Drawing with Scissors (Henri Matisse)

Students got a short lesson on Henri Matisse and how he worked. Among other things, they learned that after becoming ill from abdominal cancer, Matisse could no longer work as his easel and turned to collage. His assistants painted large pieces of white paper with gouache. Matisse cut shapes in what he called “drawing with scissors” which is cutting without drawing shapes on the paper. He then instructed his assistants as to where to place the cut pieces on his canvases. These pieces were very large and had to be done across a room with Matisse guiding from afar.

After seeing images of Matisse’s paintings and his collages, students were shown a piece of canvas board (10″ by 12″ or 25 cm by 30 cm). They were asked to use pieces of coloured paper to “draw with scissors” and then those pieces would be arranged on the canvas board. The canvas boards were displayed in the room, but students did not get the opportunity to work directly on or near the canvas.

Working in pairs, each student took on the role of artist and of assistant in turns. The artist instructed the assistant as to how and where to place the shapes that they cut. The artist was only allowed to speak and gesture to help the assistant to place the shapes. After one artist’s work was arranged, the roles were reversed.

Students found this exercise to be interesting, but also frustrating. They were able to sympathize with Matisse as to how difficult it must be to create when having to direct someone else as opposed to doing it yourself. Several times, I heard students express that it would be easier to do if they did it themselves. Students seemed to get a lot out of the exercise and they created some wonderful collages.

Further, students discovered that some of the negative shapes left after cutting out the shape they intended, created interesting elements that they could add to their collages.

Henri Matisse (December 31, 1869 –November 3, 1954)

•Possibly the most important French painter of the 20th century.
•Colour and its expressiveness were very important to him throughout his career.
•Was originally a lawyer.
•Started in art because his mother bought him art supplies when he was ill.
•Discovered impressionism in 1889.
•Leader of the Fauvist movement where natural scenes are painted with unnatural, bright colours.
•Later in life, when he was ill and bedridden, he turned to collage, having his assistants hand paint white paper with bright colours and adhere them to backgrounds.

Examples of his works:

This site has many examples of his work.

The Red Madras Headress

Snow Flowers


Great information on Matisse and some of his works is available at the Centre Pompidou website.

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