Monday, April 24, 2017

Art in Action: Henri Matisse

Before I started working in libraries, my background was in art and art education. I've been wanting to start a monthly art program here at the library for a while, and finally got to run my first one. I was looking for a catchy title and eventually decided to call it Art in Action! I hope the title helps emphasize the hands-on approach to learning art. Each month we will read about a different artist and then explore their style while creating our own works of art. The program is geared towards elementary and middle school students, so an older age range than would come to a typical storytime. I'm continually searching for programming that will be engaging for older kids as well.

For the first program, I wanted to do something fairly simple as far as what supplies we would need and something that could be adapted for a wide range of ages since I didn't know how many people to expect or what age group would come to the program. I chose to look at Matisse and focus on his later paper collage work. Older children could cut complex shapes, but young children could still participate by tearing paper if they weren't comfortable with scissors.


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*Mr. Matisse and His Cutouts by Annemarie van Haeringen
*Matisse’s Garden by Samantha Friedman
Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter
A Bird or Two by Bijon Le Tord
Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors by Keesia Johnson
The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan

Books with a * are ones I read or used the most for the program, though I had all the books out and available for people to browse through for inspiration.

I was really pleased with the number of picture books available about Matisse. He made for a great first subject for my program! The first three books on this list focus exclusively on Matisse’s cut paper works, which were the works I wanted to focus on for this program. I especially like Matisse’s Garden because it has large foldout pages that show images of Matisse’s actual art and the illustrations are also cut paper, which was very inspiring for making our own collage art. A Bird or Two and Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors provide nice basic overviews of Matisse’s life and The Iridescence of Birds focuses on Matisse’s childhood and how his mother helped influence and inspire his creativity.

Click read more for my art project ideas and sample images.

Art Project

I found these step by step instructions for making a Matisse inspired collage on Art Projects for Kids. Though I did not require people to follow the instructions exactly, I thought having them available might help anyone who wasn't quite sure where to start with their piece.


How It Went

Only one third grade boy ended up showing up, along with his mother, but we talked about Matisse and created collages for an hour and fifteen minutes so I still consider it a success even with such a small turnout. Since he was older, he didn't really want me to read a book to him, so we flipped through some of the books that showed Matisse's actual art and I talked a bit about why he started doing collage in his later years. Then I brought out the colored paper and scissors and we got started. At first he was pretty reluctant to do much. He just wanted to draw rather than do the paper collage, but then we got talking about Pokemon and I said we could make Matisse style collages of Pokemon if we wanted and I started to make one of Pikachu. He loved the piece I was making and I said if he made something, we could trade. That got him working a bit harder! Thankfully, with only one kid there, it was easy for me to be able to give something to him without there being any potential drama. He, his mother, and I ended up making quite a few pieces of art between the three of us. Here are some examples:   

He made good use of my scraps to make his own Pikachu image. I complimented him on that and told him about how Matisse would often use both the cut out shapes and the negative space they left behind in his work!

I also ended up recycling this program idea for another program I had to run the same week at a local community center. This one had many more kids participating and they were much younger, so there was a lot of torn paper art and parent help, but it still went well. For that group I read Mr. Matisse and His Cutouts, though towards the end I started abridging the pages some to get through it a bit faster. The kids seemed to have a lot of fun with the collage, and maybe a few of them will remember Matisse's name in the future. One of the parents complimented me on tying in Matisse to the project, so that made me feel pretty great about things.

Next month, hopefully a few more kids will show up to the library program. We'll be talking about Frida Kahlo and doing self portraits!


  1. I'm doing something similar in a 7 week format for summer reading, with a different artist/artistic style each week. We've got a number of local artists, so I'm also going to be bringing in a few guest artists to demo/help (whatever's in their comfort level).

    1. Having local artists help out sounds awesome! I'm focusing on more historical art figures for now, but that's a fantastic idea for if the program continues to grow. I'm near Portland Oregon, so there are a lot of local artists in the area!