WIP : compositional sketch & tonal ‘notan’

WIP ….WORK IN PROGRESS – watercolour – a tonal ‘notan’……WIP

I’ve been working on a large oil painting these last three weeks. A commission. It’s 130 x 81 cm – approx 51 x 32 inches. Bigger than my usual size. Good to be doing something different. A lot of work, which I’ll post as WIPs (work in progress) here. Thank you for all your comments. So many of them, makes me feel that internet is full of readers who care…

Large plein-air paintings require extra attention at the planning & conception stages, especially if they are a commission ie take into account of the customer’s wishes of what is to be included in the painting.

Here is the composition sketch:


I always do one of these for every painting. Knowing what goes where is a big big relief. Which takes the stress off somewhat so one can just concentrate on the painting, and panic less about the composition. Doing one of thee is visual thinking & can’t be replaced by assuming an intellectual idea of what goes where is enough. Note how it’s a ‘plastic’ process. The framing grows or shrinks to fit. Look & see how the frame lines go on last of all. I even had to fit on an extra page so as to make the size of the sky fit. Actually I went for a longer panorama in the end & not the more rectangular format of the above compositional sketch. The point is that my mind was now more orientated towards the painting & possibilities of how it might unfold.


The next stage is the tonal sketch. A ‘notan’. I say notan cautiously because a pure notan is in fact, a sketch for Japanese wood cut engravings aka Hokusai & not all the lovely subtle graduations of one tone washing into the other that you can get in watercolour. The point is to work out:

  • where are the major blocks of light & dark?
  • where is the centre of interest ie where do you want the eye to go to?
  • where is the light source?
  • what quality of light?
  • what is the incline of the sunlight?

You can click on the notan & tonality categories on the side of this page to read more.

see the finished painting

2 Comments on “WIP : compositional sketch & tonal ‘notan’

  1.  by  Casey Klahn

    I really like the way you do your cropping exercise – that expands my mind. And, the place is a beautiful place, so the excitement grows.

    Someone, and I wish I remembered who, recently expanded my idea of the Notan by explaining it as a two or three value process only. Certainly one way to look at it. But, I like your eclectic way of doing your Notan, which is tailored for your needs. It makes me wonder how I do mine…something to explore.

    Best wishes!

  2.  by  Adam Cope

    cheers Casey for bothering to comment.

    yes notan can be a half tone or quarter tone ‘cut out’ as the PS button suggests, it being a map for block engravers to cut out the wood.

    this tonal piece was fully developed, more than just a perfunctory scribble… thus in doing it, I get to know more about how to go about the painting.

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