"Painting with scissors"—Henri Matisse's eloquent way of describing paper cut-out art—is the practice of using simple shapes cut from colored construction paper to create a still life. In this activity, your little artist will try his hand at this unique method of creating a work of art featuring inanimate objects, such as fruit or flowers. Not only will his creation be a nod to the master, but he'll also practice identifying shapes and experimenting with colors.
What You Do:
- Share images of Henri Matisse’s cut-out paintings so children can see how shapes are cut from colored paper. Recommended images are, La Gerbe, Japanese Mask, The Creole Dancer, and The Snail. This will get him familiar with the types of shapes commonly used in a Matisse still life. Look at images of other still life paintings to give him a better idea of how to arrange his own. Some images to refer to are: Paul Cezanne’s, Still Life with Apples and Oranges or The Basket of Apples.
- Help your child arrange the fruit still life. To give the fruit some height, so it's displayed higher than the edges of the bowl, simply crumple up some newspaper and place it under the fruit. Consider using fruits of all different shapes, such as bananas, oranges, apples, watermelons, grapes, and any tropical fruit that has unusual edges or textures, like dragon fruit or custard apples.
- Help your child by pre-cutting the bowl out of a piece of colored paper. Use a pencil to draw the shape of the bowl on the paper and then simply cut it out. The initial size of the bowl will assist your child in deciding how large to cut out the shapes of the fruit—actual size is the easiest choice.
- Set the paper bowl on the white background paper, but don't glue it down yet.
- Have your child draw the outline shapes representing the fruit in the still life. If he's having any difficulty, let him hold the piece of fruit in his hand and ask him what shape it looks like the most. An orange, for example, is most like a circle. He should choose colors of paper that best represent the fruit that he's drawing. He should draw each shape before cutting it out.
- Now it’s time to practice cutting! Have your child carefully cut out each piece of fruit, guiding the scissors to follow the hand drawn lines.
- For more advanced artists who want a little more detail, have your child cut out shapes he sees inside the fruit. For example, if there is a light reflection in an apple, he can cut the apple out in red paper and then cut a white circle representing the reflecting light, and place that on top of the apple. Or, if there is a brown line in the banana, he can cut a line shape out of brown paper and place it on top of the yellow banana shape.
- After your child cuts out all of the fruit for his still life, help him place the pieces of paper fruit where they belong in the cut-out bowl. Use the actual still life as a reference. There will probably be many overlapping pieces, since some of the fruit is in the foreground and some is in the background.
- Now, have him glue down the fruit shapes and the bowl, starting from the bottom layer of shapes and working his way to the shapes on top. As he glue, have him gently press from the center of the shape all the way to its edges.
- While the glue on the still life cut-out is drying, feel free to start eating the juicy fruit in the real thing!
More about Matisse: Henri Matisse, (1869-1954) was a French artist, known for his bold use of color. During his life, he worked as a painter, printmaker and sculptor. In his later years, while confined to a wheelchair, he began what he called his "paintings with scissors", or as we know them best, paper cut-outs. This type of art is simple and playful, yet elegant-looking.
Ellen Dean has worked as an art educator in Thailand since 2005, working with both children and adults. She has also been a professional artist working in painting, sculpture and photography since 1996.