Friday, October 28, 2022


Some words, like detritus and unprecedented, become popular terms for a while. In the art world, the word Notan has been bouncing around lately. If you've seen the Yin and Yan symbols, you have seen a Notan design. Notan is an old Japanese term for finding balance in negative and positive spaces. Maybe Notan design is popular right now because we are also looking for that kind of balance in life. 

School kids everywhere learn Notan when they try the simple paper-cutting technique of drawing half of an image on the edge of a piece of paper and cutting it to make pumpkins, trees, leaves, hearts, and other shapes. Some graduate to making more complicated Notan designs that amaze anyone looking at them. 

Calligraphers play with Notan when they cut out symmetrical letters of the alphabet. A H I O T U V W X all work for Notan designs. Quilters use Notan to balance the darks and lights in their quilts.

Movie title design, such as the titles for the Korean drama, Vincenzo, conceived by Wooktist of Undesign Museum, and the title for The Magpie Murders designed by Huge Designs of London for the PBS Masterpiece series, create strong negative and positive spaces that draw the eye in.

Part of the title design for Vincenzo by Wooktist

Painters posterize photographs to find the balance of darks and lights in a subject.

The original paper craft of Notan can be as simple as cutting out a heart or as complicated as cutting out a landscape or abstract design. It's a good way to play with shapes and ideas.

To make a Notan pumpkin you will need:

White or orange paper to glue the pumpkin on.
Black cardstock weight paper (I used Canson Mi-Tientes)
a sharp Xacto knife (#1 blade) or try the Gryo-Cut Crafting knife
Saral transfer paper
glue stick
kneaded eraser to remove chalk marks

Sketch your idea for a pumpkin.
Cut out a square from the black paper (size will depend on how big you want the pumpkin)
Place a piece of Saral transfer paper over the black square
Place your design on top making sure to align the design to one edge of the black square
trace over your sketch lines

design placed at edge of black square

Cut out the shapes starting with the inner smaller shapes. Place them on the white paper so that the edge matches the edge of the original black paper.

Continue to cut out the pieces and place them so the center edges match. You may want to draw a light vertical line to help get the pieces aligned at the center.


When you have all the sections cut out, glue the pieces down to the white or orange background paper. Let dry and using a kneaded eraser, lightly rub off the chalk marks.
Have fun making Notan!

Check out the work of title designer,Wooktist, here:
Watch the title design segment for Magpie Murders here:


  1. From Mary by email: I have never heard of Notan before, thanks for adding to my vocabulary. I loved watching the pumpkin emerge from your paper cuts. It looks like a fun process. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Mary. I bet Notan would be useful in quilting too.

  2. From Cheryl by email: YOU are so knowledgable! And a great teacher too.

    1. Thank you, Cheryl. Can't get the teacher out of me, even now!


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