No Sooner . . .

“Edge of Quail Hollow”
Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
No sooner do I think of something, often, and someone else publishes a commentary about it.

As you know, I have been plein air painting like a crazy fool . . . .just racking up brush mileage. While I have been getting better by increments, I have also noticed that I haven’t been paying much attention to good value composition while in the field. Hmmm! That just isn’t like me! To not plan for that, is to plan for mundane, not so cool, unaccomplished paintings. Then, Robert Genn ( published this missive in his twice weekly letter about value patterns. ( I think this guys is psychic, sometimes! (or, I am)) ;-))

He made note that it is often after coming in from being sidetracked by trying to capture a scene that we realize, days later, that we didn’t give composition its due effort . . . .and then we set about repairing the image to come to life with a strong pattern of dark and light. Now, that does NOT mean contrasting tones. What he means is a strong proportion of massed dark shades as an organized shape (or grouping of shapes) next to a mass of lights. Mind you, this isn’t about objects or things. It is about groupings of assigned values in order to pull off a strong abstract design onto which the objects are superimposed.

Some painters refer to this as Notan, which is a Japanese word for the same idea . . .massing darks and lights in an organized pattern. This pattern is usually what makes a composition sing out . . . . is is NOT the things in the picture or the subject. We painters call this ‘design’ . . . .or, at least, value design.

So, I caught myself making some re-statements in my recent paintings. Those chunks of dark, or little select areas of clean light against a dark are what makes the viewer sit up and take notice. Thanks for reaffirming what matters, Mr. Genn!

P.S. Robert Genn has one of the finest, most informative art blogs on the internet. His biweekly letters are always welcome and get read, often with more investigation following. If you aren’t familiar or haven’t subscribed, you might want to give it a trial. It is very non commercial and worth your time. Here’s the link:

6 thoughts on “No Sooner . . .”

  1. Lack of notan thinking and planning is–in my opinion–an challenge for most painters, not just plein air. But you're right, we have a lot less time outdoors due to fast-changing conditions, so perhaps it can be more of a problem.

    I've written about notan sketches on my blog (with samples), and lately have been lazy and not done these. They really do help.

  2. I've been getting Robert Genn's letter for a couple of years now. I really enjoy reading them because he has such great insight to the artist's mind.

    I see you're working in oils again, yay! Your P.A. work here looks to have been well planned out. Great values, great composition.
    P.S. I never start a painting until I've done a few little notan sketches.

  3. Hi Mike, I've been reading about value chords and planning in Maitland Graves' book (thank you!). Excellent timing to have a post about values. The light in the brain is beginning to get the idea..again thanks! There's a lot of thought and work with your paintings; I can see it!

  4. Ed . . .thanks for coming by . . .and it looks like I struck a chord with you, too. Notan sketches really do clarify matters before brush hits canvas.

  5. Silvi!!! So glad you stopped in! Never starting without a few sketches is terrific practice. It is prolly the reason you have grown so fast. (Really!)

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