Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Notan and the Element of Shape

Pre-schoolers learn basic shape names: circle, square, triangle, but the truth is, most shapes don't have names. Some are geometric, some organic, some rectilinear, some curvilinear. Sometimes I can recognize a friend or family member as a distant silhouette by their shape. Shape is one of the most important elements of art because it can be used in so many ways.

Notans are fun to make when exploring positive and negative shapes. Notan is a Japanese art form that deals with flat areas of light and dark. The high contrast is especially helpful for my students with low vision, and for those with no vision, a piece of thick card stock or craft foam, makes this project tactile.

To make an expanded square notan image, start with a square or rectangle. You'll want to draw shapes that start on one side and end on the same size. Think about whether you want the lines to be jagged and straight edged or consisting of soft curves. You may want to try to do half shapes such as half of a heart, face or a tree. If drawing in foam, you should be able to feel the lines to know where to cut, or you may want to skip the drawing and just jump right in, cutting simple shapes from each side. 

Once the pieces are cut, place the center, original square/rectangle shape in the center of the paper. You may need to turn it at an angel so the finished piece is fits better. Then put all the cut pieces back in place like a puzzle. You'll flip each piece out from the center, like you are opening a door on a hinge. The corners should touch the spot where the piece was removed so that the straight edge continues the whole way around either by black or white shapes. The white shapes are the negative space, if your large piece of paper is white, and this will mirror the black positive shapes.

Now's a good time to glue the center piece of paper if you didn't do that before, and then put your "puzzle" back together.

Before gluing the smaller pieces down, you might want to consider creating even smaller, negative and positive shapes out of those. You can take the straight inward edge of one of the flipped pieces and cut another shape from that edge to flip back into the negative shape. This works well for things like pupils in eye shapes. And if your ambitions, you can cut and flip that smallest shape again.

For a simplified version of a notan, just cut one simple shape from one side of a small piece of paper or foam and flip it out. You can make it more interesting by repeating the process in series of small squares or rectangles in a checkerboard pattern.

I included a very simple, tactile example in each package I mailed to students who are learning virtually. It is a piece of foam on a piece of plastic cover from discarded Braille Books. The shape of the hole from the missing piece is the mirror image of the piece that was removed. The foam parts are the positive shapes, and the holes or background make up the negative space. Enjoy the process and product!

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