Saturday, March 10, 2012

Inspired by Klee and Sinbad the Sailor

What can be better for 3rd graders than stories of giant birds, sea monsters, and whales that look like islands? Why, the chance to paint, to mix colors, and to interpret the stories their own way, of course! (Note the sheep in the mouth of the giant bird above!)

We began by looking at Paul Klee's painting Sinbad the Sailor, pictured here:

We noted the values of blue in the water. Students folded up papers to make many rectangles, and were given various blue paints, along with white and black. They merrily mixed away, creating as many different blues as they could. NO BRUSH WASHING NECESSARY! If their brush had too much paint, they wiped the excess on a paper towel.

This photo below showed what happened when one brand of white was dipped into a thinner brand of blue. The kids were very excited by this and even more so when I took a photo of the magic in the paint dish.

My original plan for this lesson had a step of creating a second paper using orange, black, white, and blue to create a variety of browns to mimic the sky of Klee's painting. I changed the plan when I realized that it would take too much time that we didn't have.

We looked at a book with the stories of the 7 voyages of Sinbad. I didn't share them all. (For example, I left out the island filled with cannibals, and another island where an old man forced Sinbad to carry him around on his back for days. Just too weird.) We focused on these tales:
  • the story of a beautiful island that seemed to be having an earthquake but turned out to be a whale with beautiful foliage growing on its back;
  • the tale of seeing a a glowing orb in the distance that turned out to be the egg of a huge bird called a rookh, which was overlooking a valley filled with diamonds and snakes - Sinbad tied a rope to the rookh's leg and was hoisted into the valley when the rookh went down to feed, and came back with a heap of diamonds in his pockets;
  • the story of the island of the apes, which included an ogre;
  • and of course the tale of a sea monster, which we decided was depicted in Klee's painting.
Students drew and colored parts of their story on 9"x12" paper - some kids used more than one piece of paper if they had lots to depict - and then cut them out. The blue paper was cut across to create a wave or many waves, and the students used both pieces to create water. A construction paper sky was chosen, and then the parts were all glued together.

The whale was a popular story to draw:

But so were sea monsters and ogres,

and of course the rookh and the giant egg.

I think they are each imaginative and terrific; don't you?

Here's one of the two bulletin boards where these paintings are currently on display.


  1. These have so much humor, I bet the kids loved it! Also, great idea to fold the paper to make guidelines. Love this lesson.

  2. Those are really fun. I especially like the one with the red whale.

    1. Yeah, that red whale - what exactly IS going on with that girl standing on top? I have to ask the artist! I'm guessing it must officially be a sea monster, since all the whales have trees and flowers growing on them.

  3. Such a clever way to practice tints and shades! Bravo to your kids!!

  4. Oh Phyl! I get so excited to create new projects with my kids everytime you post a great lesson like this one! I want to try this with my third grade classes as soon as we are finished with our clay,Victorian houses. I would really like to see inside your mind sometime to figure out how you come up with these awesome ideas! Oh, and did you ever see a New Zealand movie called, Whale Rider? That's what the girl riding on the whale reminds me of. Have a great end of the weekend!


    1. Pat, first of all - YES I saw and loved Whale Rider - cool association for that painting!

      As for the motivation - I have wanted to do something Klee related for a while - looked around for ideas and 'pinned' a bunch of them. Many related to the "castle and sun" , or "cat and bird" or (I can't think of the name of it) that round orange face. BUT with all the Klee prints I have, I had none of those. But I do have, not one but two, large size prints of the Sinbad print. So that's where it all started. But I'm not sure you want to see inside my mind - it may be a very scary place...

      As for the color drop thing, cool idea, but no guarantee it would happen again. It happens that people like cleaning out their closets and giving me their old paint. The blue in question was an oddball brand, much thinner than the other paints. I'd have to experiment. I suppose, in my retirement I'll have time to play with stuff like this!

  5. And one other thing while I'm thinking about it. That picture of the white paint dropped into the blue? How cool would it be for each kid to choose a color to drop white into and then take a photo of it that could then be incorporated into a composition involving an undersea, outer space,alien world etc.?

  6. These are so interesting! So many great ideas, I love how you introduced all the stories. Brilliant. I remember seeing this in 3rd grade. I can't remember the project we did but I remember it was a slide projected HUGE on the wall and it scared the blank out of me. I remember thinking the murky blues were so scary. The very reason I don't like murky water to this day! Never know when you might see one of these sea monsters! They did such a good job Phyl.

    Perspectives turned out very cool. I wonder if you showed your NY pic to them:)

    1. Ironically, I'm not too worried about sea monsters, but little bitty mice - that's a different story. We think there might be one in my art room and I'm terrified - can I call it rodent-phobia?

      As for the NYC pics, I didn't think to share them with the kids, but it would have been an awesome idea. I'd say - oh well, maybe next time - except there are no 'next times' on my horizon!

  7. These look great!
    I do a Paul Klee Sinbad project too - mine is watercolor - but I love this approach!
    What a great project for a great painting!

  8. Absolutely love these (and your other projects). Great results; which always translates into the students feeling successful—so important in the process of building artistic confidence!

    We would be honored if you'd consider sharing this project (or other projects) with us and the ArtEd world at

    1. Glad you like it! I'd be happy to share. What do I need to do?

    2. Just hop on and register (button on the top right-hand corner of the page) at and then you can create/edit/share your own resources with some built-in tools that we have available. Feel free to shoot me an email at with any questions!

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