Aleatoric Art

The Pelikan Color Theory covers profound, theoretical fundamental principles, along with a wide range of practice.

Further material for this article.

Aleatoric Art

Tracking randomness: With just some opaque paint, a paintbrush, and clay marbles, you can make amazing pictures.

Teachers’ Information

The Pelikan Color Theory covers profound, theoretical fundamental principles, along with a wide range of practice. Rather than teaching how to paint ‘right', it is about exploring the different painting techniques. Emphasis is placed on the methodical/didactical preparation, to implement the color theory in accordance with the syllabus at primary and secondary level.

The color wheel as a basis for the Pelikan Color Theory (based on the CMYK color model)

Focus: Randomness

Some things are then special when unpredictable. According to Albert Einstein, this is what constitutes randomness. Not only does it play a role in many situations of everyday life, but it is also frequently used as a creative element in art.

Randomness found its way into the daily newscast by use of selected predictions, such as the weather forecast or the lottery numbers. Random developments can also be seen from a philosophical angle, or sometimes reasoning is sought out in physics. Randomness can be included as creative tool in order to generate new ideas. Coincidentally however, it can also mean that you have no ideas just then.

Randomness is frequently thematized in art and has long been known as a visualizing element. Already in Greek antiquity the painter Protogenes failed in depicting an image using a paintbrush. According to Plinius in his Natural History (around 23-77 A.D.), Protegenes was angry about his failure to paint a dog with foam at the mouth, and threw a sponge. By chance, the sponge hit the picture right at that spot and left the foam he couldn’t have drawn better.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) also experimented with randomness nearly 500 years ago. He asked the viewer to invent stories to spots on walls. Besides cracks, dead plants or various types of rocks could be seen that were to turn into landscapes in the mind’s eye of the viewers. Thus the viewer should be able to develop own ideas on the object of art.

Max Ernst (1891-1976), founder of frottage, was also inspired by randomness. He laid paper on the floor boards and rubbed over them with black coal. The randomly created grooves, furrows and scratches appeared in different levels of accentuation. He experimented and further developed the frottage technique. This resulted in his famous image series Histoire Naturelle with the beautiful motifs the Clam Tree or the Big-eyed Fish. Ernst also further developed the decalcomania, the so called transfer technique, where again chance decides the color print.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) established drip painting as action oriented random element in art history. He randomly swung full cans of paint, with holes in the bottoms, over paper. He partly added color fields to the thus created images, and thereby emphasized their random character.

In the 1960s, Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) used the random moment as design medium. She incorporated bags of paint into plaster images and then shot at them, so the bags burst and the paint spread out on the surrounding surfaces at random.


Material on Teaching Unit "Aleatoric Art”

This is generally needed:

  • Opaque paint box K12
  • Fine brushes nos. 8 and 10
  • fresh water
  • drawing pad (Further material is indicated)!

Aleatoric Art

Working with random techniques has little to do with a figurative illustration. The emphasis is laid on creating an image by random actions, which, contrary to a figurative illustration, is a result in itself. The following exercises are arranged to emphasize the procedure. The objectives for the students are trying and experimenting. This often brings most unexpected and surprising results. In spite of the random approach, there is still some room for an individual factor: The results are influenced by the choice of colors, the choice of frottage surface and the intensity of the colors.

Squirted Pictures with Toothbrushes or Bristle Paintbrushes

Also needed:

  • Toothbrushes (used), alternatively bristle paintbrushes (12 or 14) and wire sieve
  • Objects to cover with: e.g. leaves, fruits or paper scraps

A common technique is making squirted pictures using toothbrushes soaked with opaque paint and rubbing them over a sieve.

Example squirting technique: Class project Advent calendar

This technique causes a lot of squirting that is great fun for the students. If objects are laid on the paper before squirting, these leave white spaces when removed. These spaces can be squirted over with a different color in a second round of squirting, and will still be noticeable in the end.

Additions / Alternatives
  • Before applying the squirting technique a “normal” figurative painting can be made with opaque paint.
  • Then the squirting colors are applied and the original painting is wreathed in a colorful mist. This procedure is particularly suitable for younger students that have difficulties understanding the too abstract pictures. It is especially fascinating when not only one, but many different opaque colors are used after each other. Nice color transitions can be made, or single spaces can thus be accentuated. Even if the image design can be influenced by the brush, the result of the subsequent squirting convinces with its many random elements.

Blown Pictures

Also needed:

  • Sponge
  • Marker Colorella Duo
  • As an alternative to opaque paint, ink can also be used for these pictures
The very fluid opaque paint can be applied to the drawing pad with a sponge. Then you need to blow at it from all sides. The more liquid the paint, the more lines appear that get longer and longer. If a part dries, the procedure can be restarted at another end by applying new fluid paint.


Additions / Alternatives
  • Blown pictures can be made by a few students together. For this, a group positions itself around a table and each person blows from their side.
  • After drying, the random spaces can be colored with opaque paint or markers. Another option is the designing of the blown lines, especially the ends. They can be decorated with dots, curls or arrows.
  • The use of different opaque colors applied to different ends of the page is especially interesting. While blowing, the colors blend and create a colorful range.

Examples of Blown Pictures (Opaque Paint or Royal Blue Ink, a lot of Blowing)

Simple blowing technique: Colors spread through blowing.

Designed blowing technique: Random spaces are filled with opaque paint and markers (e.g. Colorella Duo).

Decalcomania (Transfer Technique)

Also needed:

  • Various paint brushes

With decalcomania, many varied random pictures are created in a simple manner, such as in our example that only shows one half of the picture. The mirror imaging is characteristic for this technique. For this, one side of the top sheet of the drawing pad is detached; the sheet is folded in half and opened again. Now the chosen opaque paint colors are prepared and put into the mixing containers with different paint brush each. This has the advantage that the paint can be applied faster and does not mix in the paint box. Now the various colors are applied to the folded line and around it. Make sure the paints are not too dry or they will not spread out well. Then fold the sheet along the same line as before and spread the paint with the ball of the thumb. The spreading can hardly be controlled, as the opaque colors spread at will.

Additions / Alternatives
  • Applying additional opaque white from the tube gives the colors a special twist.
  • After the drying, further colors can be applied in a second step.
  • If more colors are combined, a seasonal variation is also an option (for Easter: e.g. yellow, blue-green and vermilion, dark, or for Christmas: vermilion, dark and black).

Contrasting colors are fascinating in transfer technique pictures.

Contrasting colors are fascinating in transfer technique pictures.

For seasonal designs the choice of colors is important.


Also needed:

  • Water-proof crayons

Frottage with opaque paint seems unbelievable at first. For the rubbing with crayons, it is more of a color foundation. For this, special paints are necessary with a high amount of pigment that is not rubbed off immediately by crayons. Pelikan opaque paints seem to glow even stronger when colored over with crayons.

An area on the drawing pad is coated with opaque paint. A luscious application of paint supports the following frottage, as the pattern will then be seen better and make a stronger contrast to the subsurface. The opaque paint needs to dry completely.

Water-proof crayons prevent smudging should there still be moist parts left on the sheet. Then lay the sheet on a slightly rough surface (tiles, stone plates etc.) and color with a crayon using slight pressure. As the colored area gets larger, the underlying relief appears as if by magic in the color of the crayon. The opaque paint colored area further emphasizes the pattern.

Example Frottage

White crayon especially emphasizes the details of a tree bark.

To emphasize the colored features, the surface is varied with different colors of opaque paint. Different reliefs with the same crayon fascinate the viewer even more.


Also needed:

  • Clay marbles
  • Box: bottom part, same size as drawing pad sheet (alternatively used transport container for plants from the garden center)
  • possibly tape


A drawing pad sheet is fitted to the bottom of the box. If the sheet is smaller than the box then stick it to the box with tape. To paint the clay marbles, an opaque paint is needed that is not too fluid. This is put in the lid container of the paint box. The color can be changed and added to at will. Then the clay marbles are dipped into the container and laid onto the drawing sheet. By tipping the box, the marbles begin to roll and leave a colored track.

Additions / Alternatives
  • A marble only makes one color track. So experiment with more marbles rolled over the sheet together. This way many color tracks are made in a very short time and the picture is filled quicker.
  • The clay marbles can be painted in different colors. This way, funny designs are made, as some parts are covered over with different colors. The random aspect of this technique is especially obvious here.
  • The action painting lives on opaque paint. Other colors leave totally different tracks: With PLAKA they are wider, with ink thinner.


Example Action Painting (Opaque Paint, Clay Marbles)

Simple rolling technique: Clay marbles painted with opaque colors leave tracks.

Advanced rolling technique: Single areas are emphasized by colors.

Design: Random patterns are emphasized, e.g. a ghost.