Paul Klee and the Art of Learning

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet and a new painting in progress.

This blog post is a personal story about being a student of Paul Klee. I will also share my thoughts about art classes and about their effect.

Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook

It was a late evening in the beginning of July – one of those white nights that take place in the middle of summer in Finland. When the sun is up, it’s more tempting to stay awake than to go to sleep. It also felt better to pick a brush and paint than to slow down with knitting or watching tv. My brain activity was high. I didn’t want just paint, I wanted to learn something new.

While pondering about learning, I remembered a thin book that had been on my shelf for a while. It was borrowed from a library few weeks ago and I hadn’t opened it since. The title was called “Pedagoginen luonnoskirja” – Pedagogical Sketchbook, written by a famous abstract artist Paul Klee in 1925. The original version was written in German. In 1953, it was translated into English and finally into Finnish in 1997.  The long time span proves that the book has some ever-lasting content. But when I began to examine the first chapters with the brush in my hand, it seemed very uninspiring. The pages were black and white, no color, but the worst thing was: it looked like a math book! It had formulas, diagrams, references to geometry, anatomy, physics … What was I thinking about when I borrowed this book!

Abstract Art Theory for the Left Brain

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet learning from Paul Klee's Pedagogigal Sketchbook.

But then, I remembered that my artistic side wasn’t playing along when I found the book at the library. Being so thin, it could hardly be seen on the shelves filled with thick art books. Seeing its cover, my engineering side that got interested: can there be formulas for art? Is this the book that teaches the left brain to understand the right brain?

So even if I had my art journal open on the table and paints ready on the palette, I decided to switch gears and start reading the book – slowly and carefully like engineers do. After a couple of minutes, I was hooked. I was mesmerized by the world the book presented. Phenomenoms familiar from my physics studies were tied into modern abstract art. The book was broken into three parts. Each part contained short chapters. like tiny lessons. I decided to begin studying each chapter so that the engineer in me would read the it first. Then she would explain it to my artistic side who in turn, would fill an art journal page by playing with the concepts.

Side note: Interested in the book? Here’s a link to Amazon.com. There’s also a free PDF of the book available if you google it but I don’t link it here, as it may be an illegal copy.

Paul Klee’s Ideas in Practise

Art journal page inspired by Paul Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook, by Peony and Parakeet.

When I eagerly studied the book, I felt I had a teacher, Paul Klee himself. It was exciting to listen to him talking about muscular movement, material structures, disturbed balance, how the perspective is experienced or how the blood circulates in a body. And most of all, how it’s all connected to visual communication and visual art. I imagined being one of his many students and even one of the most enthusiastic ones. I was constantly raising my hand, not only asking questions but also questioning: how did you come up with this idea, why have you omitted this fact?

Art journal page inspired by Paul Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook, by Peony and Parakeet.

Do These Ideas Suit My Style?

Even if I was painting and reading like a maniac from one chapter to another, I was also in doubt. Stiff figures that I painted looked very old-fashioned to me. I had a teacher who hadn’t experienced the digital age, who hadn’t seen or created any contemporary art. “Tell me, Paul Klee, do these rules apply to many styles, including mine?”, I kept asking.

Art journal page inspired by Paul Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook, by Peony and Parakeet.

But despite of the constant battle in my mind, I couldn’t put the book away. I went from one chapter to another and eagerly waited what my teacher would present in the next one. And when the last chapter was completed, I felt sad to leave the classroom and say good bye to my teacher. During the session, I had completed three big art journal spreads. They all looked like the middle of 20th century to me. The session seemed to be nothing else but a fun engagement when the sun finally set down.

The Aftermath of Learning

Abstract art by Peony and Parakeet

During the next weeks, I saw sudden climpses of Paul Klee. When I was taking photos, drawing, painting or just observing, Paul Klee’s theories began to merge with my own thinking and with my own style. The three spreads that I had made were exercises only. Once I left the classroom, I was free to apply those theories where suitable. This is what happens in every art class. You might think that the exercises are not fit for you. You might have doubts if the class fits your current style. And when you leave the class you might think: “Oh well, I don’t know if I ever do this again.”

But like the blood needs oxygen, creativity needs new theories, techniques and ideas. They are not threat to your style, they are essential to continue developing your style. That’s one main reason why I challenge you to learn new techniques at Imagine Monthly (you can still sign up!). That’s also a reason why I will be inviting you to join my newest online painting workshop, starting in October.

Coming Up: New Painting Workshop

I am really excited about this! Be assured that I will have something special for the beginners and a lot of new to focus on for the more advanced painters. The theme for the class is expressing nature. The registration for the new workshop will open next week with a short-time early bird pricing. I will give more details about the class then.

Paivi from Peony and Parakeet and her painting in progress.

While building the class I have practiced the techniques and ideas on a big canvas. This painting is still in progress, but I want to show it to you just to be able to compare the art journal pages above and how Paul Klee’s teachings has merged into my own style. That’s what’s my goal with you too: that you’ll have fun time with the classes and that you will be able to mix new things with what you already know and love.

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10 Responses to Paul Klee and the Art of Learning

  1. Lynne says:

    Päivi, you are such an adventurous artist! This post on Paul Klee, a favourite of mine, just sings with inspiration and I love the results of your studies. I think I can see Joan Miro elements in there as well? Thanks, I will see if I can find the book!

  2. Cindy R says:

    You certainly give us a lot to think about and ideas to try new things. As a beginning student I art, I hesitate to try something so far removed from my skill level. I think that may be I am afraid to venture too far from what I feel is safe though. Your words and class, I am in your current Monthly series, do stretch my comfort level! You give us the confidence to at least give things a try. Thanks for sharing yourself and your art with us. And stretching our universe.

  3. Teresa says:

    I come from a family of engineers……so I totally get it. I’m always wondering how to apply my logical scientific mind to the pursuit of art. They seem like opposites to most people, by I sense, like you, that there is a whole world of logic behind our love of creative works.

  4. Joan Lilley says:

    I love Paul Klee’s work and,as ever, it is more difficult than one can imagine to actually do it!! Just geometry??? I don’t think so!! The new course sounds exciting. Well done Paivi.

  5. Taina Pietila says:

    Kiitos taas hienoista ideoista.