Subscribe! Layout Image
Follow your dream. Discover your passion.

Visual Principles: Limitation? Or An Open Door?


by Dianne Mize

There are no limitations except those we impose.  No form or pattern any artist selects need be confining; rather a glue that holds the piece together. Today’s doctrine that yesterday’s pattern inhibits creativity is flat out wrong. An artistic structure is a scheme; a path the artist chooses to enable an explosion of expression while keeping it unified. The notion of breaking out of the box misleads us.

One structure I keep revisiting—one visual pattern that continues to lure my attention is the notan; a simplified arrangement of two major shapes found in the overall collection of lights and darks.

Original photo of Herefords in pasture.

Notan study of the original photo. Notice how each inherent set of lights and the darks link together into one connected shape creating a pattern. While discovering this pattern, I deleted the frontal trees because they divided the composition.

"Sautee Herefords" oil painting based on the notan pattern

Notan exists as a concept invented somewhere in time and then given a name. Today I use it as a guide for discovering light and dark patterns in nature. It is that discovery that I use as the unifying adhesive of a painting. Confident the notan will hold it together, I'm free to discover and explore all sorts of fun stuff.

Chopin did that with the mazurka—another concept invented and named somewhere in time—as a pattern for at least 58 of his compositions. And Shakespeare used the sonnet pattern—same process, different mode—exploiting it to spout forth more than 150 poems.

Neither notan, nor mazurka, nor sonnet is a restriction, rather each is a container within which we can discover unlimited possibilities—we need only to be alert.

Dianne Mize is an artist and retired teacher of art, living and creating in rural Northeast Georgia. For more of her writing and a look at her artwork, visit her website

photo courtesy of Flicker/Anthony Albright

You might also like...