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!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Element of Art: Paper Lines


This week, strips of paper helped my students, who are blind, understand how lively and tactile the element of line can be. Fine motor skills are a major bonus with this project. Learning techniques like folding, cutting, or rolling paper on a pencil to curl it, turned my classroom into a temporary occupational therapy room. 

Curled paper strips could be glued curl side, up, down, or on it's side. There could be curls at either end going opposite directions (like an "s" shape) or the same direction (like a "c" shape).  The ends could be pulled a part and glued down like a ringlet or twisted line. And all of those options are just from the curling technique!

A zig-zag line is made by learning how to turn the paper over and under repeatedly, like making a paper fan. A short piece can be glued down to pop out from the base, or a long piece make crooked bridge. Arches could be made by gluing ends of paper to the base with or without folds for the glued down tabs. Another dab of glue could attach the center for a roller coaster like set of arches. 

I found a zipper technique online in which a long strip of paper is folded lengthwise and little notches are cut on one edge up to the fold. Each tab is pulled alternating from one side to the other, and glued to a base so that the uncut side of the strip stands up and can curve around a composition. I had wanted to make a chart of ideas, but I found that kids were inventing new techniques faster than I could keep up, tying knots, flattened twists, the possibilities are practically limitless.

Stick to one contrasting color or use a variety of widths and colors, to add whimsy and bring the piece to life. Ultimately, this assignment opened up possibilities of how we can use the element of line in tactile art.

Line as Element: String Art

Can you make a curved line using only straight lines? This project builds on the Op Art project we just completed and continue our quest to understand line as an element of art. 

Each of my virtual students should have a piece of colored mat board and a couple different colors of yarn.  You'll need to make notches along the edges, about 1/4" deep. If you cut 12 notches on one side, then you'll need to cut twelve notches on the side that touches it at a right angle. In fact, let's keep it simple and make the same number of notches on all four sides. If you have a rectangular board, the space between each cut should be longer than those on the short side. Do the math.

Pick a color of yarn and put it in the top side notch, with the end in the back. The picture above shows it starting on the left. You might want to tape it to secure it. Then stretch the yarn along and tuck it into the bottom, far left notch. Bring the yarn out the front of the mat at the notch right beside the one you just used, so it comes out of the second notch from the left, on the bottom.  You don't want to waste a lot of yarn by wrapping it the whole length of the board, just think of it as making a stitch: down one and up the next.
You'll stretch the yarn to the notch second from the top on the left side and then bring up the notch directly under it. Continue the pattern, by pulling it down to the 3rd notch from the left up the fourth, and then back to the next notch on the left side.

If you are right handed you may want to start your project on the upper right notch and go to the bottom, closest to the right, but the idea is the same: move over one and down one, until you've used every notch.

When you finish using all the notches on those two sides, you'll notice that all of your straight lines made net that makes a curve along the edge.  

Try doing the same thing with the same color yarn, with the opposite corner by rotating the board  180 degrees to bring the top to the bottom and the left to the right, keeping the colored side of the mat up.
This ends up with an diagonal football shape. You may want to choose a different color yarn and do the other two corners, to create a balanced finished piece. This can be a frame by tucking corners of a photo or drawing behind the string, or it works as a stand-alone work of art. Either way, you've managed to do some magic by making curves from straight lines.

Op Art and the Element of Line

Op Art was a movement in the sixties that played with people's minds: it made 2D lines feel 3 dimensional and still lines seem to vibrate or move in unexpected ways. 
Line is the first element we will cover in our Elements of Art lessons. One idea for a project is to use the edge of a bulletin board border. (To my virtual students, I sent you each a piece of this in your last packet of supplies). Hold it vertical and trace the bumpy edge near the left hand side of of a vertical piece of paper. Then move the boarder template to the left and down just a tad and trace another line. Repeat the process until the entire paper is full. If you are using a chisaled marker, consider using the wide edge on the in stroke and the thin edge on the out stroke over visa versa. When you turn the finished drawing on its side it gives the illusion of bumps or waves.

For students with little to no vision, there's an option to use Wiki Sticks to create a few simple shapes. You may use a circle in the middle of the page, or squares poking in from edges or a combination of those ideas.


Hold your paper horizontally and draw vertical, parallel lines in the background (around the shapes). You can use a ruler if you like. Move the ruler a little to the left each time and make sure it stays parallel to the sides of the paper. If you would rather it be tactile lines, use puffy paint, liquid glue, glued, strips of paper, or Wiki Stix to create your lines. 

Then rotate your paper 90 degrees or in an angle that aligns with the edge of one of your shapes, and create parallel lines going in that direction.
For a modification of this option, I have included paper with stripes of puffy paint. Cut the bottom 1/3 or 1/4 of the paper off. Cut it into simple shapes, like square or triangles. Glue it on the larger striped sheet being sure to change the direction of the stripes.
For my students with some vision, there's yet another option, Create a funnel shape, draw two lines coming in and down from either side of the paper. Start at the bottom of that funnel ad make a frown arch going up and off the top of the page. For the background make smiles lines going behind the funnel.

To create a funnel form a higher point of view, looking down into the top, make the lines curving up on the sides on top of the form. Verticle lines can come straight up and out of the top "smile" shaped line, and move out to the corners. (Lines on the right curve right and left lines curve left at the top of the page.

You may draw straight, parallel, horizontal lines in the background, for the illusion of flat space, or you can make frowny arched lines to make it look like the sides are curving towards you. I chose to make a flat space in the example below.

There are many ways to use lines to create optical illusions. Make spheres or cubes; fill the space. Play around and have some fun with it.