Squares - student project

I have long been fascinated by the paintings in which Klee uses colour in a square or rectangular grid to express a feeling or theme (like Ancient Sound which Nicole is using). It was difficult to choose among my favourites, but at the last minute I found one I had never seen before which matches my current interests perfectly.

Squares - image 1 - student project

I have been studying traditional diaper patterns, which are repetitive geometric patterns (often squares) used in illuminated manuscripts. Given the title, the intricacy of Klee's painting suggests Islamic design, and I can also connect it with the detail of Medieval and Gothic manuscripts. I want to create modern diaper patterns as well as traditional ones, and this painting inspires me.


Klee used watercolour, and I will do the same, at least to start with. Possibly I will also use gouache, but that is a type of watercolour anyway.

The size of Klee's painting is 37.5 x 29 cm. I started by drawing horizontal and vertical lines to scale for the bottom half, which very nearly fills a piece of A4 paper. The smallest squares are just over 4 mm; the largest are 7 mm. I used a medium sepia colour. It looks a little darker than Klee's lines where we see them around the edges, but a little lighter than some of the lines within the painted area.

Squares - image 2 - student project

I painted three sections. The bottom left corner of this image corresponds to the bottom left corner of Klee's painting. I used Arches Hot Pressed watercolour paper and quite a few paints. Almost all the colours are mixed, not straight from the tube, so this was a time-consuming process, but a good way of discovering some new colours.

Squares - image 3 - student project

I like the middle section the best, so I intend to use it as inspiration for a modern diaper pattern.

For anyone who wonders what a traditional diaper pattern looks like, here is an example, a versal letter U from the Gottingen Gutenberg Bible:

Squares - image 4 - student project

I want to use a letter with an enclosed space. I have previously used B and O for more traditional diaper patterns, so I decided to use P for this one. I first drew a rather traditional P, thinking that it would go with my B.

Squares - image 5 - student project

However, I soon decided that a more modern letter form would better match my intentions for this project.

Squares - image 6 - student project

When I need to fit a design into a particular size and shape, a computer drawing program such as Affinity Designer is a great help. I reproduced four rows of squares from my painting, and repeated the colour pattern, offsetting it by one square. Since the counter of my P is vertically oriented, I turned the result 90 degrees. I also flipped it horizontally because I preferred that distribution of colour.

Squares - image 7 - student project

I wasn't satisfied with the violet squares one above the other. I wanted a more dynamic diagonal movement, so I made more repeats of the colour pattern, continuing to displace one square each repeat. Orienting the pattern horizontally, this gave the diagonal movement I wanted, from lower left to upper right.

Squares - image 8 - student project

However, I decided that the above squares are too small for a modern approach, and the size difference between the squares is not obvious enough, so I enlarged the diaper pattern.

Squares - image 9 - student project

I painted my P with modern diaper pattern inspired by Klee on Arches Hot Pressed Paper. I used the following watercolours (Winsor & Newton unless otherwise indicated): Winsor Lemon, Hansa Yellow Deep (Da Vinci), Scarlet Lake, Permanent Rose, Quinacridone Magenta (Hydrus), Winsor Violet, Cobalt Blue, Winsor Green Yellow Shade, a tiny bit of Titanium White, and a tiny bit of brown that was on my palette. The letter itself is approximately 125 mm x 70 mm; the narrowest column is 7 mm and the widest is 10mm.

Squares - image 10 - student project

With it's many great colour combinations, Klee's Portal of a Mosque could provide inspiration for other diaper patterns!

Anna Day

Calligrapher & Designer