2nd Grade – Paul Klee’s Whimsical Cats

2nd Grade – Paul Klee’s Whimsical Cats

Description of the Unit – Students will explore color and shape as they create a cat face modeled after Klee’s geometric and colorful “Cat and Bird.”

Activity statement – Artist Paul Klee absolutely loved cats and was a cat owner all of his life. Many of his beloved cats are inspirations for his artwork, including drawings, paintings and photographs.

Two photographs pf Paul Klee with his pet cats
Paul Klee with his cherished cats: Fripouille on the left, and Bimbo on the right

Klee produced most of his work in the 20’s and 30’s, and though he was associated with various artistic movements of the time, (mostly by being friends with many other artists), including Bauhaus and Der Blaue Reiter, his style was truly unique, innovating new techniques and letting himself be open to surprise.

Students will mostly observe Klee’s painting Cat and Bird. Students are invited to react to the piece and discuss what they observe. What do they notice about the way the cat’s head is depicted? What shapes can they identify within the head? What do they notice about the colors Klee has used? What colors are they and how are they arranged?

Paul Klee's painting "Cat and Bird" 1928
Cat and Bird by Paul Klee, 1928

Ask students what they think the bird in the middle might mean. Describe to them that the bird represents what the cat is thinking, or what’s “on its mind.” What other things might a cat think about?

As students approach designing their own cat head, have them start with a large square, then break down the rest of the features of the face into other shapes. As for the colors they choose, encourage students to include complimentary colors adjacent to one another.

Finally, though not a part of this sequence of steps, I would ask students to include something the cat might be thinking about somewhere above the eyes.

Goals – Students should…

Understand:

  • Shapes can comprise an image

Know:

  • How to draw basic shapes

Be able to:

  • Identify basic shapes
  • Identify complimentary colors

Objectives – Students will use basic shapes and complimentary colors to create a whimsical cat head, and if the teacher chooses, invite students to include an element of what the cat is “thinking” by placing a particular image in its head.

Resources and materials –

  • Photos of Klee with his cats and an example of “Cat and Bird”
  • 9”x9” square pieces of white tag board or Bristol paper
  • Pencils
  • Oil pastels

Questions –

What do you think about this painting (Cat and Bird)?

Does it make you laugh? Why?

What is the cat’s head made of? Which shapes do you see?

What colors did Klee use? Is there anything special about the relationship between these colors?

What does it mean when colors are complimentary?

Which colors in the color wheel are complimentary?

Why do you think there is a bird in the middle of the cat’s head?

What else do you think a cat can think about?

Evaluation –

  • Did students design their cat out of basic shapes?
  • Did students use complimentary colors in their design?
  • Student questions and observations
  • Group discussion
  • Oral responses to essential questions
  • One finished piece
2nd grade - A Paul Klee-style cat head, constructed of basic shapes
2nd grade – A Paul Klee-style cat head
2nd grade - A Paul Klee-style cat head
2nd grade – A Paul Klee-style cat head
2nd grade - A Paul Klee-style cat head constructed of basic shapes
K-8 Art Education
2nd grade - A Paul Klee-style cat head
2nd grade – A Paul Klee-style cat head
Nine 2nd grade examples of Paul Klee-style cats
Nine 2nd grade examples of Paul Klee-style cats

* This unit was adapted by my colleague Stacy McKenna.

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