DAT503 – Reflexive Design Workshop 1 – Paul Klee

Paul Klee – “Drawing is taking a line for a walk”

“Whereas Picasso, Matisse, even Mondrian and Kandinsky concentrated on abstracting from perceived reality, Klee began with a point, extended it into a line and famously took it for a walk wherever it wished to go. The exact stage at which this abstract construct began to suggest an image was not premeditated.”


The Exercise
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
  • Do not lift the pencil off the paper throughout the whole exercise
  • Do not look at your drawing as you create it
  • The location of the line on the paper does not matter; feel free to wander all over the paper crossing back and over the drawing if you feel like it.
  • Concentrate on listening to the story and making the line reflect the story; change HOW you are drawing your line as the actions and emotions in the story change

Here is the text of Calvino’s ‘Trading Cities’:

“In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.

From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.

Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.”

And here are the three interpretations:

There are clearly a number of common elements in the three drawings above. What appears to be the basic outlines of towers or buildings (the houses and poles mentioned in the text, perhaps) are present in all three of the interpretations, as well as areas where the lines concentrate and darken.

There is some representation of what could be seen as landscapes or vistas, such as the curved outlines of mountains. These are criss-crossed by the pencil marks, perhaps reflecting the strings that the inhabitants of Ersilia weave between their dwellings.

Finally, there is the path or journey of the line itself. The pencil marks traverse the paper, both in curves, loops, and straight lines. There is no discernible beginning or end to the marks created, and this might be a pictorial representation of the people of Ersilia and their itinerant lifestyle, moving from place to place, leaving only a skeletal city to mark their passing.

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