Nearly all of my work begins with some type of preliminary sketch, either a thumbnail drawing in a sketchbook or oil study in my Pochade Box. Lately I have been spending a great deal of time sketching, gathering information outdoors and drawing from my imagination. Creating small rough abstract sketches to work out composition and design elements.
Mainly I am using pen and ink with watercolor. I like the ink because you don’t fiddle with it as much as say a pencil sketch, you just have to lay it down with some speed and confidence. It is very permanent mark making and you simply/humbly live with what you put down and move along. Over that I wash in some color, do some crosshatching and try to capture the value and mass pattern. I call them my scribbles; and that is what they are, quick notations of design ideas based on nature.
They are exercises in capturing what I see in front of me from direct observation (the Art of Seeing) but also it is about the simple pleasure of drawing.
I look for a strong arrangement of dark and light patterns, the Japanese use the word Notan which means the "dark-light" harmony. But a notan is also as much about shape/form, positive/negative, figure/ground relationships. It is why it is such a strong abstract design tool. I like to think of it as being the ying-yang of composition. Ever walk into a gallery full of art and be instantly attracted to a particular piece, drawn to it from across the room? Our eyes are drawn to the strong arrangements of shapes and patterns. As you learn to use this design tool you will recognize it in paintings and drawings of master artists.
Slow down mentally and take a long look at your subject, carefully choose the center of interest or theme of the piece, what it is about, what has drawn you to this motif and design outwards from that point. Simplify and edit down the elements by making them subordinate to that central idea. That is the key to good composition.
It is fun working out compositions and concepts, playing with the elements and ideas based on the anatomy of the landscape. Let them evolve and "brainstorm" many studies, before you know it you will have sketchbooks full of Composition Thumbnails which are a library of knowledge and imagination to work from.
“Even in front of nature one must compose.” ~ Edgar Degas
Last Light, oil on panel, 8 x 10 in, Jim Serrett
Over the Horizon, oil on panel, 8 x 10 in, Jim Serrett
Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim
Website - jimserrett.com
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Notan is a Japanese design concept involving the play and placement of light and dark as they are placed next to the other in art and imagery.