Painted Collage Art, Inspired By Eric Carle

Let’s learn a bit about collages first, and then make some really beautiful painted collage art inspired by Eric Carle’s books.  This project made our family’s top five favorite art projects ever list.  It was a hit!  It combined a simple lesson, some fun books, and some seriously creative painting and piecing.  We loved it.

The word “collage” comes from the French word coller, which means “to glue.”  Collages are works of art where pieces are cut and then glued on to the artwork.  The pieces that are glued on can be all sorts of things, not just paper.  Some kinds of collage began in Japan when calligraphers adhered their beautiful writings to surfaces.  Later, gold leafing and other precious metals and gems were applied to paintings, like in the Gothic cathedrals of 15th century Europe.  This was also a kind of collage.

This is a Gothic painting from Spain. Look at the gold that was applied to the painting. It was pieced on and attached, not so differently than how you might attach magazine clippings to a paper collage. Image by theJaime Serra [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
The collage style we typically think of really began with Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso though.  The two began cutting out wallpapers, cloth, and paper and adhering it to their paintings.  It wasn’t long before artists were cutting their own paintings apart and piecing them back together in new ways too.

Fruit Dish and Glass by Georges Braque. This is a painting that used wood grain wallpaper as a collage element. This image is in the public domain in the United States (published prior to 1923).

Eric Carle

Eric Carle’s art is recognizable because of his bright, colorful collages.  He has written and illustrated  many children’s books.  He hand paints papers and then cuts them and pieces them back together to create his illustrations.

A House For Hermit Crab is one of our favorites! Every single illustration is like looking at a work of art.(affiliate link)

Here’s a little collection of his books you probably recognize. If you don’t own any of his books you can click on them to see them on Amazon (affiliate link).  We read several of his books before starting our own collage art.

Painted Collage Art Project

We started our project by gathering lots of bright paints, some thick art paper (like from an artist sketchbook), paintbrushes in lots of shapes and sizes, some scissors, and some glue.  Our favorite Eric Carle books sat close by for inspiration.


We began by painting lots and lots of papers in interesting ways.  Swirls, zigzags, dots, blurs, and layered colors filled our pages.

Making more papers than we thought we would need was our goal.  We all shared our painted pages, so we just collectively made a big variety.  We used lots of sponge brushes besides just our normal paintbrushes.

Here are a few of the painted paper designs we created.  As we painted, we thought about the kinds of scenes we could piece together using our papers.

This is probably about a third of the painted designs we made. Some were textured solids, but our favorites ended up being the interesting color mixes.


We let the papers dry completely overnight.  The next day we just started freehand cutting the painted papers to create interesting shapes for our pictures.

Isabel wanted to make a little American flag.

We didn’t worry too much about perfect shapes or sizes.  We completely freehand cut every part of our designs.  That’s part of what gives collage pictures their charm.


We glued the designs down to our art sketchbooks.

We used both regular school glue and rubber cement, and both seemed to work equally well.

Some of the pictures had the solid white backgrounds of our sketchbooks.

But we also hand cut and pieced some of the backgrounds too.  This water scene was made with lots of different colored stripes that were cut from various paintings and then pieced together.

We played with the pieces and moved them all around quite a bit before we finally glued everything down.

In the end, they were all really neat.  At first we had been nervous that our paintings wouldn’t be right, or that we couldn’t cut our designs well enough.  In the end though, they came together and looked a lot like Eric Carle’s storybooks even with all of our imperfections.

In truth, the imperfections were my favorite. All of the interesting paint swirls and unique cuts are what make the collages so delightful.

We loved these!  They will be some of our favorite pages in our sketchbooks this year for sure.

This project was just as fun for my 6 year old as for my teenagers. I even had fun! This is a perfect project for a whole family art lesson.

I hope you’ll try it.  So many times over these two afternoons we were all saying, “Wow!  This is fun!  Why haven’t we done this before?”  And I think you’ll love it too.

Additional Layers

  • Go visit Eric Carle’s official website.  You can see his storybooks, find out about his life, and watch how he creates his art.  He uses tissue paper and waters down his paint, so the process is actually a bit different than ours.  It would be fun to try it both ways.
  • Watch this short video about Picasso’s collage exhibit in Philadelphia’s Museum of Art.
  • Make another collage in a different style.  You could use magazine or newspaper clippings, scrapbook paper, wallpaper, or fabric.

More From Layers of Learning

You might also like these other fun bits from Layers of Learning.

And please, come follow us on social media.   We really love to connect with others who are into things like Gothic art, children’s storybooks, and the collages of Picasso!  It’s not everyday you find friends like that.  (;

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Make your own slime. This is a fast, no fail recipe.

See how we use exploration stations to teach our kids all kinds of things without them even realizing it’s a lesson.

Layers of Learning Unit 2-1
Take a look at the Byzantine art section of Layers of Learning Unit 2-1. The gold leafing of the Byzantines was an early form of collage and there are several metal leafing explorations in this unit.


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