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Notan—What It Is and Why You Need to Know about It

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Left: Spotting Notan, a diagram from Arthur Wesley Dow's book Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color, ©2007 Dover Publications. Click on the image to see an enlargement.

We learn and then forget things all our lives. Sometimes we learn things and they fall from the top ten useful things we think about everyday, but somehow they still impact us. Notan is one of those things for me. I grew up in a home where a mother with an artistic bent would bring in little bits of beauty (knick knacks, paintings, ceramics) and combine them with other objects to create tableaux of beauty. Because of proximity and travel many of the items that drew my mother’s attention were Japanese. My childhood immersion has created a life-long interest in line and compositional cropping which people might dismiss as, “well that’s just Roz, she designs books after all,” (images are always being cropped for cover design effect or to make interesting chapter opening pages in textbooks). It runs deeper than that. It has to do with notan.

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