

I made the experience, that it is good to show no fear in this part of the process. It´s just a sketch ! Paint freely ! Don´t get lost in details, you just want the “heart” of the painting.

Sometimes, if you have no idea of what to paint next, it is good to make some “Notans”.

I myself for example paint the first part with the coffee very freely, sometimes without any idea, just creating shapes, edges and curves, trying then too see something inside and “pull” it out with the pencil. 

See here, what I mean:

Greetings - Yao

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