...Notan came into being when both the positive and negative areas began to exist as realities in balance. When the black weights or holes on a static surface became rocks and water seen as equal entities, then Notan was achieved. Notan was found when the spaces between the forms became one unified form flowing like a mountain stream around and between the rocks or positive shapes, sealing the whole design into an organic whole.
This experience is at the basis of the culture of the Japanese bonseki garden, such as the Ryoanji in Kyoto, where the sand is raked and appears to flow like water around the rocks. In our problem we have given these black forms the idea of weight, considering them as pebbles. By giving them the sensation of weight, we also gave them stability; and when this happens, the negative space is released to flow in a pattern between the rocks and holds the entire composition together in dynamic balance. The rocks are held in a fluid pattern which they themselves create! After we observe how the space between the forms seems to move, we notice that the forms themselves seem to shift very slightly, and suddenly the format becomes the only fixed frame of reference. Again the Japanese bonseki gardens achieve exactly such an interchange of elements and utilize these wonderful principles of the interplay between the solid and the fluid. The solid and the fluid are universal polarities, and there will always be enjoyment for man in their interchange.
Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield
“Notan: The Dark-Light Principle Of Design”