Paul Klee Letter Painting

These colorful paintings were created by my wonderful fourth graders, but the lesson could easily be adapted to other grades. The project is based on the painting "Once Emerged From the Grey of Night" by artist Paul Klee, in which he used the letters from a poem to created shapes and negative space that he then filled with color.

Once Emerged From the Grey of Night by Paul Klee

white paper (we used 10" X 16" so it could be mounted to 12" X 18" paper), pencil, eraser, ruler, black ink OR black permanent marker, liquid watercolor (or media of your choice)


1. First, we measured every two inches and made a mark on each side of the paper. (Great math tie-in!)

2. We then connected the marks to make lines that are two inches apart.

3. Next, we did the same in the other direction. This gave us our 2" boxes.

4. In each box, the students wrote their names and several things they enjoy doing or like. Take care to make sure to fill the box with the letter. Use the lines of the boxes for the lines of the letters.

5. Trace in black. Last year, I had the students use India Ink and paint over all of their lines. This year, we used fat black permanent markers. Honestly, the markers were faster and the students had more control. 

6. We used liquid watercolors and painted in the SPACES/SHAPES created by the letters. This is a good introduction to negative space.

Here you can see some boxes painted in. Basically, they were reminded not to paint outside the black lines. If there is no letter, the entire box is painted one color.

These pieces were traced using black marker.

India Ink was used in these samples. 

Here are some finished projects that have been mounted and put on display. They make quite an impact!

I have even adapted this lesson for first grade. They used the alphabet in theirs and used pre-drawn boxes.

See more in our Artsonia gallery.


  1. A great activity - beautiful colors, and opportunity for the students to make deeply meaningful with personal poetry. Wonderful, thanks :)

  2. This is great, with so many possible literary connections. I can't wait to try!

  3. Your students did a great job on these! I love the two versions! :)

  4. I'd love to try this with first grade. Thank you!
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  5. Beautiful! They all did such a great job balancing the colors.

  6. Lovely! Thanks so much for the step-by-step photos.

  7. Thank you so much for this excellent idea! We're looking at Klee as part of our new topic based on music. We used your idea but chose some inspiration song lyrics to write instead. Please feel free to check them out:

    Thanks again for this and so many of your other great projects!


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