Famous Paintings in Miniature Number 5: Kandinsky's Swinging Schaukeln 1925In this, the fifth in my famous paintings in miniature series, I will be showing you how to recreate Kandinsky's "Swinging" or "Schaukeln" 1925.
Click on the links below to see other tutorials in this series:
Wassily Kandinsky was one of the first abstract artists and as such played an important part in the development of modern art. Born on the 16th of December 1866 in Moscow, he attended a classical grammar school and, alongside drawing, learnt to play the piano and cello. He was very moved by both music and art finding both hugely uplifting and he used music a great deal when painting later in life. His parents pushed him towards a career teaching law and economics; it was only when he was aged 30, after seeing a painting of a haystack by Claude Monet in which he could see nothing but shapes and colour, that he chose to give up his successful career to become an artist.
During Kandinsky’s early years as an artist he created landscapes and figures that were fairly impressionistic. It’s only in 1910 that his work takes an abstract turn, using line and form and colour to create many paintings that are only recognisable if you study them. Around 1913 his work becomes completely abstract with explosions of colour and shapes.
The painting that we are going to reproduce in miniature is titled Swinging (Schaukeln), 1925, and is typical of Kandinsky’s style.
Abstract art can be defined as art that does not attempt to represent reality, instead it aims to connect emotionally with the viewer through use of shape, form, colour and texture. In “Swinging” we can see many interlocking shapes and colours; there is order in the chaos. By reproducing this painting we can learn to understand and interpret it for ourselves.
Kandinsky worked this painting on board using oil paints, and the effects that he achieved lend themselves very well to a gouache interpretation. Gouache is an opaque, often chalky, form of watercolour also known historically as body colour. Paper for watercolours comes in 3 different finishes: Not surfaced, Smooth (Hot Pressed) and Rough. To recreate Swinging in miniature we need to use a smooth one.
You will need
- Smooth 300gsm watercolour paper
- Sharp craft knife, cutting mat and steel ruler or a guillotine
- Sharp Pencil and clear ruler
- Size 00 round watercolour brush with a good point
- Size 2 flat brush
- 2 or 3 water pots
- 0.05 nib black drawing pen
- Magnifying glass
- Winsor and Newton Designer Gouache:
- Burnt Umber
- Primary Blue
- Zinc White
- Primary Yellow
- Yellow Ochre
- Permanent Yellow Deep
- Primary Red
The actual painting measures 705 x 502mm. To find how big yours needs to be simply divide these measurements by the scale you're working in. On a 1:12th scale, dividing by 12 will give us 59 x 42mm; for 1:16th we need to divide by 16 to get 44 x 31mm; for 1:24th divide by 24 giving 29 x 21mm, and so on.
I'm working at a 1:12th scale.
Using either a guillotine or your steel rule, craft knife and cutting mat, cut out the watercolour paper to the correct size.
The drawing for this piece is complex. You can either use a grid, trace, or draw freehand. I have drawn out the main features in black on a red grid for you to copy.
If you choose to use a grid, divide your canvas into 4 x 8 equally spaced sections. They will not be squares since your canvas is rectangular, but I will call them squares for simplicity’s sake. Please draw your grid lines very faintly – the drawing is so complicated that you won’t be able to rub out all of your gridlines later.
Take your time with this step. Starting with the main triangle, place dots on your watercolour paper in the correct squares on your paper. Join the dots with a ruler – I use a clear ruler so that I can see what I’m doing. Methodically moving from one square to its adjoining square, continue to copy the drawing until yours is complete. 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!
Erase as much of your grid as you can with a very soft eraser. The sizing on the paper is easily damaged so you need to be as gentle as you can – if the sizing is removed the gouache will soak in to the paper and your finished piece will be patchy.
For extra precision throughout, especially on the tiny squares, use a magnifying glass.
Mix Ultramarine with a touch of Burnt Umber in your palette and paint the background on the top left hand corner rectangle using the 00 round brush. Make it bluer and lighter towards the top right hand side of the rectangle.
I wasn’t quite careful enough with my blue and have lost the white wiggly lines, but I’m not going to worry because unlike watercolour, gouache is an opaque medium and the yellow will cover the blue if it is applied thickly enough – I just need to let the blue dry thoroughly first.
Using the darkest mix of Ultramarine and Burnt Umber, paint the top circle. I find that the easiest way to paint a circle is paint the top quarter then turn the paper so that you can paint a new top quarter. Continue turning and painting until you are back at the beginning and have a complete circle.
Working your way around the painting, add in all of the very darkest blues (almost black) using the Ultramarine and Burnt Umber mix. To get a darker mix, add more Ultramarine and Burnt Umber paint – the more pigment, the stronger the colour.
Mix some Primary Blue with Zinc White, and separately Mix Zinc White with Ultramarine and a tiny touch of Burnt Umber. Use these two mixes and your size 00 round brush to gently dab and stipple the background, varying the lights and darks as shown. Be very gentle with your brush, the bristles are easily damaged.
Continue with the same two mixes of blue, working around the entire background. Use Titanium White to blend any hard edges.
Clean your brush thoroughly and squeeze out a small amount of Yellow Ochre, Permanent Yellow Deep and Primary Yellow into your palette. Add some white on the side by your yellows – it’s always a good idea to keep the white you use for yellow separate to the white you are using for the blues so that you don’t inadvertently make green! Using a combination of the yellows and the white, gently dab and stipple the colour onto the large triangle. Turn the paper as you work so that the point of the brush is against an edge, that way your edges will stay clean and sharp.
Using the Permanent Yellow Deep with a touch of Yellow Ochre and Titanium White, paint in the stripes on the right hand side and the small backwards L shape in the centre. With pure Yellow Ochre, add the tiny squares above the L.
Using Primary Yellow paint the yellow parts of the bottom half of the painting as per the photo.
Pick up some Primary Yellow mixed with a little Titanium White and using your brush sideways add in the line underneath the top right hand triangle. It needs to be slightly wider at the bottom than the top blending into the blue background.
Roughly mix all three yellows together with a touch of Titanium White (this has probably already happened somewhere in your palette) and use this mix to paint in the three wiggly lines in the blue rectangle at the top left. You’ll need to use the paint quite thickly if, like me, your original blue painting wasn’t very precise. Note that each of the three lines has three wiggles in it.
Mix Primary Red with Permanent Yellow Deep and paint the orange ball in the top right hand quarter. Add a little more Primary Red to make a deeper orange and dab it gently on to the right hand side of the ball.
Using the same mix of orange, paint the soft edged sections attached to the horn shape on the left hand side, giving your brush a little wiggle to make the edges irregular. Next paint the similar soft edged section in the bottom right hand corner, followed by two of the tiny squares in the mid left hand section. Do your best to get sharp edges on the squares but don’t worry if they’re not straight as we will be outlining these in pen later.
Add some white to the mix from step 14 and paint the peach circle at the bottom left, the peach background middle left and the peach part of the stepped box in the centre.
Using Primary Red paint the circle on the middle left hand side, the four red stripes on the right hand side, and then the central background, keeping the sharp straight edges on the left and soft jagged edges on the right.
Add Titanium White to the Primary Red and paint the pink the horn shape on the left and the 2 semi circles on the middle right. Using a variety of the pink and a paler version with more Titanium White added, paint part of the large semi circle at the bottom.
Mix a small amount of the pink from step 17 with an equal amount of Primary Blue. Then add more pink to one half and more blue to the other half until you have two different purples. Use the blue shade of purple on the right hand side of the bottom rectangle, and use the pinker shade of purple on the left hand side of the same rectangle. Add some of the pink-purple firstly to the centre sections of the semi circles on the middle right hand side, and secondly to the central top square in the rectangle below the dark blue triangle in the centre.
Pick up some Primary Blue and paint the blue section underneath the yellow circle in the bottom left hand corner, then add some dots to the semi circle above it. Work your way around the painting adding in blue to the top of the large semi circle on the centre right, the two horns on the right hand side, the middle sections to the left and right of the dark centre triangle, the tiny square inside the small yellow rectangle in the centre, and 4 of the remaining tiny squares in the bottom centre left shape below the large dark triangle.
Using the Ultramarine, dab in the background to the right of the column with the circles. Mix with a touch of Burnt Umber and gently stipple the large section to the right of the purple rectangle. Make it almost neat Ultramarine blue on the left and very dark blue/almost black on the right hand side. Leave a gap inbetween the two.
Using the same dark blue, paint the centre of section to the right of the large pink semi-circle at the bottom. Add some Titanium White and outline the dark centre. Both of these have wiggly imperfect edges.
Using the darkest blue (Ultramarine and Burnt Umber) paint the tops of the horns.
Use the same mix with a little extra Titanium White to paint the top of the column on the left hand side, making it paler as you move down the column.
Add Titanium White to the darkest blue mix and paint the large grey triangle within the yellow triangle at the top of the piece.
Mix Ultramarine and Primary Yellow to make a mid green. Paint the middle of the centre of the large centre-right circle. Wait for it to dry, then paint Primary Yellow over the edge of the green that you have just painted, leaving the outer circle blank. When this is dry, add Titanium White to the green and paint the outer section of the circle. You should end up with a graduated green circle with clearly defined sections.
Move around the background gently stippling in the green areas in varied strengths to the left of the column, with more Titanium White at the bottom of the column. Next paint the centre of the section from step 20 followed by the very centre of the painting.
Mix Permanent Yellow Deep, Primary Red and Titanium White until you have a peach colour. Then add a little Burnt Umber to make a light brown. Use this to paint the 2 sides of the lower of the two horizontal bars in the centre-right. Next paint the small section of background above the large pink/blue semi circle and the patch in the centre of the stepped box. Finally, paint the brown section of the horizontal bar at the very bottom of the piece.
Pick up some Ultramarine and starting at the left hand side of the large top right hand triangle, paint the first quarter. Continue by outlining the rest of the triangle, and then add some Titanium White to vary the blue.
Using pure Titanium White straight out of the tube re-establish any whites that you have lost. For me this is the left hand side of the upper of the two horizontal bars in the centre-right and the tip of the two sharp points that start in the red background. I’ve also noticed that I have missed the right hand side of the same bar which should be Ultramarine, so I’ll do that now too.
Using the grey that we made in step 23 and your size 2 flat brush, paint a thin line along the top , the left hand side and the bottom. There is no line on the right hand side.
Take your 0.05mm black drawing pen and add outlines. Use a very smooth ruler for the straight lines. There are no outlines on the large yellow triangle, the thin blue triangle top right, the column on the left, the purple rectangle at the bottom, You’ll be amazed at the difference this step makes!
Practice the signature on a scrap of paper then draw it in the bottom left hand corner.
Finally, take an objective look at your painting. Step back and squint at it, hold it up to the mirror, take a photo of it on your phone or digital camera – any of these techniques help to create some distance between yourself and your work, and usually any errors will jump out at you. Study it carefully and make improvements where necessary.
TOP TIPS FOR PAINTING IN GOUACHE
- Always store your brushes flat, never resting on their points as this will damage them (either in or out of your water).
- Gouache is very chalky and opaque. Before changing colours wash your brush in a series of two or three water pots, beginning in the dirtiest water pot and working towards the cleanest. You should find that this means that your clean water will stay clean for longer, you will need to change water less often and your colours will not get muddy.
- Watercolours and gouache can very easily form ‘cauliflower’ patterns if you add more water or more paint before the pervious layer has dried. Cauliflowers can be very beautiful in art, but they’re not what we’re looking for here. If you get cauliflowers with gouache don’t panic, just wait for it to thoroughly dry and then paint over it.
- When you leave your paints you do not need to cover them as it doesn’t matter if your paints dry out. You can reconstitute them very easily by adding a drop or two of water, and it’s a good idea to add a drop to each dried out paint puddle in your palette at the start of each painting session, then it’s ready for you when you need it.
You can read more about Kandinsky here www.wassilykandinsky.net and see Kandinsky’s “Swinging”, 1925, at The Tate Modern, London, and online here www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kandinsky-swinging-t02344