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Notan – A Term That Architectural Illustrators Should Know

For many architecture friends, the line between engineering and art can be very blurred. A well designed building is one that is highly functional, sturdy, and of course, breathtakingly beautiful. Buildings designed with artistic finesse will often have excellent use of trusses, the Golden Ratio, and color theory. When you take a look at a photo featuring architecture of famous buildings, you can also see another element of design and aesthetics that many people overlook – notan. 

Haven’t heard of Notan? You  are not alone. This term is used in Japan as a way to describe a perfect harmony between white and black in artwork, especially when it is used as the foundation of a piece of artwork. Notan is a stark black-and-white contrast that  reaches the core of the work of art, and it is something that can be witnessed when you look at the photo of a well-designed building. Notan simplifies things into the solid shapes that are the very basis of the structure. Moreover, though the term itself is Japanese, the truth is that the Notan is a universal concept. 

When every portion of the drawing, painting or photo is rendered into black and white, you get the purest example of Notan that you could have, and in many cases, it  is one of the most striking ways to view artwork. Notan is known for bringing out the very basic skeleton and foundation of any artwork, primarily through the use of contrast between black and white. It turns the concrete into the abstract, adds depth to every design, and also can help emphasize the focal point in the work of art. Though Notan is  regarded as an aspect of art that is relegated to just black and white, you can  see a lot of the aspects of Notan as the display of the very basis of a piece of artwork with monochromatic pieces featuring 3 or 4 different shades of a single color. 

In many ways, notan can  be used to judge the foundation of the work of art or architectural design. The stronger the notan is in the design, the more aesthetically appealing a painting will usually be. The same idea can be used to help make decisions about an architectural rendering. This is because notan, in its rawest form, is the very bare bones of the work of art, be it an architectural rendering or a painting. With architectural renderings, notan can be used to emphasize sharp angles, deep cuts, and particular stylistic focal points. 

Notan can be an architect’s best friend, despite the fact that most people in the architecture industry are unaware of this universal art idea. Black and white architectural renderings, be it done by pencil or CADD, can make a huge impression on both admirers of architecture and potential buyers, as well. If you  are unsure about the way that your architectural rendering will be received, looking at the Notan of the rendering may yield flaws that would otherwise be difficult to find.

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Content the 'Why"

The emotional or intellectual message of art is its content

Content is idea-based and means:

  • What the artist meant to portray,
  • what the artist actually did portray and
  • how we react, as individuals, to both the intended and actual messages.

Additionally, content includes ways in which a work was influenced--by religion, or politics, or society in general, or even the artist's use of hallucinogenic substances--at the time it was created. All of these factors, together, make up the content side of art.

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Subject the 'What"

The subject of visual art can be a person, an object, a theme, or an idea.

Subject matter:
Images or topics which comprise the subject matter of a work of art include but are not limited to:

  • dreams, emotions, fantasies, figures (allegorical, mythological, nudes, single and group portraits), historical and/or political events, landscapes, religious events, still-life (flowers, interiors, tables of fruit).

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