Collaging and cutouts by Matisse

The Sparkle Experiment Matisse Cutouts collage

The cut-outs by Henri Matisse are some of his most colourful and playful work, made simply with paper and scissors. He even created some art from bed as his health deteriorated. It’s inspiring that he continued to make art into his 80’s and right up to the very end and was still doing it with such passion and commitment.

“During the last decade of his life Henri Matisse deployed two simple materials—white paper and gouache—to create works of wide-ranging color and complexity. An unorthodox implement, a pair of scissors, was the tool Matisse used to transform paint and paper into a world of plants, animals, figures, and shapes… He described the process of making them as both “cutting directly into color” and “drawing with scissors.” – MoMA explaining Matisse’s process

The Sparkle Experiment Matisse Cutouts collage

In Matisse A Cut Above the Rest as part of BBC The Culture Show 2014, his work was referred to as “Simple, almost childish, blazing with colour,” and “He had the audacity of simplicity.”

The simplest of ideas is usually the best. We tend to over-complicate, wanting things to be more complex in order to be ‘good’. Danielle Krysa in Collage, reminds us “You don’t need any fancy equipment or a workshop full of tools – every household has a pair of scissors and some glue or adhesive tape. In the book she interviewed Anthony Zinonos, who spoke of a special relationship with his tools: “My scissors and glue have become my best friends, they never judge me.”

The Sparkle Experiment

Spending time moving paper around with no final outcome in mind can be very meditative. It creates an intuitive, loose method working as nothing has to be fixed in place until you’ve settled on a final look. Even then you can take a photo of the arrangement and not commit to sticking it permanently which is perfect if you change your mind a lot!

Start small: Pick a few colours, cut some basic shapes and have a play. Either use a timer to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default. Or use the intuitive method of feeling when it’s ‘done.’ There are no rules when it comes to collage.

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Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical

The Sparkle Experiment creativity make art leap

Considering starting a creative project? “That sounds great,” you think. But time passes and nothing happens. You’ve been wondering about it though. Is it worth spending your time and energy on this thing that seemed small and easy at first, but now seems much bigger?

Advice? DO IT. Take action and THEN have a think.

Wondering if you’ll like it won’t give you the whole picture because you only know what you know (i.e if you haven’t tried, how can you really know?). And what if this little project is the beginning of something magic? Compare that to taking action and finding out exactly how you feel. That’s a lot more data to work with and more accurate than looking into your imaginary crystal ball.

In Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg asks us not to think:

“Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.) Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.) Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)” [emphasis added]

Advice not just relevant for writers, but for any art-makers.

How to start? Jump in for 2 minutes: set a timer and start making. But only for 2 minutes so your ego doesn’t talk you out of it. Commit to repeating this daily for a week. Then see if you can do 2 weeks. Maybe you’ll start to feel 2 minutes isn’t long enough, maybe you get on a roll and surprise yourself. You’ll most likely feel different doing it on day 1 compared to day 7, gaining a dash of confidence along the way. If you can get over the scary hump of “I’m rubbish at this, what’s the point?” then magic is waiting for you (hint: the answer is to regularly show up in those 2 minutes).

How to collage

The Sparkle Experiment
Cutting different coloured shapes from origami paper

If you feel terrified at the thought of making art, this is a perfect exercise for you to feel more in control. Danny Gregory in Art Before Breakfast says “Creativity is the act of shaping the mush of the world around us into something – of creating your own order.” You make your own rules. You don’t have to commit to any arrangement so no decision is made in stone. It’s about playing around and seeing what turns up. And because you’re rearranging shapes, you don’t need any creative skills to get started. You can dive right in.

You will need: paper in different colours, photographs, images and text from magazines, books or any paper source. Scissors or scalpel knife. Optional glue or sticky tape and a tray to put things on or work from.

  1. Cut out shapes. Squares, triangles and circles are the easiest to start with.
  2. Cut out images. Don’t overthink it, cut it out and add it to the pile.
  3. From your pile of cut out elements, pick some and start arranging on a piece of paper. Play around with different combinations without thinking of a final look.
  4. If you like a combination, take a photo or fix it in place with glue or tape.
The Sparkle Experiment Collage
Images sourced from the book ‘In Vogue: Six Decades of Fashion,’ published 1975

Feeling overwhelmed with choice?

  • Pick one colour and only elements that match it
  • Only use coloured paper and shapes
  • Only use two colours or two shapes
  • Set a timer for 2 minutes to force quicker decision making so once the time is up, the work becomes finished by default

Have a jar/box/folder/somewhere to keep all the things you cut out in one place so you can revisit them quickly for future collages. It becomes your material for another day. Danielle Krysa in Collage says “Generally the actual making of a collage is a quick process – the groundwork of searching and collecting materials having already been put in place.” She encourages us to get collaging considering that “Collage is cheap and accessible to everyone.”

The more you make, the more you learn what you like and don’t like. Practice brings more decisiveness about knowing when your collage is finished.

Collage 01
Using old photographs to create fun collages

“So how do you create with no map of where you are going?… Creating in this kind of ambiguous territory can present some definitive challenges, but opening yourself up to the unknown can also be invigorating and deeply revealing… It’s such a naturally human tendency to want to plan and plot. However, the more you flex your brave intuitive muscles, the easier letting go becomes.” Flora Bowley, Creative Revolution.

How to do a blind drawing

The Sparkle Experiment Blind Contour Drawing
Created using a 1/2 blind drawing approach

Sometimes when getting creative, we get caught up in judging our art before we’ve even finished making it. Focused on wanting to make something ‘good,’ we limit our potential by having such a low tolerance for ‘mistakes’. There is so much potential in making strange and weird marks, allowing for spontaneity and happy accidents, that making bad art is a way to get better a making good art. Sam Anderson suggests blind drawing is “the fastest way to break them out of old bad habits, to make them unlearn lifeless conventions.” As well as being “Joyful and meditative…you can do it anywhere, anytime, with any subject. It will flip you, like a switch, from absence to presence.” It’s a kind of active meditation where you let go of the outcome and get very still while drawing.

You will need: paper and a pencil or pen. Optional board or book to fix the paper to, if you find the paper keeps slipping.

  1. Fix your gaze on your chosen subject and without looking at your paper, slowly draw what you see
  2. Take your time to finish your drawing without looking at your paper

Kimon Nicolaides reminds us that “a contour study is not a thing that can be ‘finished.’ It is having a particular type of experience, which can continue as long as you have the patience to look.”

The Sparkle Experiment Blind Contour Drawing

A couple of variations you can try:

  • close your eyes and draw from your imagination
  • set a timer and draw until it goes off
  • Place the paper within your peripheral vision so that it’s still fuzzy but you can see where your pen is in relation to the paper. This creates a sort of 1/2 blind drawing, allowing more control
  • Use your non-dominant hand to draw and either choose to look at what you’re drawing, or not. Be prepared for some fun mark making!

Your first attempt is likely to make you laugh because it will be so strange and bad but that’s exactly the point. Art should be about having fun and letting go. Blind drawing is a wonderful exercise in letting go, embracing bad art and getting clumsy like Piasso. But with practice comes improvement, more speed and confident according to Felix Scheinberger.  “As strange as it may seem, blind contour drawing will teach you to observe more closely and to draw more confidently.”

“Lately I’ve been experimenting a lot with “un-perfecting” as a way to loosen up, embrace the grit, and explore new kinds of energy in my paintings. While a highly refined painting can certainly be lovely, I find raw, messy, human expression and experience to be incredibly compelling – and refreshing… One way to achieve this kind of less controlled look is to explore using your nondominant hand.”Flora Bowley, Creative Revolution.