My Take on Notan

The October challenge for the Fast Friday Fabric Challenge group is Notan.  Here’s the challenge description:  Notan is a Japanese concept that utilizes black and white to demonstrate the contrast of positive and negative space. Often done as pen-and-ink
drawings, Notan can easily be adapted to fabric with stunning results. This
technique can help us evaluate our own skills with balancing the
positive/negative space in our quilts.

Notan is traditionally done in ink on paper, but is now often done as a cut paper collage using the “expansion of the square” technique.   This star cutout is a simple example — a star shape is cut from the black square and then flipped outward and placed on the negative white space, creating a positive/negative mirror image.

Since cutting too much with scissors makes my thumb numb,  I chose to work instead with drawings in Adobe Illustrator.   I started with these four drawings of sails that I’d done earlier.  I played around with arranging these in a square where part of each sail touched one or two sides of the square.  I settled on the version  on the left below.  When the sail shapes are “folded” back, it creates the image on the right.

I like the original square, but the expanded version has too much white space.  I decided to create a repeating design based on the square and using the Notan ‘rules’.  Here’s a revised version of the “expanded” square with all the sails folded out along the vertical sides of the square.

From this I copied the various parts, reversed the black and white, and mirrored the images to get the repeating tile below.

Here’s how the tile looks as a repeat pattern:


I made another variation of this pattern where I alternated black and white squares for each sail, shown by the squares on the left below.  Putting them together into a repeating pattern made the tile on the right.

And here it is as a repeat:

Without negative space how would we appreciate the positive in our art and in our lives?  —Dyan Law


2 thoughts on “My Take on Notan

  1. Very, very interesting. I’ve played around a bit with this in Inkscape, but had not yet gotten to the point of making a repeat pattern. You have inspired me.

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