NOTAN : ‘Poisson Frais du Marché’

15 x 21 cm. Felt Tip Pens on Paper. Notan study.
Tous droits reservés. Copyright – The Artist.
BTW, this was a demonstration piece of last week’s painting workshop here in france

French Market Places

The fish-monger’s wife was a cubist delight, a three tone design with a flip of a fin.

Market day is wonderfully animated with lots of commotion & visual complexity. Learning to concentrate under such lively conditions can be of great use to a plein-airist. Working ‘sur la vif’, sketching in public, on location, with people looking at you, these elements require a kind of opening oneself up to moving world of passers by, which can ,actually & surprisingly, be very inspiring. Rather than being a distraction, people’s curiousity can actually be a spur for inspiration. Here in France, most people reallly want you to succeed & paint a master piece!

Here’s a night-time ink drawing from Sarlat, where there was literally THOUSANDS of people milling about, watching the spectacles. All the fun of the fair, the world & his wife. Artist stay inside your bubble of concentration and gently sway with the commotion, remember you do not own the scene in front of you but like everyone else, are merely moving through – ‘du passage.’

‘Belle Nuit d’Été à Sarlat’
Encre chine, papier Moulin de la Rouzique.
Tous droits reservés. Copyright – the artist.

 ‘Avec Nostradamus ( La Nuit de Temps commencant à la Fontaine de St Rémy)’
Watercolour, Arches, quarter ‘jesuit’ sheet.
© The Artist.
300 euros

I didn’t paint this watercolour last week, as I was very busy teaching one of my Painting Holidays au Chateau de Lanquais, France

night-time plein air

This watercolour was another of my night-time plein air pieces. St Rémy de Provence is the birth place of Nostradamus; there’s a little fontaine erected to honour this visionary. The night of time, the flowing out of water, the passing of time, Janus-like, we strive to see into the future, understand the past & … live in the present.

tonality & ‘notan’

The reason why I post this as it continues on with the recent theme of tonality & ‘notan’ that I’ve been thinking about out loud here in this blog. One of the interesting concepts behind the japanese idea of notan is that black & white can be used as a design tool rather than a strict ‘draw what you see’ policy. Tonality is crucial for watercolour, probably even more so than for opaque mediums such as oils. Diluting, painting with beautiful transparent washes of clear water…. A precision of tone much finer & far more subtle than anything that can be achieved with buttery oil paint, with all that business of adding of white.
To prove the point, see what happens when I strip the colour out the above jpeg. The design decisions that I consciously & deliberately made become more apparent.

greyscale via PS elements


painting workshops france

Next week I teach one of my Painting Holidays au Chateau de Lanquais, France

I’m currently busy preparing & thus it might be abit difficult to keep this blog’s promise of ‘a painting a week’ (if I hadn’t spent so much time chatting away to myself here in the deafening silence of this blog, then I could have painted a stock of ‘a painting a week’ & then published them at my leisure & thus you all could have said ‘incredible! Not only does he teach but he also paints & writes long, confusing, wordy posts at the same time’).

A painting workshop is a lot of fun. If you like painting, meeting people & learning as well as the excitement of travelling & being in a new place, then a painting workshop is for you. New places can inspire your creativity.

To see with fresh vision … new places…

I think one of the reasons why artists take on the challenge of painting new places is that travel ‘defamilarises’ (actually we have a 30 % student return rate, so for some it’s not a new venue. One person is coming back for the fourth time). To see with fresh vision … new places… I thought the notan photograph in the previous post had a little of this quality of unfamilarity. So as to give a more complete picture, I now post another snap of the gates of Chateau de Lanquais.


Notan Photograph – ‘The Wirly Gates’

‘The Wirly Gates’ 2004 © The Artist.
Notan can mean something/nothing as well as dark/light

Notan photography? Is the black emptiness?

Photography has difficult of reading things in shadows. It frequently makes pictures with black nothingness as shadows…

These digital cameras are great for ‘visual thinking’ … working things out in a visual way… kind of important to ‘think like a painter’ (ho hum), meaning to look at things visually … to take time to perceive their ‘abstract’ qualities. Black & white is already more ‘abstract’ than colour. Is that why black & white photography is granted ‘art status’ more readily than colour?

Here’s a little ditty I rhymed up …… don’t worry I don’t sing out loud whilst painting …the point is to think in way that helps you, personally & individually, to paint:

Notes on Notan

one tone
two tone
three tone
four tone

half tone
quarter tone

no tone

not quite a notan I know…


Notan : ‘La Maison Peyarade, Bergerac’

‘La Maison Payarade, Bergerac’ Encre Chine. Tous Droits Reservés

I’ve been following some the talk about ‘Notan’ over on Katherine Tyrell’s blog, so I thought I’d post this three-tone drawing. Not quite a Notan I know, as it’s not flat enough. Has perspective & depth rather than flat pattern. I decided to try however to use flat blocks rather than lots of separate brushmarks or ‘accents’. This, in my opinion, is one of the secrets of good ‘notan’. I did it by floodlight one dark & mysterious night.

A painting needs good tonality to work well. Especially watercolour.

Quarter tone & half tone drawings

Quarter tone & half tone drawings are great practise at this. Helps students work out in what order to construct a painting. Once you get into them, you see black & white everywhere. I teach tonality at my Painting Holidays au Chateau de Lanquais, as the chateau does have some wonderful light/dark painting opportunities.

Even Turner was seduced to paint the occassional interior, albeit Petworth Castle. The important thing is that the learning helps – & don’t worry, students do get out in the sunglight as well.
Later on , the students ‘did their own thing’ in black & white.

lanquais alumni – ink pen

Lanquais alumni – oil on gesso