Yesterday’s post was a departure from my attempt to depict the essence of a poppy field. Today I return to Paul Klee‘s Notebook (Volume 2: The Nature of Nature) for direction in establishing rhythm in my watercolor sketches.


In the past few posts, I have quoted quite a bit from Klee. To recap, Klee demonstrated that objects have an inherent rhythm. As an example, he makes note of an experiment where sawdust is scattered on a thin plank of wood and a violin bow is drawn across the edge. The vibrations that are set up as a result of this, establish a pattern in the sawdust.

Each particle has its own resonance of complex vibrations and connection to the next particle. Klee’s next step is to scale-up from the particle to a macroscopic level without abandoning sound structural foundation.

The course of a river:

Klee begins a 1923 lecture at the Bauhaus by describing the course of a river as a natural example of a structure with different elements. The following is a paraphrase of this discussion: A river begins with waters that gather in the mountains, beginning a gentle flow (Stage I). As waters gather in a valley, the water course becomes less linear (wavy) and gathers some speed (Stage II). As the water flows further, river banks can be eroded and deep ravines formed, where the waters gains more energy and becomes agitated (Stage III). When the water reaches its final level, it again becomes calm (Stage I again). There are transitions between each section. (Paul Klee Notebooks, edited by Jürg Spiller. Volume II: The Nature of Nature, translated from the German by Heinz Norden (p. 67). Overlook Press 1973)

Today’s experiment:

Today I took Klee’s advice literally in the first part of the experiment, setting up barriers to impede the flow of my watercolors. The barriers were liquid latex resist material, which acted as dams or better yet, like locks in a canal.

First layer:

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract Expressionist Flow 1

Flow 1

After the latex dried, I put down an overall wash of Phthalo Blue (Sennelier). While still wet, I added French Vermilion (Sennelier) on top of the right-most latex barrier. As it flowed, I added Rose of Ultramarine (Daniel Smith) at the second barrier and allowed the colors to mix as they flowed across the page.

At this point, it looked more like a thermal picture of smoke stack. This is ok. It the study still depicts (or actually is the literal remains of) a flow of some substance.

Second layer:

In keeping with the idea of higher frequencies (or energy) of flowing substance based on the conditions of the course (i.e., width and depth of the banks of a river), I glazed another layer of phthalo blue in the upper section. The undulations, or curviness of this glaze were slow and relaxed. Superimposed on this low frequency swath is a higher-frequency green streak, with a yellow (Hansa Yellow Deep – Utrecht) center.

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract Expressionist Flow

9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block

The major difference between the organization of this study and the structure described by Klee is the fact that I have separated Stages I from II and III. Stages II and III are on a different layer than Stage I. There are no transitions between stages.


Even though this composition does not comply with Klee’s description of a river, I believe it has its own rhythm.

Usually, when I put a piece aside for a few hours and come back to it after it is thoroughly dry, I don’t notice anything new about it. However in this case, returning to it hours later for another viewing, I was surprised to see it in a different way than the way I saw it before.

I am happy about this. Surprises can be good.

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