In the oval of light for a moment there moved a farm, a human shape: a tall woman looking back over her shoulder. Her face was beautiful, and sorrowful, and full of fear.

Only for a moment did the spirit glimmer there. Then the sallow oval between Ged's arms grew bright. It widened and spread, a rent in the darkness of the earth and night, a ripping open of the fabric of the world. Through it blazed a terrible brightness. And through that bright misshapen breach clambered something like a clot of black shadow, quick and hideous, and it leaped straight out of Ged's face.

A Wizard of Earthsea
by Ursula Le Guin

Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (Grade 8 and 9)

Visual Literacy: The student will interpret, evaluate, and compose visual messages.

Standard 1: Interpret Meaning - The student will interpret and evaluate the various ways visual image-makers including graphic artists, illustrators, and news photographers represent meaning.

Standard 3: Compose Visual Messages - The student will create a visual message that effectively communicates an idea.

Reading/Literature: The student will apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, appreciate, and respond to a wide variety of texts. Participate productively in self-directed work teams to create observable products.

Standard 4: Literature - The student will read, construct meaning, and respond to a wide variety of literary forms. Read and respond to grade-level-appropriate historically or culturally significant works of literature that reflect and enhance a study of history and social science. Clarify the ideas and connect them to other literary works. Participate in self-directed work teams to create observable products.

Visual Arts

Standard 2: Visual Art History and Culture - The student will recognize the development of visual art from an historical and cultural perspective.

Standard 3: Visual Art Expression - The student will observe, select, and utilize a variety of ideas and subject matter in creating original works of art.



  • Notan is a Japanese design concept that creates harmony with the juxtaposition of light and dark.
  • Positive space is the space occupied by the subject.
  • Negative space is the space around the subject.
  • Balance is the arrangement of visual elements in art.
  • Bilateral symmetry is achieved when elements on both sides of an axis are the same.
  • In Chinese culture, Yin and Yang represent the two opposite principles in nature.


Before you begin, do an Internet search or look in your library for information about Notan. Look at examples of Notan designs.


What you will need:

  • A five by five inch square of black construction paper
  • An eight by twelve piece of white construction paper
  • A pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue

What you will do:

  1. Using the pencil on he black square, draw random shapes that extend from an edge into the square. Your shape should begin and end on the same edge side. Repeat for all four sides.
  2. Carefully cut out each shape, saving each piece.
  3. Position the cut-up black square on the white background. You can make the sides of black square parallel with those of the white, or you can rotate it so it is at an angle on the white background.
  4. Reposition the cut-out pieces within the black square.
  5. Imagining the outside edge of the black square to be a hinge, "open" each cut-out shape out from the black square into the white background, keeping the "hinge" straight on each side. Rotate or reposition all of the black pieces to make them fit on the background.
  6. Once all the pieces are in position on the background, glue it all down.

Student Variations

  • Use two colors of paper instead of black and white. Experiment with different sizes
  • Cut out shapes within shapes and determine how to position them in your Notan design.
  • Working from only one side of the black square, draw half of a face-a person, an animal, or a dragon-so your completed Notan design forms the complete face, half dark, half light.
  • Working only from the bottom edge of the black square, draw the silhouette of the shore, castle, and Dragon of Pendor as seen by Ged from the boat. Position the Notan elements to create the illusion of a landscape reflected in water.

Teacher Variations

  • Have students compute the percentage of dark and light in their composition. Encourage them to come up with a design that is both visually interesting and achieves a perfect harmony of 50/50 balance between dark and light.
  • Put the work of the class on display. Have the students rank or order the pieces from least balanced to perfect balance.
  • Use the yin-yang, balance of opposing elements concept as a writing prompt. Have students write about how they balance opposing elements in their own lives: work and play; friends and family; good and evil; positive and negative; love and hate. Have them determine if their lives are in balance, offering proofs to support their thesis.