Nōtan with Ink – Representational and Abstract Sketching

In this lesson we will be using a brush and ink on paper to draw a realistic sketch and a couple of abstract studies using the Japanese Nōtan approach.


  • Ink
  • Paper
  • Brush

Reference image link: http://drawandpaint4free.artcoursework.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/photo-1605117012605-b68dedd4accc.jpg


  • You just need to use a single brush and undiluted ink for this exercise.
  • Begin by analysing the subject and determine what will be light and what will be dark.
  • Then start laying in the darkest shapes using the simplest brushwork possible.
  • As you add more dark shapes, the image will begin to appear.
  • Avoid adding too much detail or second guessing yourself – it’s better to work as confidently as possible with this type of sketching.
  • Keep going until all the dark shapes have been laid in.
  • Pay close attention to how the intersecting light and dark shapes work together to create a strong impression of the subject.
  • Now that the realistic sketch is complete, you can use what you learnt to experiment with some more abstract two tone studies.
  • Play around with different sizes and types of shape and see how altering a shape impacts the overall composition.