Light and Symmetry in Art: Notan designs

April 02, 2014 Lana Jelenjev

Last weekend I gave the first Tinker Workshop on Explore Light and when I was preparing for it I was adamant to include art as one of the main activities. But what activity? I knew the minute I read about NOTAN DESIGNS that it embodies exactly what I wanted and represents the topic of light perfectly.

Notan Design is a Japanese design concept that embodies light and dark. How much room an image takes on a space is considered the positive space and the negative space is the leftover (or often the background). This can be difficult to explain for younger children but doing it is very easy with just the use of scissors, glue, and coloured paper.

How much room an image takes up on a page (positive space). The space leftover is the negative space (often the background). - See more at:
How much room an image takes up on a page (positive space). The space leftover is the negative space (often the background). - See more at: can be very simple to very intricate designs using only scissors, glue and colored papers. 

To know more how to do a notan design watch this video:

What concepts and skills are you enriching with this activity?

Concepts: taken from Create Art with Me

  • Space is the area: Above,  Below, Between, Within, & Around the main objects in a piece of art. Space is present in 2D & 3D works of art
  • Positive Space- the shapes or forms (main objects) in an artwork
  • Negative Space- the space that surrounds the main objects. It is the empty or non-interesting space between and around the main objects
  • Balance is defined as the equal distribution of visual weight in a composition. Central Axis-An imaginary dividing      line that runs down the middle of a piece of art either horizontally or vertically.
    1. Symmetrical balance means both sides of an axis line are the same.
    2. Asymmetrical balance means each side of an axis line are different yet equal.
  • Skills- fine motor skills (cutting and pasting), design planning.

    Aside from it being an art activity what I like the most about it is how it indirectly promotes multicultural understanding. For older children you can even  introduce the poem of Lao Tse that speaks about Notan.


    Use the thinking routine: PERCEIVE, KNOW, CARE ABOUT: A routine for getting inside viewpoints

    Three core questions to start the process of exploring a viewpoint:

    1. What can you  "perceive" from the poem?

    2. What do you think the poet "knows about or believe"?

    3. What do you think he  "cared about"?

    This thinking routine helps children to think about other's perspectives and what it is that the person is conveying in his/her message.
    For notan inspirations check out these links:

    Gelliarts Inspired by Notan Pinterest Board

    Art. Paper. Scissors. Glue!

    Instructables Fun with Notan

     P.S. Stay tuned for the next Tinker Workshop in May as we explore the universal theme "FORCE"  :)


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