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Lesson #17 – NOTAN to Value Sketches

We’ve had some fun with NOTANS

and now you all understand the importance of that solid design that ‘hides’ beneath your fancy brushwork and your subtle color combinations. You’ve worked a lot with value so now let’s combine the two – getting us one step closer to masterful painting! Below are a few examples how a NOTAN might evolve into a four value sketch.

The NOTAN Grove

You don’t have to go far to create great NOTANS. Look at how many I could have come up with in this sweet little grove alone. Don’t forget to look up! Tree branches make incredibly beautiful patterns.


Remember back when we created our basic shapes and we talked about how atmosphere interacts with value and color? Keep that in mind when your are creating your four value sketches. Objects in the distance will not be as dark or as pure in color as the same object in the foreground. As objects (trees, mountains, people, buildings…) move into the distance the colors become more muted, and the value scale comes closer together – so your darks get lighter, and your lights get darker until they meet in that hazy ‘way over yonder’ place.

This was the first four value sketch I ever created.

I was in Italy for a month to try to figure out this painting thing that I wanted to be good at so badly! Creating a four-value sketch from life was one of the first exercises they had us do. Inwardly I was a bit disgruntled. I thought surely I was past this point. I was challenged by the exercise, and clearly not ‘past that point’, but it was fun and I’ve always liked the result. It still hangs in my studio area stapled to the wall. Oddly, I’m not sure I understood the real benefit of this exercise or even why I had to do it, until many years later when I was forced to do it again. I now understand the ‘value’ of understanding value – and wow, I wish it sunk in long ago. Nail the value structure and then you can REALLY experiment with color. As you will see in the Guest Mojo Maker video at the end of this section – you can go a little wild on the colors, as long as your value scale is in order.

The Value of Sketches that Share the Canvas

Splitting up one larger canvas to do a series of exercises in one place can really help. I keep these in my studio and I refer to them over the years. They remind me of the basics and how important they are. From here, you can leap and fly and flow…


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