Tutorial: Hilma af Klint “The Ten Biggest No. 2, Childhood” in Miniature

Famous Paintings in Miniature Number 3:  Hilma af Klint “The Ten Biggest No. 2, Childhood”, 1907 

In this, the third in my famous paintings in miniature series, I will be showing you how to recreate Hilma af Klint's “The Ten Biggest No. 2, Childhood”, 1907, Oil and Tempura. 

Hilma Af Klint (1862-1944)

Hilma Af Klint was arguably the first abstract painter, creating works of abstract art 5 years before the more well known Kandinksy. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1862, Af Klint took a conventional artistic route, studying at the Royal academy of fine arts in Stockholm and becoming an accomplished landscape painter. 

In 1879 Af Klint took part in her first séance, a life changing experience for her that led to a complete change in her painting style. Instead of painting landscapes, she listened carefully to her spirit guides, following their instructions and creating unusual paintings of shapes, colours and symbols. These new works were only shown to a privileged few, and when Af Klint left her entire collection to her nephew she stipulated that they must not be shown until 20 years after her death, when she hoped that the world would be ready to receive her art.

The mammoth series “The Ten Biggest”, 1907, comprises geometric shapes, swirls and text in striking colours. As the title of the series suggests, these are huge works with each of them measuring 2.40 x 3.28m. When she worked on these paintings, Af Klint laid out huge pieces of paper on the floor and faithfully followed the directions of her spirit guide.

In this demonstration I will be showing you how to recreate the second in the series “The Ten Biggest No. 2, Childhood”, 1907, Oil and Tempura. We have all heard of oil paint but, perhaps, not tempura which is made by mixing eggs with pigment, giving a very flat non-dimensional finish. We can achieve the same results by using Gouache, an opaque and chalky form of watercolour that also dries with a flat finish.

Af Klint worked her paintings on huge pieces of paper, and if you are able to go to see one of her exhibitions you can see that the paper cockled with her application of paint. It’s impossible to recreate the exact cockles in the painting without having the real thing in front of me, so I have decided to paint mine on 425gsm Bockingford watercolour paper that will not cockle at all.

If you have a go at this painting please bear in mind that Af Klint’s painting, at over 3m tall, will not fit inside most houses.  So although it wouldn’t be 100% authentic, it might be more practical to plan where you are going to display it and paint it on a scale to fit the space.

You will need

  • Watercolour paper 300gsm or 425gsm
  • Steel rule, craft knife and cutting mat
  • Size 0 round brush
  • Size 6 round brush
  • Palette
  • Water pot x 3
  • Tissue or kitchen towel
  • Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache
    • Primary Blue
    • Zinc White
    • Permanent White
    • Primary Red
    • Spectrum Red
    • Permanent Yellow Deep
    • Primary Yellow
    • Ultramarine

Step 1 

I have chosen to work mine in 1:24th scale, so my paper needs to measure 10 x 13.7cm.  To  find your paper dimensions, divide 240 by the big number in your scale (in my case 24) to get the width, and 328 by your scale to get the height.

Using your steel rule and craft knife, cut out your watercolour paper to the correct size.

For this painting, the easiest way to transfer the drawing onto your paper is to use a grid. Place your paper with the shorter end at the bottom and mark out an equally spaced 6 x 8 grid. For ease I will refer to the spaces in the grid as squares even though they are not precisely square shaped. 

I have drawn out the pattern on a grid of the same proportions for you to copy onto your grid.

Starting with the simplest shape in the bottom right hand corner, notice the position of the bottom right hand corner of the circle shape. Using the grid lines as a guide, copy this curve onto your paper. Moving up 2 squares the circle reappears in the bottom right hand corner and leaves that square towards the left hand side of the top of the square. Continue following the curve around the grid lines until you have a circle.

Continue working systematically through the drawing from the bottom right towards the top left. Try not to be tempted to jump around the grid – it is all too easy to make a mistake when counting squares and very frustrating to find that the drawing doesn’t meet in the middle!

When your drawing is complete I recommend very gently rubbing out the grid lines. I didn’t do this and had to go over some of my paint several times to cover the lines. Take care not to damage the surface of the watercolour paper when using an eraser.   

Step 2 

Put a small blob of Primary Blue and Zinc White in your palette and mix very roughly at one end with the number 6 round brush dampened with water. Leave some pure Zinc White and pure Primary Blue at the other end.

Using the same brush and starting at the top left hand corner, use varying shades of the Primary Blue/Zinc White mix to paint the first section of blue. If you can see pencil lines, apply more paint. Use your clean water to keep your paint at a single cream consistency.

Continue with your number 6 round brush and the Primary Blue/Zinc White mix to paint all of the larger pale blue areas. Make your paint darker on the left hand side than on the right.

Step 3

Swap to the size 0 round brush for the smaller areas of the same pale blue. Try to leave the white line areas where possible to help keep the shapes visible. Titanium White gouache will cover the blue so don’t worry if you lose some of the white lines.

If you need to take a break at anytime there is no need to cover your palette, when you return simply drop water in and mix with your brush until your paints have a single cream consistency again. Make sure that you thoroughly wash out your brushes in water and leave them to dry. Do not leave them resting point down at any time (either in or out of water) as this will damage them.

Step 4

In the same way that we mixed the blues, we need to mix some pinks. In a clean section of your palette squirt a dot of Primary Red and Zinc White, and mix a little at one end.

Paint in the 2 darkest shades of pink using the size 6 round brush.

Add more Zinc White and paint in the rest of the pale pink sections. Leave the pink lines, we’ll come back to these at the end.

Step 5

Mix some Spectrum Red and Permanent Yellow Deep to make an orange. Use the size 0 brush to paint the top orange sections, and the size 6 round brush to paint the orange ball at the bottom. Notice that the orange ball has more Permanent Yellow Deep and the top sections contain slightly more Spectrum Red.

Step 6

The right hand ball is painted in Ultramarine. Use varying amounts of water to achieve a faded effect.

Step 7

Mix Ultramarine and Primary Yellow and use the resulting green in the intersection of the 2 balls.

Step 8

Add some Zinc White to the green to make it paler and use it to paint in the pale green section at the top right hand side. Add some of the paler green to the top of the green intersection that we painted in step 7.

Step 9

Using Zinc White and a tiny touch of Primary Red, paint in all of the larger white areas. Again, leave the white lines as we’ll do these at the end.

Step 10

Mix equal quantities of Primary Yellow and Zinc White and paint in the yellows.

Step 11

Now we need to add some texture. Dampen your size 6 round brush in clean water and dab it on a tissue. You want your brush damp but not dripping wet.  Roll the brush sideways over the orange ball here and there, count to 2 and then dab the orange ball with your tissue. You should have a faded patch on your ball and a little orange colour on your tissue. 

Step 12

Repeat step 11 all over the painting (except the blue ball). Clean your brush regularly to avoid contaminating the colours.

Step 13

Now for the finishing touches. Add in the yellow lines around the orange and white flower to the left of the green on the top right hand side, using Permanent Yellow Deep, Zinc White and Primary Yellow.

Step 14

Add in the pink lines on the outside of the frill of the large pink flower, around the shapes above the same flower, around the white circle in the middle and on the oval at the top right hand side. 

Step 15

Add in the blue circle in the centre of the pink flower using Ultramarine. Finally we need to switch to Permanent White to add in the white lines.


Af Klint’s Ten Biggest are displayed in natural wooden frames. I made mine using balsa wood.

An exhibition entitled “Hilma Af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction”, curated by Moderna Museet, Stockholm, is currently touring internationally. If you are unable to see the painting in person then you can view it online at http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/first-abstract-artist-and-its-not-kandinsky  

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