Notan Art Lesson (Positive & Negative Space)

notan Expansion of the Square cut paper

Notan – Expansion of the Square Cut Paper Art Lesson

(Positive & Negative Space)

Positive & Negative Space Reversal

Positive & Negative Space Reversal-Austin 7th Grade

Notan Expansion of the Square

Notan Expansion of the Square
Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design (Dover Art Instruction)


Notan Expansion of the Square Art Lesson

This positive and negative Notan lesson is geared toward middle school art and higher. I have a less complex lesson that I do with my 5th graders that teaches positive and negative space reversal. Click on the link or the picture below to go to that lesson.

Positive & Negative Space Reversal

Positive & Negative Space Reversal


DELIVERY: (Lesson Derived from Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design (Dover Art Instruction)

  1. 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
  2. Positive Space- the shapes or forms (main objects) in an artwork
  3. Negative Space- the space that surrounds the main objects. It is the empty or non-interesting space between and around the main objects
  4. Positive & Negative Space Reversal-visual inverse of the positive and negative spaces.
  5. Notan is a Japanese word which means “dark-light“.
  6. The principle of Notan as it relates to art is defined as the interaction between positive (light) and negative (dark) space.
  7. The theory behind Notan is: positive and negative areas should complement one another. They must coexist without one dominating the other.
  8. The Eastern culture from which Notan arose, seeks a more balanced view of the world. The classic yin/yang symbol is a reflection of this desire for balance.
  9. 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.
  10. The “Expansion of the Square” exercise is a Notan exercise designed to study the interaction of positive and negative space. In order for the exercise to be completed successfully, there must be a feeling of balance created in the design.

ACTIVITY: Notan Project

Create a cut paper collage with a composition where both positive and negative spaces are REVERSED. Use either Symmetrical or Asymmetrical Balance in creating your design. USE GOOD CRAFTSMANSHIP -BE NEAT!!!


1. Choose a color paper for your project.

2. Cut out a 9″ square from the color paper. Use a RULER-These squares should be as perfect as possible, as uneven sides or angles will skew the exercise.

3. LIGHTLY Draw your designs from the edges into the center of the square. Think of the designs as shapes. You MUST cut from all 4 sides. Do not cut off the corners & don’t go past the center of the paper with any designs.

4. Begin cutting shapes from the sides of the square. Immediately put all shapes into your ziplock bag. DO NOT THROW ANYTHING AWAY!!

5. Glue down the main base in the middle of your background either straight or diagonally.

6. Place all the cut shapes back into the square.

7. Flip shapes & glue down in the mirror image from where it was cut. The basic idea is to cut out the piece, flip it out so that it mirrors the cut out space, and then glue it down onto a 18×24” paper.

MATERIALS: 9×12 Construction paper or Fadeless 2-Color Duet Paper – 12 x 18, Duet Paper, Pkg of 30 Sheets, In Assorted Colors, 18×24 white, black or colored paper, Exacto Knives, cutting boards, glue sticks

Here is the Dual Color Paper from Amazon:

Here are some pictures to start out… more to come

Notan Expansion of the Square

Notan Expansion of the Square

Notan Expansion of the Square

Notan Expansion of the Square

Notan Expansion of the Square

Notan Expansion of the Square

If you choose to use this lesson or to repost it (written info or photos), please link it back to my blog. Create Art with ME

Other Space Related Lessons:

Positive & Negative Space Reversal (for elementary art)

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