This month my 6th grade students are learning about the French artist, Henri Matisse. I love teaching my students about Matisse. Not only did he create such colorful paintings and paper cuts, he always kept art a part of his life. From childhood through the end of his life, Matisse was always adapting his art to what he could do, rather than struggling with what he could not do. What a fantastic message for my students to take away!

While the independent studio project my students will be completing will be a painting that is based on an imaginative “Dream House”, my smART partner and I thought it would be fun for students to try their hand at “paper cuts” first. Our students learned about Matisse’s paper cuts and how he “drew with his scissors”. We showed them many examples of his paper cuts and discussed how Matisse interpreted his ideas using shapes and colors that expressed a theme. His shapes give the impression of an animal, figure, place, etc. in an abstract way. There are no realistic details, yet the viewer can still see what the artwork is about.

Image autorisée à Rosamund Young Tate par Rosamund Young
Titre : Les Codomas
Description : de la série : Jazz (Série de 20 planches
Auteur : Matisse Henri (1869-1954)
Crédit photographique : (C) Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat
Date : ~~July~~ 1946
Technique/Matière : découpé, gouache, papiers collés
Localisation : Paris, musée national d’Art moderne – Centre Georges Pompidou
© CNAC / Réunion des Musées Nationaux

In the artwork above, we discussed the simplified trapeze swings and the use of squares to indicate the spaces in the net that hangs below. The angle and placement of his paper cut outs indicate movement and the bright color create a whimsical quality that is reminiscent of a circus. The squiggly figures suggest the trapeze artists swinging from bar to bar. After viewing several examples of Matisse’s paper cut outs, the students were ready to try their hand at the “Paper Cut Out Challenge”.

Students were placed into groups and given a theme for the cut out collage. I used the online tool, Random Name Picker, to create a digital, interactive wheel that I could customize with topics of interest. I included topics such as animals, celebrations, fashion, video games, seasons, outer space and more. The kids had a great time crossing their fingers in hopes that the wheel would land on their favorite theme!

Once the students had their topic, it was time to get to work. Students were provided with a large piece of black paper, scissors, glue and assorted colored scrap paper. The instructions were simple: No drawing…only cutting! Everyone must participate and the final product must reflect the theme. The activity took two class periods. At the end of the second class, we voted on which paper cut-out was “the best” and that team won “Pride Points”, which can be redeemed in school for prizes and special privileges.

I was amazed at how well the students worked together and some of the impressive projects they created! I think it was a fun, collaborative activity for students. They learned to work together, the challenges of cutting without drawing first and practiced their design skills to reinforce many of the concepts we are learning about in art class.



  1. I loved how the students looked like how they were working together and how much fun they were having. I loved that project last year when I was in the sixth grade.

    • I am so happy to hear that you recall that project from last year with fond memories! I actually decided to try it with my classes after Miss Chris had so many good things to say about the project!

  2. This assignment was really great! I really learned how to do art without drawing what you’re making. I had so much fun.

    • I am happy you enjoyed the activity, Elise! I think it was a neat opportunity for you to all have the experience of “drawing with scissors” and working together on a theme. The results were great!

  3. Learning about Henri Matisse was a great experience. I didn’t even know who he was until now. I love learning about french artist, and now I have someone new to learn a lot about. So thanks.

    • I am glad you can appreciate learning about Matisse. He was a great artist who brought new ideas and approaches to a traditional art world. I like how you were like him and used lots of colors and your imagination for your own Matisse inspired painting!

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