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Exploring Balance with Positive and Negative Spaces

Notan by Lila Wilson ’23 | Back to Table of Contents


Allison Tierney’s Visual Art II students studied the Japanese art form of Notan and the effects of positive and negative spaces in artwork. Starting with an 8” x 8” square of black paper, students were instructed to create images showing “balance” at work in their lives. After sketching and refining their concepts, students then cut artistic shapes from the black paper, arranging the elements to create their “balanced” design.

Lila Wilson ’23

“The project required every piece that is cut out from the black square to be mirrored along a line of symmetry,” Tierney explained. “Lila chose to mirror her design in all four directions, which created a really dynamic composition.” 

Lila said of her piece, “I think, especially during COVID right now, the purpose of this piece was to draw attention to the things that negatively and positively affect our lives and just make sure that everyone’s staying sane and healthy by keeping a good balance.

“Balance to me is having a good school/life balance. My life feels out of balance when I have too much school work to do, and I feel like I’m drowning. In my Notan, the person on the top is drowning in work and unable to see past the paper piling up, while the person on the bottom is free from all her work and is finally at peace.”


What Is Notan?

A Japanese artform, Notan highlights the importance of light and dark in artmaking and historically uses ink or paint to create studies of a subject in black and white to ensure there is balance within the composition. Today, the Notan often refers to the use of cut paper to create an image using both positive and negative space.

From the Archives

Above, work by Visual Art II students Josie Ludlam ’23, Josh Prince ’23 and Jae Ramsey ’23; at top, work by Nicole Gingrich ’23, Kristen Hardy ’23 and Jae Ramsey ’23.