Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the strings.The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky, ‘Cossacks’ 1910–1
Wassily Kandinsky
Cossacks 1910–1

Are you ready to paint a Kandinsky-inspired artwork?

  • Pre-primed cotton canvas 50 x 70cm
  • Oil Brush no 3, 8, 12 (size of brushes)
  • Flat brush no 40 (for applying base layer)
  • Slow Dry Retarder (type of medium)
  • Soft Gel Semi Glass Medium
  • Colours: Quinacridone Red, Mars Black, Ultramarine Blue (Red Shade), Yellow Light Hansa, Mixing White, Parchment, Emerald Green, Naples Yellow Hue

Choose your inspiration, a few photographs may work best. Sui chose some photographs of South Korea, where she grew up, which represented a time of change and excitement in her life.

Draw some sketches to map out your painting. What aspects of your photographs do you want to focus on? Which bits do you want to highlight?

Mix some very pale colours, to cover the white canvas. Add some medium, to dilute your paint and create a thinner texture to you base layer. Apply the paint quite freely, leaving some gaps.

Remember to clean your brushes between applying each colour and wipe any excess water onto some kitchen paper.

Once the paint is dry you can begin to add the second layer. Again mix your colour with some medium to make sure it spreads over the canvas. Don’t worry too much about filling those gaps and let them layer up.

Lay the canvas flat. This allows you to apply a thinner textured paint. Use black paint thinned down with some medium, to create a similar effect to the bold lines Kandinsky used in Cossacks. Think about keeping things minimal. Simplify the elements of your photograph. Then take a break, to let your outline fully dry before applying the next layer of colour.

Work with each colour individually, building the layers. This also stops the paint drying out on the pallet. Sui chose her colours based on the colours in Cossacks but you can use other colours if you so wish. While the canvas is still flat, apply any thinner layers of colour that could drip or bleed. Let this dry before standard the canvas up again.

Stand back from your painting and think about how it could be improved. Go over some of the black lines which you think need to be a little bolder. Use thinned down white paint to highlight the main figures in your painting.

Feeling inspired? See Cossacks in the flesh at Tate Modern in the Start Display