This simple exercise is inspired by the art of Paul Klee. He was a Swiss painter who taught at the Bauhaus School of Art, Design and Architecture. Klee often worked with children and transferred this child-like perspective to his paintings and drawings. He was also very interested in colour theory and the artist liked to show a love of music in his work.
He painted pictures that looked simple like “Green Orange with Half Moon“ above yet were actually very complicated. Klee approached his painting with a sense of fun by “taking the line for a walk” as he called it and allowing the lines to grow into shapes.
In this exercise you will create an amazing city or town scene using cardboard cut outs and watercolors.
Allow 1 1/2 hours for this exercise.
You will need:
Six tubes inexpensive water colours, blue, red, yellow. Ask at your artshop for warm and cool colours of each. A medium sized watercolour brush, some good quality watercolour paper (at least 180gsm) , a container of water, rags for spills.
Tape your paper to a board if you have one. This is optional only and it is possible to work on a watercolour paper pad.
Use a ruler to make vertical and diagonal lines on a piece of cardboard. Semi-circles are good also. (I used the lid of a bottle, turned it upside down and went around the lid in pencil to make a circle then cut it in half. Cut out some vertical, triangle and semi-circle shapes of different sizes from your markings on the cardboard.
You will end up with a box of shapes like this.
Place some shapes on your paper and draw around them to create a town scene. Start from the bottom of the paper and build it up. Use triangles as windows or tops of towers.
This is what I ended up with after I drew around the shapes. Try to fill your paper by extending the buildings to the corners and the top of the page.
Mix the watercolours to create the shades you want. Decide if you would prefer warm or cool colours. Warm colours are hot like the sun and cool colours are cool like the ocean.
The golden rule with watercolour is to work only on it when it is either completely wet or completely dry. If you try to work into paint that is still damp you could become quite frustrated.
Fill each shape with a watery wash of colour. Try to use each colour a few times in different parts of the painting. This will eventually help tie the work together.
Keep filling in the shapes with different colours. Keep your brush damp, not saturated. You can wipe the brush on a paper towel or rag if necessary. Allow the work to dry.
Create interesting colour effects by adding more dark and light paint to sections of the shapes. The beautiful translucency of the watercolour will create a whole new range of colours. Go ahead, paint opposite colours on top of others and watch the magic appear. Don’t forget the rule of not working on damp paint!
Using a colour from palette and paint a yellow sun into the sky. Allow the work to dry, 10-20 minutes depending on the moisture in the air.
Add a darker wash for the background
You will end up with a lovely city scene. If I was to do this exercise again, I would take the buildings right to the edge and top of the page and use better quality paper. If you look closely you will see the paper has buckled because it could not take the water medium.
Check out a similar and more recent post detailing an exercise in acrylic after Paul Klee to complete a painting on canvas.
Image “Green Orange with Half Moon“, 1922, Paul Klee.
Related article: Paul Klee: Making Visible, Tate Modern, review (telegraph.co.uk)