Workshop T: Light and Dark with a Punch of Color

Instructor: Virginia Hein (USA)

Location: Singapore Art Museum



When you look at a great sketch, what is it that really makes a strong impact? Regardless of the medium, what really makes a sketch a success is a strong composition—it’s what grabs your eye and holds it.

In this workshop we’ll focus on ways to create dynamically composed sketches by exploring the idea of “Notan”—a Japanese word meaning the harmony of light and dark—there really isn’t an English word that means quite the same thing. Understanding “Notan” gives us a way to grasp and compose the essentials of a subject. We’ll explore ways to see the rhythm of light and dark in an urban landscape, and bring that to the sketchbook page—and then add a punch of color just for fun—and emphasis.

At the Singapore Art Museum, there is a rich variety of possible subjects—the beautiful architecture and grounds, people and foliage—where do you begin? Creating a dynamic composition starts with discovering and selecting the visual story that you want to tell, and it’s as much about what’s left out as what is left in! Another key to a strong composition is creating paths for the eye to follow—while there are many ways to do this, for this workshop we’ll practice creating paths of light and dark.

Strictly speaking, “Notan” suggests stark designs of black and white, however in this workshop, we’ll add the element of watercolor washes, and talk about the impact of color, and how to use it selectively for emphasis in the visual story as we “ice the cake” in our final sketches.


Workshop Schedule

In the first hour, we’ll begin with a brief discussion of “Notan”, and look at some cross-cultural examples. We’ll take a few minutes to walk around our site and simply look (using an adjustable “viewfinder” which I will provide) as a way to select and focus.

Next, we’ll do some quick-fire thumbnails in black and white using tools that can create a variety of bold lines and shapes. Participants will be encouraged to experiment with different formats, and draw the essential lines and shapes—while looking look for rhythm and patterns of light and dark, whether it’s in a building facade, foliage, light and shade in a courtyard, or a group of people. With the idea of “Notan” we’ll discuss harmony, asymmetry and balance of positive and negative space—all elements of a strong composition. After this first round of thumbnail sketching, we’ll have a brief check-in critique.

For the second hour, we’ll move on to making larger black and white sketches and add the element of a wash. The instructor will do a short demonstration of adding a wash to a black and white sketch—emphasizing selection and supporting the rhythm established with black and white. We’ll then make black and white sketches and practice adding wash selectively.

After another quick check-in, we’ll spend the next hour adding color selectively for emphasis with a brief demonstration. Participants can add color to an earlier sketch, or compose a new one.

We’ll gather at the end of the workshop to share sketches, experiences and insights.


Learning goals


Suggested supplies