Preparing for Paul Klee’s Leaf Study

Drawing skills

In the past couple of weeks I have been concentrating on still lifes, mainly fruit (Mango Orange Guava, Grocery Store Surprise, Single Dragonfruit, Anemic Blood Orange and Korean Melon, Two Fruits and a Veggie, Symmetry). I doing so, I was practicing my powers of observation, trying to improve my brain-hand linkage to faithfully reproduce in two dimensions, the three-dimensional object in front of me. While I am interested in improving my drawing and painting skills, my goal is to be better able to express myself visually.

Klee’s cosmology

I am studying the work and writings of Paul Klee, an artist whose paintings and drawings are deceptively simple. His work is based on his observations of nature and his theories about how form comes about. Klee’s thoughtful approach starts at the beginning – literally, the beginning of time. In the introduction to The Nature of Nature, Klee writes, “In the beginning what was? Things moved freely, so to speak, in neither curved nor straight directions. … Chaos, and anarchy, a turbid jumble. The intangible – nothing is heavy, nothing light (light-heavy); nothing is white, nothing black, nothing red, nothing yellow, nothing blue, only an approximate grey.” (Klee, P., Heinz-Norden, trans. Jürg Spiller, ed.; Notebooks Volume 2 The Nature of Nature London: Lund Humphries. 1973, p. 13)

Extraordinary: A theory of pictorial cosmology, a Genesis of pictorial elements!

From cosmic to specific

Klee begins his ‘General system of methodology of pictorial means’ with a description of a leaf of a tree. “A leaf is part of the whole. If the tree is an organism, the leaf is an organ. These small parts of the whole are again articulated in themselves. In this articulation, articulate ideas and relations prevail that reflect on a small scale the articulation of the whole.” (Klee, P., Heinz-Norden, trans. Jürg Spiller, ed.; Notebooks Volume 2 The Nature of Nature London: Lund Humphries. 1973 p. 5)

It seems that Klee expressed the idea of the fractal designs in nature before the term ‘fractal’ was coined.

Leaf exercise

At the end of Klee’s lesson on the primary forces of form production, he suggests an exercise :

Create imaginary leaves on the basis of the “foregoing basic rules.” The rules were not explicitly defined.

Here is my best guess of the rules, from carefully reading this section:

  1. The subdivisions of the central vein of a leaf are different in the different leaves; in general uneven division is more common than regular distribution. p 5
  2. There is a relationship between the separation of lines (along the central vein) and the strength (or force) of the line. p 7
  3. Veins lateral to the central vein, subdivide in the same way as those of the central vein, by measure and weight. “The intervals and the dynamic forces dwindled to the point of no return. The eye can no longer distinguish the last ramifications as lines and are sensed as planar elements rather than linear forces.” p 7
  4. Branching from the central vein, may alternate from side to side, “a form of articulation that emphasizes the element of halving the area.” p 9
  5. “Even though the side veins may equal the central vein in size, symmetry is always preserved. In other words, the supremacy of the center is preserved.” p 13
  6. In advancing the concept that the veins of a leaf are formed by a combination of forces requires that one must look at the pictorial development as a balance between “linear force or peculiarity” and “two-dimensional massiveness or multiplicity.” p. 13
  7. As the lines merge (see point 3, above), a planar form arises. The edge of the plane is a contour (also a line), which envelops line formations which could be complex (Klee characterizes them as aggressive linear forms) and serves as a limiting line. p. 17

(the above taken from Klee, P., Heinz-Norden, trans. Jürg Spiller, ed.; Notebooks Volume 2 The Nature of Nature London: Lund Humphries. 1973)


I must admit I don’t know how to begin creating an imaginary leaf. If I was sure of the rules I could figure it out, but it will take me some time. I haven’t given up, but if any of you can shed some light on this matter, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Today’s study

Most of my day was spent trying to figure out Klee’s method, so today’s study is a watercolor I have been working on little by little over the past few weeks. It is a fruit and vegetable stand I photographed when I lived in New York City.

Watercolor - New York City Market - Vegetables and Oranges

New York City Market
10″x14″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper

It still needs a few tweaks, but I’m fairly happy with it.

12 thoughts on “Preparing for Paul Klee’s Leaf Study

  1. I have studied Paul Klee before and this imaginary leaf exercise sounds like fun! I’m not sure I can follow the directions exactly, but trying is what counts – right?

  2. We are looking forward to commenting on leaf studies in your next post. Here, we are mostly thinking that the watercoloring of the vege stand is a satisfying image. It is a painting. A painting is not small. Paintings display what our sketches teach us.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: