Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Matisse-Style Art for Kids

When I was an exchange student to France in high school, I was introduced to the work of Henri Matisse. Of course, I'd heard of him before (who hasn't?), but I got the chance to really see his work in a variety of venues and environments while I was there. I fell in love with his work. So bold and expressive, so honest and real- I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Matisse, and it's been in the back of my mind for a long time that I wanted to share that experience with my children. I wondered if they too, would be drawn to this unique artist's perspective? This week, we had the chance to do some art and discovering together.

Before I could begin with the kids, I had to do a little brushing up on my own knowledge. I did that by reading this and this.

Then, I did a quick Google Images search for Matisse, and used the above sources to show the kids a variety of his works. We also own the Looking At Paintings series by Peggy Roalf, which is a fabulous resource thanks to its big, bold pictures and brief biographies on the artists themselves.The kids seemed particularly drawn to the cut paper art that he did toward the end of his life, when his health was failing. Matisse discovered that he could still be creative, if less mobile, by cutting paper in his wheelchair or in bed, and using an assistant to place the paper where he wanted it. Since this also seemed like a feasible place to start art with the kids, we decided to do what Matisse referred to as "drawing with scissors."

Next, it was onto the process. Here's what we did:

We assembled the tools: colored paper, white paper, scissors and glue. I also cut some shapes out ahead of time knowing that my toddler wouldn't be able to cut herself (she did rip some paper to include in her work, though!). 
 Here I am, showing the kids some example of Matisse's work. (Photo by Ben.)
 The kids then began to cut the colored paper. No templates or ideas- just free-flowing creativity. I loved that! They used both the cut-out shapes and the outlines from the remaining paper. They also used some of my shapes, which was fine.

 Once they had cut and arranged, I gave them glue sticks. They moved pretty freely between arranging and gluing at some points, but I tried to encourage them to consider the aesthic appeal of the work before they started gluing- at least to begin with. It slowed them down long enough for them to consider what colors and shapes they were using and why. If they decided they needed another shape or color, then they could add it in a deliberate way. (You might be surprised how young children will show preference for certain arrangements- this is great practice for all ages!)

 Our finished work!
A note about process art: it can be difficult for some children to make art in an abstract way, particularly if they tend to be logical, concrete thinkers. You can see from the photo above that one of my children is just such a thinker, and he struggled a bit with the idea that his art might not represent any concrete item. He began the project by arranging shapes to form bigger pictures, mosaic-style, but with a little coaching he began to open up about his ideas. You can encourage a child to create abstractly by using descriptive words to talk about the shapes ("wow, that looks big, bold, exciting, calm, vibrant, etc.") and by asking your child to imagine what one shape could be ("this shape reminds me of a vase, and I'm thinking about it floating in the sky...") to encourage the concept that the picture can still have meaning without being a literal representation. Have fun!


  1. What a great and simple art project! Thanks for sharing.

  2. can't wait to use this plan in my homeschool lessons this school year! Matisse is going to be our first artist to study. Thanks.

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