Both Picasso and Matisse practiced collage as an art form during their careers. True or false?
About half of my sixth-grade class got this answer correct: True. I then showed them examples of each artist’s collages. As they viewed Matisse’s, they suddenly remembered studying his cut-paper works of art.
Of course, there are many famous artists who worked with the medium of collage other than Picasso and Matisse. In fact, collage is used by people today when they scrapbook—even though some might not realize it is a form of collage.
The sixth-grade classroom teacher and I combined units when the students were studying “secrets of the sea” in science class. It was a perfect way to incorporate what they learned in science, and express their new knowledge in the form of a collage. My only stipulation on materials to use on their collages was that they needed to use some puzzle pieces somewhere within the collage to give it added texture. In my demo, I made the mistake of using the puzzle pieces as jagged seaweed, so most of the students followed suit. Despite this, however, the creativity, color and composition of the students’ collages were outstanding, so I was more than pleased with their presentations.
I urged students to have a focal point in their collages—a point that first engages the eye and draws it into the artwork’s design. Sometimes there can even be more than one focal point. A good design is one where the viewer’s eye is led around the collage so it can find interesting images, then return to one particular image to explore further.
When making a collage, arranging and rearranging are part of the process. I demonstrated laying out pieces of the collage, having my theme set as jellyfish in the sea, and layering my puzzle pieces as well as colored magazine pages cut to form shapes, and paper-punched construction-paper holes for bubbles. Nothing was glued down until I was satisfied with the placement of all of the items I had cut out.
The layering allows the design to build upon itself, so it is an important part of the collage. The puzzle pieces are layered on each other to create depth. Repeating shapes can create unity in a simplistic way. Using objects that carry similar textures, patterns, colors or shapes can help link areas, to produce a feeling of unity.
Conversely, variety keeps a design interesting and vibrant, while color can be used to balance it. Don’t have too much of one color, though, because it can makes the collage dull and without interest to the viewer.
It helps to have someone look at your collage while you work, to see if they can identify your focal point, or determine whether your collage has balance. You want your collage to tell a story, but you also want to have the freedom to experiment while you are making the collage.
Students created backgrounds for their collages by each selecting a piece of paper and then deciding which materials to use to colorize it—paint, marker, colored pencil or magazine pages. Once the backgrounds had been colored, the students identified their theme or focal point. They then began to select magazine sheets that had colored textures, from which they cut shapes such as fish, seahorses, etc. Jigsaw-puzzle pieces were also chosen and taken to the art tables to arrange on the collages.
As the worked, I reminded students to not to glue anything in place until they were absolutely sure of the composition. They were to consider balance, color, texture, repetition, layering, variety, focal point, and overall composition as they cut and laid out the shapes for their collage designs.
I suggested they ask themselves, “Is the collage interesting to the viewer?” “Is it stagnant or does it lead the eye around the composition?” “Do the colors balance it?” “Does the repetition in the design create unity?” “Can I tell what the focal point of my collage is?” “Does it have an interesting resting place for the viewer’s eye?”
When each student was sure that his or her collage was truly what it was supposed to be, and that they had also had fun while composing it, the pieces could be glued into place with white glue.
Students were engaged in this “secrets of the sea” underwater collage study from the minute it was introduced. They were antsy to get going with the art materials and create their masterpieces, all to enhance their scientific study completed the week before.
We proudly displayed our collages in “quilt” fashion in the school hallway, making a big underwater scene.
By Karen Skophammer
Retired after 31 years of teaching, Karen Skophammer was an art instructor for in Barnum and Manson, Iowa.
Middle-school students will …
• define and understand the term “collage.”
• recognize collage as a major art medium.
• become acquainted with and recognize collages by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
• arrange cut paper and other found items to create balanced compositions.
• acquaint themselves with the design elements and their characteristics.
National Art Standards
• Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
• Puzzle pieces, magazines, paper punches
• Scissors, glue
• Water-based paint, brushes
• Colored pencils, markers, etc.
• Stiff background paper
• Images of collages by Picasso and Matisse.