Nifty Nōtan

Levels 3-6

Discover the dynamic potential of positive and negative space through a technique called nōtan.

Learning objectives

  • Define and recognise the use of positive and negative space in examples of visual art
  • Apply the principles and technique of nōtan to the production of an artwork comprised of contrast
  • Develop practical skills including drawing and cutting a variety of shapes from paper and arranging them to produce a unique composition

Workshop instructions

Resources & materials

  • A plain sheet of A4 paper
  • A square piece of coloured paper (10–12cm)
  • Graphite or light-coloured pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Eraser


  1. Place your square piece of coloured paper in the middle of your larger sheet and trace around the corners. This is to help you glue the pieces of your design in place later.
  2. Draw a variety of shapes that start and stop along the edges of your square. You can try drawing:
    • One half of a symmetrical shape, like a heart, that will open to reveal the complete shape later in the process.
    • Organic, free flowing shapes.
    • Geometric shapes, such as triangles, squares or stars.
    • A smaller shape inside a shape, which will allow you to create a “multi-cut” and produce patterns in your design.
  3. Carefully cut out your first shape and any smaller shapes inside it, taking care to not lose any pieces.
  4. Place your square piece of coloured paper inside the corners on your larger sheet of paper and place the cut-out pieces in their original place.
  5. To expand the square, flip your cut-out shapes over, like you’re flipping a page in a book. If you have a “multi-cut”, flip over every second cut out shape, to reveal a pattern of alternating coloured shapes. Then, glue the cut-out pieces in place.
  6. Repeat Steps 3-6 with the remaining shapes drawn onto your square.
  7. Carefully glue down what’s left of your square within the corners to finish your nifty notan.