Opening the Door to Digital Design

By Jane Montero, posted on Nov 8, 2021

After classroom doors shuttered in March of 2020, virtual teaching changed how we delivered our art curriculum to our students. As I scrambled to create individual art kits, sought funding from donors, and developed rigorous art lessons from home, I stumbled upon Google Drawings. While I found it clunky at first, I pushed myself to recreate as many classroom lessons as possible using this digital design tool. An amazing door opened as my students discovered many new ways to create art without traditional art supplies.

SchoolArts magazine, December 2021 issue, Elementary art lesson, Japanese notan, digital design
Tessa B.
SchoolArts magazine, December 2021 issue, Elementary art lesson, Japanese notan, digital design
Triston T.
SchoolArts magazine, December 2021 issue, Elementary art lesson, Japanese notan, digital design
Oli B.

Finding a balance between traditional, comfortable ways of teaching and opening my mind to the endless possibilities of digital art has transformed the way I teach. Three lessons in particular have been well-received by my fifth- and sixth-grade students and now have a permanent spot in my curriculum.

Notan Designs
Looking back on the traditional method of teaching students about Japanese notan designs, I was reminded of scissors, glue, and black construction paper. Students enjoyed cutting out shapes and flipping them to create a reflective design. Depending on the age level, different layers of complexity resulted, and everyone enjoyed viewing the final products. Without these necessary supplies, I turned to Google Drawings.

The word notan originated in Japan and simply means the balance of contrast between light and dark. The concept of notan was first popularized in America by Arthur Wesley Dow, who was also responsible for the concepts of the elements and principles. Dow was a mentor to Georgia O’Keeffe, who took many of his teachings to heart.

Notan designs can be asymmetrical or symmetrical and range from very simple to quite complex. These designs use geometric and organic shapes and rely on the positive/negative relationship between black and white. Notan designs are made in different ways using a variety of art materials. I’d like to share how they can be made digitally.

Digital Notan Designs

  1. Open up a new Google Drawings page from your Google Drive.
  2. Title your drawing.
  3. In the toolbar, click on the shape icon and select the rectangle.
  4. Drag the rectangle while holding down the shift key on your keyboard so that you draw a square. Leave plenty of room around it for the added shapes to expand beyond the square.
  5. Add simple shapes at first inside the black square and change their color to white.
  6. Copy each shape and flip it vertically or horizontally to line it up outside the main square.
  7. After adding shapes, experiment with using the line tool or the curved line tool.
  8. When finished, use the shape tool rectangle to fill the entire background; change it to white and click “arrange” and send to back.
  9. Download as png or jpeg.

Student results were amazing and this lesson was truly a game-changer for notan design.

Jane Montero is an art teacher at Creekside Intermediate School in Dexter, Michigan.

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