The Stunning Simplicity of Notans

Fourth grade art students created notans by cutting shapes out and flipping them to create symmetry.

Supplies:

  • Small construction paper to cut out of (I use 9″ x 9″)
  • Large paper to glue onto (I use 18″ x 18″)
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks

Downloadable PowerPoint: Notan

I was unsure about doing a notan project with 4th graders. It was one of my favorites for high school students, but I was worried it might be overwhelming for elementary. After doing it 3 quarters in a row, and seeing the beautiful results, it’s a staple in my curriculum.

I did simplify the process, which took a little trial and error. I didn’t want to use exacto knives in elementary. During ┬áthe drawing step, they had to start and stop their shapes on the edge of the paper. I also realized that keeping the shape on the same edge made it so much easier when it came time to flip the shapes and glue them.

Probably the best thing I did was to play them a video of someone making a notan. It really helped them to see the whole process before they started. It unlocked the mystery to making something so complicated. They were surprised that the steps were actually simple.

I had bags with their table names that they could put their shapes into as they cut them out. The biggest organizational breakthrough I made was having each kid at a table pick a different color square to draw their design onto. It made sorting shapes so much easier!

I encouraged the kids to draw shapes they would enjoy cutting out. This definitely brought the frustration level down significantly. I was also pretty loose about how the kids glued them down. Most students really wanted to figure out how to make it symmetrical. But for the students who were about to give up, I reassured them that they could glue down their shapes in a way that looked cool.

The end product really is stunning. They are the largest piece of art we make during the quarter. I think creating something that is so intricate really boosts their confidence as artists. When a student chooses their notan as a piece for Showcase, it has a big impact in the hallway!

 

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Abstract or Realistic?

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

For the first semester this year, I took a new approach to teaching the Elements of Art. Instead of just having a project that used the element we were focusing on, I explained the concept and then gave my students a choice of two projects – one that was realistic and one that was abstract.

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

On the first day of class, I showed my students examples of realistic and abstract artwork. I also demonstrated how artwork is not either/or when it comes to abstract and realistic. We talked about how any piece could fit anywhere on a “timeline” of representational to non-representational artwork.

abstract vs real 2

In the middle of the year, I had them work in groups to practice thinking about where a piece of artwork would fit on the “abstract to realistic” continuum. I printed out five pieces of artwork for each group and had them discuss and sort where they would place each one.

abstract vs real

Doing all of this work with abstract vs. realistic up front made it easier when we got into more complicated concepts like Space. Since they already understood that they could make artwork anywhere along that continuum, they could focus their energy on understanding the element of Space.

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

After discussing the element of Space, I gave students the option of creating a more abstract notan or a more realistic drawing of a room. The notan used the concept of positive and negative space, while the room focused on drawing in two-point perspective. (For the room drawing I used the same lesson from last year about Surreal Spaces, but I only briefly touched on incorporating surrealism.)

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

Some students drew incredibly realistic rooms, while others created more surreal atmospheres. The notans were equally diverse. It was exciting to see my students exploring the full spectrum of abstract to realistic artwork.

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

I could see that opening up the assignment helped students to feel more comfortable being adventurous with their project. Instead of ending up with a set of cookie cutter pieces of artwork, each student’s art was truly unique. Another benefit was that even though my students each picked one project, they got to learn about and see the process of doing the other assignment while they watched their classmates.

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

Abstract (Notans): Black construction paper, White construction paper, scissors, X-acto knives, glue

Realistic (Perspective drawings): Drawing paper, colored pencils, markers

Downloadable PowerPoint: Abstract vs. Realistic