Shamrock Shape Cut-Outs with Matisse

Combine an art history lesson with some St. Patrick’s Day fun by making these cool shamrock shape cut-outs in the collage style of Henri Matisse.  My favorite art lessons are ones when kids get to create at the same time they learn about famous artists.

Henri Matisse was an artist who was famous not only for his beautiful paintings, but also for the cut-outs he made later in life.  Once he was confined to a wheelchair he began to create what he called “paintings with scissors.”  He cut out all kinds of things and created collage art from them.

Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Go online to search for some of his cutouts.  He made a book called “Jazz” that is full of this collage-style art.  He didn’t just cut out basic shapes; he used bits of cutouts and combined them, used both the negative and positives of shapes, and combined colors in interesting ways.  Focus on all of these ideas as you make your own collage paper cuts.

Kids can try their hand at paper cut-outs.  We made shamrock cut-outs since it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, but you could do this with any basic shape.  (It would be fun to make these for all sorts of holidays too.)

We started by gathering up lots of green papers – both plain and patterned.  The kids used scissors to cut out shamrocks.


They weren’t all the same size and they weren’t all perfect.  They used some of the outlines of ones they had cut to make more with the negative shape but cutting around the previously cut shamrocks, creating an outline version.

We kept some of the papers glued down in a basic collage style like this, but we also wanted to make a more 3-D collage.  We used a threaded needle and ran it through each shamrock, one at a time.

Each was tied off with a little knot made using the needle and thread, and then the next shamrock was attached.  We didn’t worry about perfect spacing or the perfect order.  This is collage-style art.  I told them we were making a 3-D collage in space instead of on a flat paper.  Once all the shamrocks were strung we hung them up.  First we hung our string outside.

But when bad weather was on the way, which is pretty frequent in March around here, we relocated it to our kitchen.  It went just perfectly under our holiday shelf, which is all set for St. Patrick’s Day.

The string is almost invisible and it looks they are just floating there under the shelf.  I like the horizontal collage arrangement too.

This project made us appreciate Matisse and his work.  All that intricate cutting was harder than we expected, but it was really fun to play with the shapes and their arrangement.  It was interesting how different our project looked depending on how we arranged the shamrocks.

Additional Layers:

  • This project was made with various hues of greens.  How would it change the overall feel of the collage if you used a variety of contrasting colors (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel)?
  • Eric Carle is another artist that makes really neat collage that include lots of texture.  Look at some of his picture books (your library should have some) and make a collage in his style.  You’ll likely be painting first before you cut out your collage pieces.
  • Create holiday placemats for your table by making a collage and then covering it with contact paper or laminating it.
  • Turn this project into a greeting card.  Create a collage on the front of a card and then write a letter to a friend and send it.
  • Compare Matisse’s earlier paintings to his cut-outs.  What do they have in common?  How are they different?  Can you identify the elements of art in his work?  How does Matisse use line, shape, color, and texture?

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