Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Paul Klee’s “The Twittering Machine”

Art History: We took a look at Paul Klee’s The Twittering Machine (I make sure the children say “Clay” instead of “Kleeeeee”) Klee was a friend of Kandinsky’s (who we discussed last week.) This was a painting with a message- he wanted to poke fun at those who ignore the wonders of nature, and who think that machines can do everything. In this case, the painting shows a machine made to create birds’ sounds.

Vocabulary: Abstract Art, Inspiration
Art Learning Methods: translating nature inspiration into art, art with a message
Art Techniques: crayon transfer and watercolor resist
Currently on view at SF MoMA:


The Djerassi Collection at the SF Museum of Modern Art is one of the largest holdings of Klee’s work. A portion of the collection is always on view.

Paul Klee edited bio: 1879- 1940. Born in Switzerland; dad was German. He is one of the most popular artists of his time.* When the Nazis were in power, they burned some of his paintings. * At least 60 of his art pieces from when we was 3-11 are still around. They are now very expensive. * He was great friends with last week’s artist Kandinsky. They taught at the same school, and even lived in the same house for a while. * When Klee was a boy, he used to stare into the marble tables at his uncle’s restaurant (much like people stare at the clouds in the sky.) He used to play a game of looking at the shapes until he could find a picture in them.* Show early Klee paintings, mostly black & white. A trip to Africa changed his view of colors forever. He started using color and finally felt like a real painter.

The Twittering Machine: poked fun at people who thought that machines could make things as beautifully as nature can. He wanted it to look like, if you turned the handle, that the birds would move up & down & make music. But he wanted to show that machine productions could never be as beautiful as the real thing.

Our Process:

1. Outside- took the children outside. The fresh air opened their minds. I love changing scenery, incorporating more than desk work into their process. Bringing the outside into their work. I asked each student what they loved about outdoors, seasons, favorite experiences, all while we stood on the second story deck looking out to the creek & the trail. Their brain neurons start firing just from being in a new location outside.

2. Inside- machine brainstorming (how would a machine work? drawing gears, crank handles, etc.)

3. In their “sketchbooks” (these are large newsprint sheets folded into fours that we recycle each week. They get that they are in process when at the sketchbook.) So they decided what nature thing to make machine do, they sketched out possible machine. One line at a time. Deliberate marks. They made these amazing machines, ones that made snow, or that made colorful birds or volcanos. When they got to the actual end piece, though, they left behind all discussion of machines & nature. They just got into the materials and played. Drew snowmen or people. Went for it. Their first sketches were so cool! Some of them brought them to their painting, but mostly they just started from scratch at that point. I wish I could have seen their paintings joined with the sketches they made, but in the end, they had the experience of the whole process, that’s what matters.

4. Material practice: I demo my black crayoned paper to make marks. This is how they see the transfer process to get how it works before they do it. How even if I draw a unified drawing on transfer sheet, if I move it around, it transfers “wrong” or not how I intended.

5. They prep BLACK CRAYON on copy paper- in a rectangle that I marked out (Paul Klee used an oil paint transfer for Twittering Machine.)

6. Flip black crayon paper- Transfer drawings with ball point on back of sheet (press hard) onto watercolor paper. I taped the sheets down so they’d get that drawing would only transfer as drawn with ballpoint if they kept their paper in same place. They kept wanting to lift paper to look at transferred drawing, so it took some practice. Finished this step.

7. Choose place for white crayon & used white crayon for resist- when watercolor painted over, it will “resist” the white crayon leaving it white. Paint must be thin. I have to figure out about if I want to edit the color options I give them each week. Mostly if I give them every color of the rainbow, they use them all. Maybe I will do a lesson on color choices. And other times, I just may pre-mix certain colors. Students do tend to gravitate to their personal favorites within a selection, so I’m sure there will still be variety.

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