Monday, July 17, 2017

There's No Such Thing as a Single No-Tan

A no-tan study on wonderful creamy Strathmore 500 series drawing paper.
Used a Pentel Pocket Brush pen refilled with rOtring technical pen ink.

A no-tan study is a great way to figure out the compositional elements of a piece before moving on to the more expensive, less retractable stages of a project.

The above I did for one of Yong Chen's Patreon challenges; here's what I wrote originally:

This is the first of three exercises I'm using the first patreon challenge for. I wasn't going to show this one, as "notan" is a very preliminary kind of study, but on second thought such a notion might be helpful for folks who want to work out their composition before attacking the rest of the piece. 

One of the hardest things to do is to decide where stuff goes, and a notan study—that is, stark black and white—is a way to do this.

One difficulty artists sometimes have is the desire to capture everything they see—this is not the way to progress. As an artist, you must make decisions, often hard ones, on what to focus on, what to render, what to leave out. A notan study forces you to make these decisions: black and white.

Of course, no scene ever has a single notan rendering; what the black areas and white areas represent differ depending on which aspects you want to highlight. In this case, the rocks are my black and the water, froth, and sometimes sunlight is my white.

I will carry what I gained from this picture to my next ones—not by tracing this or superimposing over it, but by doing it all over again with a different approach, yet informed by what I learned from the notan. Hope this helps.

I ended up only doing two exercises for this challenge, because chronic illness is terrible. However, the second exercise I chose was a value study, and it turned out so well that I don't feel awful about not being able to go on to a chosen third exercise.

This is just so nice. My tutor was also pleased with it, which is always a plus.
For more information on no-tan, see Mitchell Albala's blog post.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.