Let's Draw with Scissors
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Let’s Draw with Scissors

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Inspired by the moving shapes and colors of Henri Matisse and Alexander Calder, we learn how to make a striking paper sculpture.


  1. Forms to observe
  2. White paper and cardboard
  3. Tempera or watercolors
  4. Wide brush
  5. Scissors
  6. Metal thread and / or cotton thread or twine

The famous Henri Matisse continued to develop his artistic research up to the papier découpé , a collage of shapes cut from large sheets previously painted. First used for studies and sketches, this technique will accompany him even when, ill and confined to a wheelchair, he will need the help of assistants to complete his compositions. These “paintings with scissors” – lively and bright works where form and color are reduced to the essentials – will gradually become larger, until they occupy entire walls: the song of joy of those who have never stopped seeing the beauty.
Synthesis and naturalness of the forms can also be found in the works of Alexander Calder, best known for his mobiles, engaging suspended and delicate kinetic sculptures, often huge, made up of colored metal shapes held together by thin wires and arches. Two great names in art that children can draw inspiration from to create their own unique and original work.

Let's Draw With Scissors

From reality to abstract form

Observing the works of Matisse and Calder, the children will notice how the shapes are inspired by concrete realities, revisited by the imagination of the two great artists: human beings, animals, plants, become stylized figures, whose origin is only suggested. Even the little ones can try their hand at this work of imagination. Let’s invite them to look around, to observe the extreme variety of shapes, sizes, volumes of the large and small objects that surround them . Children, giving free rein to creativity, will be able to reinterpret and reinvent the elements of their everyday life, which will be transformed into artistic ideas, in shapes of different sizes to be transferred to paper to create original abstract sculptures.

Colors and cutouts

It’s time to prepare the colored papers. Like Matisse, children can start with large white sheets, spreading the color evenly and thus obtaining various solid-colored sheets in the selected colors. Both watercolors and diluted tempera are fine, but it is better to prefer primary and secondary colors to have bright and vibrant contrasts. The weight of the paper must be chosen according to the desired effect: light sheets will give elements that curve according to the point where they are hung, heavier papers will keep their shape; the ideal would be to give children the opportunity to experiment with both types and then decide.

This phase of preparation of the material is an excellent prelude to the most creative part, a moment of “settling” of the stimuli collected. Once the color is completely dry, scissors enter the scene : children can “draw” freehand, cutting the sheet directly, or first make a pencil drawing on the sheet and then cut out.

Suspended forms

Now we are ready to bring the two-dimensional shapes dear to Matisse into the third dimension, taking inspiration from the works of Calder. The starting point can be a wire hanger shaped so as to make the original shape disappear : the hook, for example, can become a useful ring for hanging the work. Other iron wires are hooked to the initial structure, being careful that they remain mobile, fixed with eyelets or rings that allow rotation (for this purpose, even the copper wires recovered from old electrical wires can be useful). Among the cut-out elements, children will choose the ones to use for their own sculpture, applying them directly to the metal or tying them with the wire in order to leave them hanging .

A key element in Calder’s mobile works is the balance of the parts, which allows the harmonious evolutions of the various components. It is not easy to replicate the balance of its structures, but it will be interesting to experiment and proceed by trial and error. Scraps and advanced forms can be reused for other works (compositions on canvas or on the wall).

The technique of using painted sheets to make collages can also be found in the images of famous illustrated books, such as those by Leo Lionni and Eric Carle; pay attention to this while leafing through these books with your children, it could be another starting point.

A simpler alternative

If you do not have tempera or watercolors available, or you need to propose an activity to be completed in a shorter time, you can start with colored papers and cards , possibly with bright colors. You cut out the shapes directly from the colored sheets and you compose your own sculpture. You can work without the metal wire; in this way, even the little ones can have access to all the materials and create independently . The structure can be composed of some stiffer cardboard to which the other shapes can be fixed with string or thread, making small holes in the paper with the awl, or with the tip of a pencil on a soft surface.

Like in an art gallery

It is therefore a creative and interesting experience for all ages. Shapes suspended in mid-air and in continuous movement , an evocative work that in its mutation, sometimes slow and imperceptible, never ceases to fascinate and whose appearance also changes according to the position in which it is placed: it can be placed in the center of a large space, so as to be able to walk around it, or near a wall (in this case it will be interesting to observe the play of shadows too). Invite the children to take care of this aspect too, considering the work in relation to the environment and the people who live there.

That’s How

  1. Paint the solid colored sheets of various colors
  2. Let it dry
  3. Freehand cut out the painted sheets
  4. Model the wire to create the supporting structure
  5. Apply the paper shapes directly to the wire or by tying them with thread or string to leave them hanging
  6. Hang from the ceiling and observe

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Let’s Draw With Scissors

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