Positive and Negative – the Japanese art of Notan

The Espansion of the Square

Notan is a Japanese word which means “dark-light.” The word, however, means more than that. The principle of Notan as it relates to design is defined as the interaction between positive (light) and negative (dark) space.  The classic yin/yang symbol is a reflection of this desire for balance.


White Paper, 12 x 18

Black squares cut to size 5” x5”,

Elmer’s Glue

Scissors or Exacto Knife

How to Make an Expanded Square

1. Cut out a series of 5″ squares from the black paper. Smaller squares are hard to use; bigger ones take up a lot of room on the white paper. These squares should be as perfect as possible, as uneven sides or angles will skew the exercise.
2. Begin cutting shapes from the sides of the square. Every time you cut out a shape, it must be glued down as 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.

1. Don’t cut off the corners.Keep the integrity of the square shape.
2. No pieces can be discarded. Every piece you cut away from the square needs to be glued down in its opposing position on the paper.
3. Cutting through the center makes it harder. Then you have to figure out which side to put the cut out piece on. In the beginning, avoid cutting through the center.

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