Henri Matisse: "Painting with Scissors"

Over here at Modern Art 4 Kids, we are no strangers to Henri Matisse, the most beloved Fauve of all!

When Matisse was nearly 72 years old, he became ill and it was difficult for him to stand and paint. However, this did not damper his creativity. He began a new technique, which he called, "painting with scissors", which was painting large sheets of paper with different colors using gouache, an opaque watercolor.

He would then cut beautiful, organic, free-flowing shapes with scissors.

"Une seconde vie”, a second life, was what Matisse called the last fourteen years of his life, working on his collages, or cut outs.

Here is where it gets good.

He used several assistants to be his "arms and legs", moving and arranging his cut outs along the walls of his studio. I decided to try our own painting with scissors workshop, with each student taking a turn being the artist, while the rest of the students became the assistants.

Move it a little to the right.
To the left!
Ok, a little more...a little more. No! Go back. Tilt it. Ok, that looks good.

Needless to say, it was harder than it seemed! Trying to convey your vision as an artist is quite challenging when you have to rely on someone else to help you bring it to life.

But it was a lot of fun! We also learned just how tenacious and dedicated Henri Matisse was, to continue his creative work well into his 80’s. Matisse’s cut-outs are among the most admired and influential works of his entire career.

  • I used an inexpensive poster board and painted each sheet in a different color using tempera paint. Tempera paint is very similar in texture and consistency to gouache paint.
  • I tried to use a wide variety of colors.
  • After each sheet dried, I cut shapes out myself. You don't have to be precise or crazy analytical, just think organic and free-flowing, just like Matisse.
  • If you have the time in class, you can have your students take care of this step. Cutting out shapes is fun. Since I wouldn't have the time in class, I did this step at home.

  • After all the paint was dry and I cut various shapes into the poster board, I arranged the shapes into piles, according to color and laid them out on the table.
  • This made it easy for each appointed artist to find what they were looking for.
  • The colors were vibrant and the shapes themselves took their cue from Matisse's work.
  • I made sure to show the students several examples of Matisse's cut out art.

  • Each student took turns being "artist".
  • Since we have several students in class and not enough cut out shapes to go around, I had the students mount their shapes up on the wall using small strips of masking tape.
  • This made it easy to move around and to remove at the end of each student's design.
  • I contemplated using push pins, but I didn't want to make a bunch of holes in the cut out shapes--I also didn't want to poke holes in the wall (since we rent the building!).
  • The tape ended up working just fine.
  • Each artist had to speak clearly and had to know exactly what their vision was. The assistants just had to have patience. :)
The finished projects came out beautifully. They were simple yet had the same visual punch that Matisse had. This is definitely a project that I would consider doing again. It was fun to use such large shapes against the wall. Its so boring to use the same, small pieces of scrapbooking paper in our collages. This time we got to use bold and graphic shapes. I also recycled all the shapes for the next week when I let each student create their own smaller-scale collage. No assistants this time, just their own hands and artistic abilities.

Henri Matisse in his studio, working on his famous cut outs.

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  1. I love this idea! I'll have to try a collaborative Matisse piece as well.

  2. this is fantastic!!! what a fun, interactive collaboration with art history mixed in, love it!

  3. i've included this in my weekly inspiration roundup, blogged here:


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