Monthly Archives: July 2014

Summer Artist Inspired Projects: Henri Matisse


Rocket and Groot, Matisse-style

The Artist: Henri Matisse

Henri Emile Benoît Matisse was known for his mastery of many different styles, from painting and illustration to sculpture and collage.

Not only was he considered the artist who spearheaded a movement called “Fauvism” in his early career, he later created some of the modern art world’s most recognizable works during his later years. Matisse can an also be an influence to those who feel they are either too old or too weak or uncoordinated to try something new.

Matisse was groundbreaking painter who later learned to "paint with scissors."

Matisse was groundbreaking painter who later learned to “paint with scissors.”

Henri Matisse had “two lives” artistically. He was known for his paintings in his early years, and for his paper cut out pieces later in life. Images Public Domain and Wikicommons.

Two of Matisse’s greatest artistic awakenings came from times of illness. In 1889, he was a 20-year-old law student in Paris, when he got appendicitis. While recovering, his mother brought him some art supplies. Once he dove into them, he knew this was what he wanted to do, and changed his direction from law to art.

Around 15 years later, he combined the style of the artist Cézanne with pointalism, in what he called Fauvism, a style he said was “feeling” the world with one’s eyes, rather than just “seeing” it.

In 1941, when he was in his early 70s, Matisse was diagnosed with cancer, and eventually had to use a wheelchair. His ability to paint and draw was limited due to deteriorating health, so he found a new way to create: “painting with scissors.”

He created his cut out collages, including many large-scale pieces. In some cases, he needed some help from assistants in handling the paper, but he never quit creating.

He even said his paper cut-outs were not a way of giving up, instead, he called the last 14 years of his life “une seconde vie,” or “a second life,” and felt working with cut outs was not a hindrance but a new opportunity.

“Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated,” he said.

The Project: Creature Cut-Outs

This project, inspired by Matisse’s later years, is as simple, and freeing as he made it sound: paint with scissors.

Screen shot 2014-06-29 at 2.03.30 AM

Scissors, paper, and glue and stand in for paint and pencil.

Find a favorite fictional beastie, alien being, comic hero, creature, or mythical animal, and draw it—without pen, pencil, or paint.

Find brightly-colored construction paper, origami paper, or scrap cloth, and pick a creature to “draw.” Using only age-appropriate scissors, cut an image the represents the creature or their world. Once these images are cut out, glue them onto simple single-colored sheet of paper, canvas, or cloth.

This project takes very little explanation, but it does come with some rules:

• Do not draw an image on the paper before cutting it out. No cheating. Matisse did use stencils for much of his work, but avoid that temptation for this project.

• Do not worry about it being perfect, realistic, symmetrical, or completely tidy. Matisse even left an art school because he didn’t like the overly “perfectionist” way they taught.

• Cut out more pieces than are need for the image. It is always good to have different shapes to play around with and see what looks best. Matisse had so many cut outs he said the walls of his bedroom were covered with them, and wrote in a letter in 1948 “I still don’t know what I’ll do with them.”

Younger artists can enjoy the simplicity of cutting and pasting, while those ready to take on a challenge will like seeing what they can create without the option of drawing and erasing.

"The Abomination" painting with scissors

“The Abomination” made by “painting with scissors.”

For some kids who might not be interested in Matisse’s style at first, remind them another popular artist they might know also draws much of his work with scissors: Eric Carle!

Matisse often made habit of reading poetry in when he first got up in the morning, as he said it was “like oxygen” for him and helped him feel inspired. Perhaps a quick re-revisit to a hungry caterpillar or grouchy ladybug might do the same for little artists.

This project may be frustrating at first, especially when tempted to just draw on the tinier pieces, but fight that temptation. Matisse said, “creativity takes courage.”

Don’t shy from a challenge.


Hit the Road with “Old School” Car Games

My family ready to head down the road in a borrowed circa 1974 RV.

My family ready to head down the road in a borrowed circa 1974 RV.

This month, my family will be “gettin’ our kicks” on Route 66 with a car trip down the Mother Road. I’m planning on taking them back in time with some “old school” family car games we played when my brother and I occupied the back seat of our boat-sized “Border Patrol Green” Ford LTD (or assorted recreational vehicles).

These games were ways my dad used to help us to pass time, challenge the mind, take advantage of our competitive nature, and curb our fidgety impatience. I always assumed they were something every generation knew, but in the age of back seat DVD players and PS3s, the no-tech car game seems to be an endangered species.

In the spirit of historic preservation, here are five of my favorite nostalgia-inducing, road, technology-free, trip games:

The Alphabet Game: The definitive road trip game in our family. We were so anxious to play it, my mom made us wait until we got out of our hometown city limits before even starting. The rules are simple enough: find a word beginning with each letter of the alphabet in chronological order, by the time the day’s final destination is reached. We added our own extra rules: letters can be stand alone, or on the side of a semi, but not on a license plate. Both fun and frustrating, we could zip through the alphabet with ease until we reach J, Q, and X, and Dad would say “no cheating.” We eventually let the X-shaped railroad crossing signs count as X, so we wouldn’t keep asking Dad to drive through “those parts of town,” where there were plenty of strip mall theaters bearing that same letter.

License Plate Race: Unlike the Alphabet game, this one has is a competition, rather than a community search. Divide the 50 states into how ever many passengers there are in the car. There are four members in our family, so each member would get 12 states (we either tack the extra two onto the older players or eliminate trying to find Alaska or Hawaii altogether). Everyone keeps their states written down, and crosses off the ones they find. The first player to find all of the states on their list by the final stop, or at least the most by that time, wins.

Pack of plenty of interactive "no-tech" fun, like these mystery and puzzle books.

Pack of plenty of interactive “no-tech” fun, like these mystery and puzzle books.

The Beetle Game: This is one we called “The Herbie Game,” while one of my best friends called it “Doodle Bug.” Whatever the title, it is the classic tallying of how may Volkswagon Beetles we could spot before reaching any given destination. This game has been modified again and again throughout the history of mass-produced vehicles. We’ve played “Red Car,” “Green Car,” “The Van Game,” and my brother’s personal favorite, “The Mustang Game.” This later one was short-lived due to my brother’s over-abundance of rules: “Mustangs 1969 and earlier only…Shelbys count as two points, Fastbacks as three, and if you see a Cobra, it’s worth TEN!!!” Keep it simple, please.

First Letter, Last Letter: I’m not sure if this is the official title of this game, but it certainly fits it best. A sort of modified version of Categories, players must pick a topic (colors, cities, fruit, cartoon characters, books, etc.). The first player thinks of a word in the category, and the next player in line has to think of word in that category that starts with the last letter of the word mentioned. If the category is Superheroes, the progression could be “Batman…Namor…Rocket Raccoon….Nick Fury…Yellowjacket…etc” If a person can’t think of a word in five seconds, they are “out.” Continue on with the remaining players until all but one have been “stumped.” Make sure to pick a category with a pretty large base from which to choose. “Science Fiction Movies,” can be fun and challenging, while “Planets in Our Solar System” will be a little short lived.

Car Sleuthin’: This was by far my dad’s favorite road trip game, because he not only got be “in charge,” it really made my brother and I think. He would present us with a simple mystery to solve. For example:

“A dead man is lying face-down on the ground with a pack on his back. What happened?”

We had to ask only “yes” or “no” questions until we solved the mystery. With my own kids, we’ve used mystery books like The Sherlock Holmes Puzzle Collection by “John Watson,” and recently purchased Lemony Snicket’s File Under Suspicious Incidents for our next trip. This way, everyone can play. Believe it or not, this game actually kept us quiet and working together to solve a problem. We sometimes forgot about how long the trip was, we were so focused. The answer to Dad’s poser, by the way, is “his parachute didn’t open.”

It may be a challenge getting my own hi-tech family to slap shut the laptop, or switch off the iPad, but when they do, I promise them it will be worth it….at least down the road a ways.

Then, I’ll probably let them finish watching The Lego Movie.

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Maya Lin


Turn your favorite quotes and polymer clay into simple art pieces inspired by Maya Lin’s groundbreaking memorials and sculpture.

The Artist: Maya Lin

Maya Lin is an American-born artist, architect and memorial designer. Her parents came to the United States from China ten years before her birth, to flee Mao Tse-tung’s rule.

As an active environmentalist, many of her works make use of the surrounding landscape. She has been known to use recycled materials, natural mediums such as marble and granite, and even the land itself.


Maya Lin and her memorials. Photos from Wikicommons.

One of Lin’s most visited creations it the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or “The Wall,” in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Gardens. She designed the memorial in 1982 while she was still an undergraduate at Yale University. Her design beat out more than 1,400 other design entries for the honor.

This memorial is more than 246 feet long and made up of 70 inscribed black granite panels bearing the names of all those in the military who died or who remain missing in the Vietnam War. There are currently 58,272 names on the wall, each placed there by a computerized photo stenciling method called “gritblasting.”

Her idea of the Wall was to create a “park within a park,” creating a quiet and protected space. The polished granite surface was meant to be mirror-like to reflect the current day surroundings while people looked over, remembered, and touched the names on the wall.

Other memorials include the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and The Women’s Table, in honor of the Women at Yale, on the campus of her alma mater. Both of these works feature a thin layer of water running over a flat surface, encouraging people to place their hands along the smooth top.


These little pieces, made by simply carving quotes into polymer, may not look like much until they are settled into their intended environment.

Her current projects include what will be her final memorial, entitled “What it Missing?” The multi-sited project focusing on the awareness of habitat loss and biodiversity, debuted in 2009, with an installation at California Academy of Sciences.

 The Project: Mini Quote “Stone” Carvings

Two of the most beautiful characteristics of Lin’s work are the way they becomes part of the landscape or setting, and their overwhelming invitation to be touched. Rather than just stand starkly and impersonally amid a field on the middle of a plaza, Lin’s work utilizes its surrounding to bring it to life.

This project takes only bakeable polymer clay, a favorite inspirational (or humorous) quote, and a specific space you want this little “monument” to go in.

Choose polymer colors that most resemble granite or marble, or mix two or three together to get a marbled effect. Most brands of this clay come in 2-oz packages, and one of these (if just using one color) should be enough to make a nice little monument.

Think about what this is sculpture is going to be. Is this a motivational piece for a shelf corner or a work desk edge, an inspiring quote for a backyard, or something to simply evoke smiles and happy thoughts on a window garden?

Figure out how you want the shape to fit into its in environment. Will it be flat like a stepping stone or tucked into a corner like a triangle or brick? Try a wedge, if you want to burrow it the landscape, similar to Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Use your hands or a rolling pin to smooth the surface that will contain the phrase. You can also flatten it by softly “smashing” it against a smooth, flat surface. The more you work with it, the easier the clay will be to shape.

Next, think about a simple, brief quote that would suit the space best. Think of a favorite movie, television show, or book quote, a line of poetry or favorite personal phrase. Using a toothpick or large yarn needle, gently write the phrase on the clay by lightly making little punctures in the clay. This makes it easier to rub over and correct mistakes, plus it won’t warp or “drag” the surface as much.

When you get the phrase the way you want it, go back and slowly make the letters a little deeper. Younger artists can use clay letter stamps, usually found near the clay packages at craft stores. Bake the little sculptures at 275° for 30 minutes to harden them.

Once these are done, they will look like little oddly shaped stones. Not really exciting in themselves, to be honest. When they become part of their intended environment, however, they can be seen and enjoyed from an entirely new perspective.

Invite people to run their fingers over the phrase, or feel the smooth surface of the clay. Get up close, look at the piece from different angles and really explore it. After all, this is what Lin often invites visitors to her memorials to do.

“I try to give people a different way of looking at their surroundings,” Lin says of her work. “That’s art to me.”


Some quiet little tributes to science fiction, carved in “stone.”

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Andy Warhol


Use modern Geek culture icons to pay tribute to Andy Warhol’s pop art style.

Part of my summer-long series where kids, teens, and fun-loving adults can learn about influential and popular artists by lending their own geeky edge to their styles.

The Artist: Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol was an American artist, filmmaker, printmaker, and photographer, who led the Pop Art movement with colorful flair, most prominently in the 1960s.


Andy Warhol’s influence in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s included paintings and silk-screen prints of “iconic” stars such as Marylin Monroe. Images: Public Domain.

Unlike abstract art that was popular in the 1950s, Pop Art often depicted immediately recognizable subjects, from cartoon characters to everyday items.

One of Warhol’s most recognizable examples of this was his Campbell’s Soup series of simple paintings on canvas. The soup can, an unlikely model for a portrait series, may have been indirectly inspired by a fellow artist of Warhol’s who told him to paint what he loved. The soup cans were part of his first major exhibition, and he claimed to have had the soup nearly everyday for lunch.

Warhol also liked to work with monoprinting (making “one-time” prints), silk-screening, using slide projections to trace drawings from projections, and experimenting with nearly every form for visual art.

He started out in the 1960s as a commercial illustrator, but soon moved away from commercial work into the world of popular art. His bohemian and counterculture attitude and appearance soon made him a celebrity in his own right, and he was dubbed the “Pope of Pop.” Actors, poets, musicians, and models were just a few of the people wanting to be part of his circle of friends. He has also been the subject of paintings, poems, documentaries, and even two children’s books, written and illustrated by his nephew, James Warhola.

Warhol passed away in 1987, but his work still feels new and current to many art lovers. In 2011, New York auction house Christie’s sold his painting of Elizabeth Taylor for more than $622,000, while his Double Elvis print was sold by Sotheby’s Auctions for $37 million.

The Project: “Geeky” Icons Portrait Series

One of Warhol’s techniques was to use images of popular individuals at the time, primarily historic figures and entertainers, such as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, or Mick Jagger, and “re-imagine” them through changes in color schemes that go beyond what one would normally associate with a portrait.


Don’t be afraid to experiment with new materials and techniques, just like the pop artists did.

Warhol’s silk-screen method was very precise and similar to how mass-produced prints were made. He used this method because he felt many of the celebrities themselves were “mass produced,” existing on paper and film as much as in their regular human form.

Since Warhol was very in tune with the current materials and methods of printmaking and commercial art at the time, one might imagine what he could have accomplished with modern-day, computer-based methods and photo apps. Whether or not he would have been happy with this progress, no one knows.

This project combines the best of both worlds—computer-based art and hand painting—in a tribute to both Warhol’s Icons and today’s geeky fandoms.

First, find a head shot of a favorite geeky icon—Stan Lee, Princess Leia, a Walking Dead zombie, etc.—and use any photo-editing program to make them black and white or a sepia tone. Another way is to take a color print and simply make black-and-white copies.

Copy and paste four to eight images of this photo, using any desktop publishing program.

Those who might not have one of these programs can print out as many copies of the image as they need, and cut and paste them by hand on a letter-size sheet. Don’t use the “pop art” or Warhol-inspired pre-done apps for this project, as they often don’t go beyond changing the background or image colors.

Once the repeated image has been printed, use whatever medium is desired to give each image its own unique personality. Felt tip markers, watercolors, colored pencils, and even crayons will work, depending on the age and skill of the artist.

Pop Art projects often encourage artists to go beyond the conventional way of looking at things, as artists look for creating something new and clever out of normal everyday images.

Even with this “no rules” attitude, there are three rules for this geeky project:
1. Use at least three different colors on each image.
2. Don’t make any two images the same. The whole point is to stretch the creative chords as far as possible.
3. Think about what would make Andy smile. Warhol and his art might not have appealed to everyone, but it wasn’t boring. Have fun and don’t be afraid to giggle a little at the results.

Even though this method is a little different and much less complicated than the one Warhol himself used, he might approve. After all, his definition of Pop Art was open to experimentation, imagination, and new ways of doing things.

“The pop idea was that anybody could do anything,” Warhol said. “So naturally, we were all trying to do it all.”


Warhol style creations or current pop icons by four-year-old Erin (top) and 12-year-old Molly (below).