The Creative Plan – Day 3 Colour Pencils


col_pencil_day1_exercise6Paul Klee

A favourite artist of mine. He is so different from the usual mob I swear undying fealty to – Caravaggio, Frans Hals and all the other Baroque gods.

Fish Magic, Paul Klee. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image taken from

His work is quite magical and maybe he creates colour envy within me. As mentioned before, I struggle with using more than three colours at a time, yet here is an artist who conducts them all like a philharmonic orchestra. There is also a playfulness to his ideas and execution, a little macabre at times but no more than a Grimm’s fairytale or a Tim Burton film.

Castle & Sun, Paul Klee. Private Collection. Image taken from

Today I’m focused on a particular period in his career which uses lots of compacted, colourful geometric shapes. There is an organic feel to his layouts, shapes and colour choices, many say a child-like approach. I think his work is much more layered than that. My feeling is that it comes from years of accumulated practice, knowledge and ongoing learning which he allows to come through in a very instinctive way. He doesn’t edit what has become intuitive, he trusts and allows it to breathe.

“Ancient Sound, Abstract on Black”

Ancient Sound, Abstract on Black, Paul Klee. Kunstsammlung, Basel

As soon as I started to copy this piece I noticed a pattern of placing warmer colours in the centre and cooler ones around the edges which creates the undulating feel of the painting. I didn’t try to match the colours accurately because he was using paints and mixing his own to get tonal variation, and I didn’t want to waste time creating a colour chart of every pencil I owned.

My colour pencil version of Ancient Sound.

Even though my version isn’t accurate it doesn’t look to bad. Another thing I noticed was that he would put two types of colours next to each other which in the world of design is a bit of a no-no. Red-purple next to a blue-purple, for example, have a tendency to clash or jarr the eye, cancelling each other out. Yet Klee has managed to find a common ground between the two.

Despite the inaccuracies with my colour pencil version it still kind of works. It was wonderful creating this as I wouldn’t normally work with these types of colour. Most liberating!

Instinctively my own


Not listed as an exercise, I wanted a turn at create one instinctively – no concept, no forethought, just randonly picked colours as they came to mind. However, as it started to take shape what I had laid down began to influence the rest of my colour choices. What square I coloured in was also done subconsciously but whether it was purely random or an accumulination of years in design and art-making my instincts told me to use the richer colours, like the deep blues and purple, sparringly. Otherwise such strong colours would have dominated the picture making all other colours recessive.


Another aspect of Klee’s work I discovered was how he allows the texture of the canvas, paper or fabric to come through. 

Red Balloon, Paul Klee. Image taken from Guggenheim Museum

The only way I could achieve this was to softly graduate the pencil work. For someone like me who isn’t used to pattern making this made me appreciate how something so simple could be so effective. It’s given the picture depth – in a sea of solid, punchy colours it adds delicacy and areas of quiet. 


I chose about fifteen colours that were matched in values like brightness and intensity. Though being mindful of how intense a colour like purple could be I had to disperse it strategically. Becuase its such a strong colour your eye is immediately attracted to it. If I placed it in a corner your attention would be led straight to that point possibly skipping everything else. Strong colours or shapes act like magnets and its hard to draw your eye away from them. 

Cool, Warm and One colour

Cool colours

Again, I plucked out a few colours for each picture trying not to stick to the traditional “cool” or “warm” colours. The results weren’t as bad as I felt them to be while working on them. Having a non-subjective approach to the colour choices revealed some really nice combinations which was quite refreshing. 

Warm colours

After the graduated colours breakthrough in the previous exercise I approached the warm colours and same colour ones with that in mind.

Same colour – brown range of pencils


What I’ve also observed with Klee is the way he uses grey or muted colours. I don’t know if they’re for contrasting effect, to lift the brighter colours or help anchor the picture as a whole. Whatever it is, it works. I also like that these colours are used in a different capacity other than as shadow work or shape refinements. So I kept this in mind with the following pieces.
May, Paul Klee. Image taken from The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1984The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The last exercise was to produce work with provided reference. My intention wasn’t to recreate these scenes in prism form but to act as colour inspiration. However, it was important to capture the atmosphere of the photograph. I was probably more successful with the second one.

Leaving Ornes, Norway. Personal photograph.


Newcastle Beach, Newcastle. Personal photograph.


I doubt that this is something I will pursue at the end of The Creative Plan but it is a very effective way of developing colour combinations for other projects – I highly recommend this as a general creative laxative.

Next post
The Creative Plan – Day 4 Colour Pencils

Previous post
The Creative Plan – Day 2 Colour Pencils

Comments are closed.

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: