How to Make a Garden Collage With Your Kids: Matisse-Inspired

Want your kids to spend more time outside?

Do the shapes and colors in nature inspire you to be creative?

Bring your outdoor inspirations inside and create an imaginative paper garden collage with your kids.

In this article I’ll introduce you to Henri Matisse and show you how to use his “painting with scissors” technique to create a garden collage made from paper cutouts that’s inspired by the real gardens you see outdoors.

Bring your outdoor inspirations inside and use Henri Matisse

Why Paint With Scissors?

When creating art, it’s important to use all of the tools and materials available to you and explore your creativity in as many ways as possible.

Like scissors.

To “paint with scissors,” a phrase coined by artist Henri Matisse, you cut out shapes, place them into a unique design and then glue them on paper. It may sound simple, but it’s a lot of fun. And the possibilities of what you can create are endless.

Try painting with scissors with your kids and see what you can create!

Henri Matisse, a revolutionary and influential artist in the 20th century, developed the concept of painting with scissors.

Matisse is best known for his expressive work using bold, bright colors. (Artwork courtesy of WikiPaintings.)

dishes and fruit and red and black carpet images

Matisse’s Dishes and Fruit on a Red and Black Carpet, 1901 (l) and The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908 (r). © This artwork, courtesy of Wiki Paintings, may be protected by copyright. It is posted in accordance with fair use principles.

Later in Matisse’s life, he fell ill and painting became more difficult for him. Matisse began to explore colors and shapes with paper cutouts (or in French: gouaches découpés). This began a new phase in his art career.

paper cutout examples

Here are some of Matisse’s paper cutouts: La Gerbe, 1953 (l), The Snail, 1953 (r) and The Lagoon, 1947 (bottom). © This artwork, courtesy of Wiki Paintings, may be protected by copyright. It is posted in accordance with fair use principles.

Watch Matisse at work with his scissors in this video.

Watch Henri Matisse paint with scissors in this video.

Since Matisse could not easily go outside, he brought the outside indoors. He painted with scissors and created paper gardens.

Fun Facts About Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse was born in France in 1869.

He originally studied to be a lawyer, but took some drawing classes in the mornings.

While spending time recovering from an illness when he was 21, Matisse began painting and began his career as an artist. He worked in various media; painting, sculpture, printmaking and paper cutouts!

matisse with cutouts

When Henri Matisse could no longer paint traditionally, he started painting with scissors. Photo of Matisse courtesy of

Matisse traveled to Italy, Germany, Spain and North Africa for inspiration for his paintings. Prominent collectors purchased his art and he received commissions from prestigious art dealers.

Matisse liked to paint traditional scenes of his own studio, portraits of friends and family and landscapes.

Here are more examples of Henri Matisse’s work:

matisse paintings

Matisse’s Place des Lices St Tropez, 1904 (l) and The Music Lesson, 1917 (r). © This artwork, courtesy of Wiki Paintings, may be protected by copyright. It is posted in accordance with fair use principles. Paintings courtesy of Wiki Paintings.

Before you jump into this adventure, look at the background, paintings and video of Matisse with your kids. You may even want to do an additional Internet search or take a trip to the library to get some books with more of his work.

“My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory; it is based on observation, on sensitivity, on felt experience.” —Henri Matisse

Matisse based his work on his own observations and experiences. Now let’s take yours and bring them to life!

Are you ready to paint with scissors?

You Will Need

  • Camera
  • Multiple sheets of colored paper
  • A large sheet of paper or poster board, white (1 per project)
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks

Preparation Time

5 minutes to gather supplies

Activity Time

  • Part 1: 30+ minutes to explore nature outdoors
  • Part 2: 30+ minutes to create your artwork

You may do both activities the same day or on separate occasions. Time also depends on how long you spend outdoors and how large you plan to make your paper garden.


  • Part 1: Outside
  • Part 2: Any table, flat surface or open floor—inside or outside—to create your artwork

    supplies needed

    Find a large table or open surface to work on so you have plenty of room to create your paper garden.

Ready to paint with scissors and make your own garden collage? Let’s get started!

#1: Find Your Inspiration

Spend time outdoors with your kids and observe nature. Look at the trees, flowers, grass and ponds. Also look at birds, squirrels and other living creatures. You may even find a unique bird feeder or cozy bench to include.

Here are a few places where you can go to look around and get inspired:

#2: Document Your Exploration With Photos

As you explore the outdoors, take lots of photos. You can use them later as inspiration when you paint with scissors.

garden collage

There are so many beautiful environments to explore in preparation for the activity part of this adventure.

Notice all the colors, shapes and lines that you find outdoors. Take notes, if you want.

Discuss the experience with your kids—share your observations and ask your kids about theirs.

Enjoy your time outside as a family and have fun!

Bonus Activity: Take a picnic when you head out to the park and spend an afternoon together for this part of the adventure. You can even go on a photo scavenger hunt.

#3: Plan Your Painting

Look through your photos together and find the ones that inspire you and your kids the most.

If you have more than one child, you may want to create individual gardens. Or you can create a large family paper garden, and have everyone (parents and kids) choose at least one photo for inspiration.

inspiration collage

My daughter chose these three images as her inspiration.

As you select the photos, reminisce about the time you spent outside.

Decide which elements—shapes, sizes and colors—you’d like to include in your paper garden collage.

#4: Paint With Scissors

Once you choose the photos, gather the craft supplies you need for your paper garden.

First, look at the photos for inspiration and cut out large paper shapes based on them.

Help the younger ones with the cutting, if necessary. Note: Another way to make this step a bit easier is to help younger kids lightly draw their shapes in pencil first and then cut them out.

cutting shapes

It’s easier to cut larger shapes first, then smaller ones.

Cut out all of the shapes—large and small, straight and crooked, realistic and abstract—and then arrange them on paper.

We’ll glue them all down later.

Variation: Matisse had his assistants paint the pieces of paper before he cut them out. You can try that too. Just wait for the paint to dry before cutting.

#5: Arrange and Glue Your Cutouts

Next, arrange the cutouts into a composition (placement or arrangement of visual elements) that’s pleasing. Again, you can work on a large paper garden as a family or each make one of your own.

arrange cutouts

It’s easy and fun to move pieces into place on the large sheet of white paper. Try different arrangements!

Keep moving the cut elements around on the background paper until you find an overall design you like.

You may want to cut some new elements to add to it. And you may decide not to use some of the pieces you already cut.

glue cutouts

When you have pieces set in the arrangement you like, just glue them in place.

Once you’re pleased with your arrangement, glue the pieces in place. Note: A glue stick will dry faster and prevent wrinkling and curling that white glue may cause.

#6: Add the Finishing Touches

Once you finish gluing the pieces in place, you may want to add a few details with a black pen. Remember to include the artist’s signature and date.

final painting

A unique “painting with scissors” is a great reminder of a fabulous outdoor adventure!

Parents, did you paint with scissors also? Remember to sign your pictures too.

inspiration and final

The cutouts on the right are a creative representation of the plants on the left.

Sharing creative projects with your child is a fantastic way to connect as a family, both in the prep work (the outdoor adventure designed to inspire) and the activity. Turn one fun afternoon outside into another creative adventure inside.

Some Final Thoughts

I hope you and your family enjoyed painting with scissors, just like Henri Matisse. You now have a large piece of art, or a few small ones, inspired by your family’s outdoor experiences and observations.

matisse quote

Expose kids to art. Inspire them!

Every piece of art is unique. Each person brings individual experiences, senses and observations to his or her art. And when you collaborate as a family, it’s even more fun!

What do you think? Did you enjoy learning about the art of Henri Matisse? Did you paint with scissors and create a paper garden collage? Did you and your kids make a different type of design altogether? I’d love to see your artwork. Please share it below!

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About the Author, Crystal Foth

Crystal Foth is a mom and artist based in Los Angeles, CA. She manages 19 Southern California art studios and spends her free time enjoying creative adventures with her daughter. Other posts by »

  • Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Crystal! This is a great way to get the kids to take a closer look at the outdoor world around them (and if they learn a little art history in the process, all the better!)

  • Crystal Foth

    Thanks Jennifer! I think I can tie art history into anything!!! I love asking my daughter later about our previous projects and seeing how much she does remember since it’s introduced with a fun and creative project.

  • KJ Ammerman

    Thank you for doing all the research, Crystal! So easy to teach kids about this talented artist with your article. And then to follow up with a picture of their own makes this a fantastic hands-on activity! -Kristin

  • Crystal Foth

    Thanks Kristin! I love taking interesting things about the artists and teaching my daughter about them. It’s so nice to share these projects with everyone! I’m glad you like this activity. My daughter saw one of Matisse’s prints in one of her books we read the other night and she said… “oh look Mom – it’s a Matisse!”… makes an artsy mom blush :)

  • Jeanine H

    I just found this site through fine art mom, thanks btw…and I have to say how much of a difference your numbered directions make with each project. I can really grasp more of the intent (or learning) behind the displayed projects because of your walked through explanations. It makes the world of difference to me! I love incorporating the learning and exploring factor intoning of our art projects. There’s a type for open exploration with art supplies but, there are so many ways to connect too! Tons of your projects & their “directions” offer up that connection time, and connecting art to a child’s WORLD (/perspective) for them to See and experience as well! Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into this space. It’s truly gifted. 😀

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