I was first introduced to the importance of the Notan sketch in a workshop I took with Skip Whitcomb. Skip starts every painting session with two or three quick sketches of the scene. The process takes him about thirty minutes. As part of the workshop Skip required students to do at least three sketches before starting a painting. Since that time I have come across many artists that rely on the Notan sketch process and for years it has been my practice as well.
The advantage of a Notan sketch over a camera is the camera records everything in the scene indiscriminately leaving nothing to the imagination. That being said I have come to prefer the camera over the sketch as the smart phone increasingly takes over every aspect of our life. Using the photo app in my iPhone has reduced the time to produce a Notan to a matter minutes rather than a block of time that cuts into painting time.
I recently took the opportunity to produce a Notan sketch and a Notan photo to decide once and for all what my routine was going to be going forward. Below are my results.
South of Monterrey on the way to Big Sur is this amazing scene, painted by many. On the day of my painting the fog was rolling in and out all day constantly changing the light. The scene was so captivating it was hard to decide what to leave in and what to take out. It was the perfect time for a Notan sketch so by the time I put brush to canvas most of the major decisions would have already been made.
Simultaneously when the sun was just like I wanted, I took a single photo with my iPhone and as the fog destroyed my scene, I quickly opened the photo app
to look at the scene in different formats.
I first looked at the long, horizontal format, cropped it accordingly and saved the image for future reference.
Then I cropped the same photo in the more typical horizontal for a 9" x 12" painting. Again I saved it for later.
Then I used the halftone filter to give me a Notan photo of my scene. The whole process took less than ten minutes which is an important consideration when the goal was to produce four paintings this day.
"On the Way to Big Sur" 9" x 12" oi/linen
Below is another example of sketch versus photo Notan.
I'm a sucker for old farm houses and this one is a favorite. I quickly produced two Notan sketches.
The long horizontal.
The standard format. Then I created Notan photos.
The long horizontal
The standard format.
The halftone Notan.
"Historical" 12" x 16" oil/linen
There is something that makes me feel more "artistic" drawing Notan sketches before beginning a painting. But at the end of the day, for me at least, its all about evaluating the scene for composition and values and the iPhone provides me the quickest means to an end while also providing me a permanent record. In less than ten minutes I can produce several Notan photos with complete halftone evaluations of my scene and I think it gives me a clearer understanding before I begin to paint.