The Quick Notan-Based Sketch

For many years I have enjoyed a break from hi-definition painting endeavors with some quick sketching. In the video below I share a few thoughts on my manner of developing such drawings–including the importance that I place on the basic notan. If you are not familiar with the notan, there is a post all about notans and portrait drawing here:

Also, I would like to share a few examples of portrait studies/sketches by John Singer Sargent whose work I reference in the video:


Does it make sense to only work a notan-based sketch if your model is light in such a way that large light and dark shapes are visible as opposed to being mostly front lit? I attend many drawing workshops in which I have no control of how the model is lit and often times I struggle getting a likeness when there aren’t clear areas of light and dark on the face.

Also, is it recommended to keep sketches like this on the “small” side since it might be easier to transpose shape patterns at a smaller scale?

This was great to watch. Thank you for posting!


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Hi Tony—No, you can still do notans even when the contrast is low–you just have to adjust where your “threshold” would be. Basically, if we can see it–then there is contrast above a minimum sensitivity that is usable.

As to size, I just like to draw small. There is nothing wrong with going larger!



These are such beautiful drawings. I hope in time you publish more works like this as well as the trompe l’oeil. I hate the feeling of ‘oh well it was just a sketch’. Just as with Sargent, it seems a pity that those sketches are ‘just sketches’.

I’m very much of the philosophy of wanting to know ‘what work is official and what is not’. Which is probably a bit pedantic and is a philosophy you probably don’t share. However when I see those wonderful sketches above I feel that they deserve to be incorporated into an official composition and public work.

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Thanks Thomas! I consider everything I do “official” although, as you probably suspect, the marketplace can sometimes differ. :wink:

However, your comment here makes me think I should add my alla primas and sketches to my personal website. It’s sonething I have not done before and perhaps I should.

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It’s entirely up to you! One thing I always suspected though was that you always had only your best work on show and not any of your earlier efforts. I presumed you did that for reasons of mystique which I think is an excellent business strategy, though as an aspiring artist it was nice that I got to see one of year earlier paintings, which made you seem more human.

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