Modern Art Collages and Jazz Picture Books

As we were making Matisse-inspired collages the other day as part of our family summer art project, one of my children was working solely with black and white paper.  It seemed like the perfect time to bring out two picture books that I had been saving for bedtime reading.

ben's trumpetBen’s Trumpet, a Caldecott honor book (1979) by Rachel Isadora, is the story of a young boy who is excited by the jazz music he hears in his neighborhood and longs to play the trumpet himself.  He practices outside the corner jazz club with an imaginary trumpet, until the laughter and jeers of some of the other kids send him sadly home.  Just when he’s given up on his dream, the horn player from the club invites him inside to give the trumpet a try.

ben's trumpet zig zag ben's trumpet zig zag club

Although all of the artwork in this book is done in black and white, the illustrations are bold and expressive, and easily convey the energy of the music.  As we read it, we noticed the jagged lines on the end papers, then smiled when we saw the sign on the first page for the Zig Zag Jazz Club. (Click the page of Ben on the fire escape for an enlarged view of the jazz club sign.)

ben's trumpet art deco 1We talked about the geometric Art Deco elements in the illustrations, and I explained how popular that was in the 1920s as a style of architecture, interior decoration, jewelery design, etc.  We compared the use of the angular shapes in this book to the shapes used by Henri Matisse in his collages.  (I wish I’d also had my copy of Snow White in New York by Fiona French, with its glamorous Art Deco illustrations depicting NYC in the 1930s, with me to show them!)

bring on that beatThen we read Bring on That Beat, also by Rachel Isadora but published twenty-three years later!  This book takes a similar concept — children in a 1930s Harlem neighborhood enjoying the jazz music played by local musicians — but here the artist embellishes the black and white street scenes with splashes and pops of wild, vivid color, and tells the story in rhyming couplets rather than straight prose.

wake up that street 1 wake up that street 2

When I use these two books in my library lessons (either in January when our 5th graders study the Harlem Renaissance, or in February during our Black History Month celebration) I follow them up by giving students a page with one of five different  black-and-white silhouettes of a jazz musician on it, and some crayons or markers.   Each student writes his/her own original rhyming couplet on the paper, and then adds colorful flourishes while we listen to jazz music from the 30s.

At home, we were already listening to jazz as we collaged, and one of the kids decided on a last-minute addition of a little jazz color to his picture.  I love it!

Midnight Jazz

Midnight Jazz

When we get ready to do painted-paper collages a la Henri Matisse, we will also look at some other books by Rachel Isadora that show her delightful take on that style of artwork.

there was a tree    princess and the pea    fisherman and his wife


Books used today:

ben's trumpet
Ben’s Trumpet
by Rachel Isadora

bring on that beat
Bring on that Beat
also by Rachel Isadora

Also mentioned:

snow white in new york
Snow White in New York
by Fiona Finch



Print Friendly

Modern Art and Matisse Day 5

head hands heart logo

We’ve pretty much been through all of the books on Matisse that I have at home right now, so as part of our summer art project we took a road trip!

matisse from a to zI needed to go to Michaels to pick up a few supplies, and while we were there one of the kids asked for a sketchbook.  Yay!!

We also visited the closest branch of the public library and found a copy of Matisse from A to Z by Marie Sellier to bring home.  The book is mostly filled with Matisse’s paintings, with just a few of his cut-paper collages sprinkled in.  The art we saw in this book inspired us to visit a paint store and find paint chips to match the palettes Matisse used in some of our favorite works.  We then played around with arranging the chips into geometric patterns.  Here’s what that looked like:


Icarus by Matisse in the book Matisse from A to Z.
Click to enlarge.

From the book Matisse A to Z.  Click to enlarge.

From the book Matisse A to Z.
Click to enlarge.

And here are a couple of pairings.

Open Window, Collioure by Matisse, and an untitled collage inspired by the colors he used; and Goldfish by Matisse, and an untitled collage inspired by the colors he used.  Click to enlarge.

Open Window      Paint Chip Collage 1


Goldfish      Paint Chip Collage G

We invited my mom to come over after lunch to listen to jazz and make collages with us.  The kids brought her up to date on what we’ve been doing and showed her the art we’d already created.  Here’s a peek at what we worked on:

work in progress

The Sea is Calling You and Me (a work in progress)

The Garden

The Garden


Midnight Jazz

Midnight Jazz

More on the partial inspiration for Midnight Jazz here!


Print Friendly

Modern Art and Matisse Day 4

head hands heart logo

p. 32 of My Very First Art Book.
Click to enlarge.

On Day 4 of our family summer art project we examined another cut-paper collage by Henri Matisse in Usborne’s My Very First Art Book.  In The Parakeet and the Mermaid we were delighted to recognize one of the same shapes we saw in Les Codomas yesterday, being used multiple times here.  There was a bit of an “I Spy” quality to this collage that we liked, although we agreed it was very easy to spot the parakeet and the mermaid!  This book offers the same large, colorful art examples as the other Usborne art books we’ve used, with simple corresponding projects that kids can create.  The suggested activity with this print is to fold paper in half or in quarters to cut out symmetrical shapes.

p. 39 of My Very First Art Book. Click to enlarge.

p. 39 of My Very First Art Book. Click to enlarge.

There’s also a section in this book on creating torn paper pictures that re-kindled our earlier discussion of collage vs. mosaic art.  The example of puzzle art also looked like something that would be fun to try.

In the “Blocks and Shapes” section of this book we examined the use of shapes, pattern, and spacing to create different effects on paper.  We’ve noticed that Matisse sometimes leaves a lot of white space in the backgrounds of his cut-paper collages, but other times he fills the entire page with color.  The facing print to the first page of this section was High Sky 2 by Bridget Riley.  While this is a painting and not a collage, it still intrigued us as a way to arrange color on a page and inspired the pieces at the bottom of this post.


p. 36 from My Very First Art Book. High Sky 2 by Bridget Riley.  Click to enlarge.

Triangle 4

Triangle 4 (a work in progress)

stained glass

Stained Glass (a work in progress)


Book used today:

my-very-first-art-bookMy Very First Art Book by Rosie Dickins


Print Friendly

Modern Art and Matisse Day 3

head hands heart logo

For Day 3 of our family summer art study, we are still focusing on the art of Henri Matisse.

TheCircus2p. 20-21 from Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art Click to enlarge.

p. 20-21 from Activities and Adventures  in Abstract Art.  Click to enlarge.

Today we used the book What’s the Big Idea?: Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art by Joyce Raimondo to examine another of Matisse’s cut-paper collages, Les Codomas.  The books in this series (Art Explorers) include great discussion questions that encourage the reader to closely examine the works shown and think about the choices the artist made.  There are no right or wrong answers to these questions; it’s the pondering that’s important.  We decided that the yellow “squiggles” are acrobats performing on the blue and white trapezes, the black squares are the safety net below them, and the shapes in the border represent circus clowns.  Of course, your interpretation may differ!  This is another collage from Matisse’s book Jazz.

p. 23 of Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art. Click to enlarge.

p. 23 of Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art.
Click to enlarge.

The next two pages in the book offer step-by-step instructions for creating cut-outs like Matisse (including a list of supplies needed), explains positive and negative space, and shows examples of collages created by kids.  The book uses color-blocking and labels to divide its pages into sections so that the large amount of information presented doesn’t overwhelm the reader.  This is the format used for each type of art in every book in the series; it’s just a happy coincidence that it echoes the elements of a Matisse collage!



We then watched a brief video clip on the Elements and Principles of Design that shows an artist laying out a collage and discussing organic shapes vs. geometric shapes.  He shows us Matisse’s Les Betes de la Mer, also from the book Jazz, and draws our attention to the way the artist used these shapes in its creation.

Here are some of the pieces we’ve created using what we’ve learned so far.  (And yes, we did listen to jazz while we worked.  We even discovered a new favorite, Topsy by Count Basie!)

 collage in progressA work in progress.





Capri Sea

The Sea at Capri

Book used today:

what's the big idea abstract art What’s the Big Idea?: Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art by Joyce Raimondo


Print Friendly

Modern Art and Matisse Day 2

head hands heart logo medium

I wanted the first project in our family summer art study to involve creating our own paper collages, so after learning a little about modern art in general and Henri Matisse in particular, we examined some additional resources to help us get started.

lives of the artistsIn Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, we read a brief biography of Matisse and learned that he embraced his label as King of the Wild Beasts and never let the critics deter him from creating the type of art he loved.  We were also intrigued to discover that he had created a book of  collages titled Jazz that included works in colors so bright that to look at them on the walls of his studio Matisse had to wear sunglasses to look at them!

p. 88 from The Great Big Art Activity Book Click to enlarge

p. 88 from The Great Big Art Activity Book
Click to enlarge

We then turned to The Great Big Art Activity Book by Sue Nicholson and Deri Robins to take another look at Matisse’s The Snail, which we examined yesterday, and to get some tips for creating abstract art and collage art. I really like the oversize format and clear examples in this book, as well as the simple instructions with step-by-step photographs for each project. Readers are encouraged to use the suggestions to make unique artwork, rather than simply copying the samples in the book. It’s well-organized with table of contents, index, and glossary; and includes over one hundred techniques to try!

p. 230 from The Great Big Art Activity Book
Click to enlarge.

Interesting note: One of my children was surprised to learn that a collage could depict a realistic scene, as shown in these examples. All of his previous experiences with collage had involved arranging random shapes in abstract designs, so this was a new concept for him.  It led to a great discussion of the difference between collage and mosaic, and later that evening as we were cracking eggs for omelets we decided that broken up eggshells might be an interesting medium for creating a mosaic.


The Sorrows of the King (1952)

Next we looked at another of Matisse’s cut-paper collages, The Sorrows of the King, in The Usborne Art Treasury by Rosie Dickins.   The cheerful colors and patterns used here create the effect of music and dancing, meant to distract the king from his sorrows.  Was the King of the Beasts giving us a glimpse into his own life here?  We know that he only took up “drawing with scissors” near the end of his life, after he became too frail to paint anymore.  It seems likely that his new experiments with shape and color kept his spirits up while allowing him to continue making art in spite his illness.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury. Click to enlarge.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury.
Click to enlarge.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury. Click to enlarge.

The accompanying activity in the book shows the reader how to make a collage of musical instruments that celebrates Matisse’s style.  We surmised that the author chose this subject because of Matisse’s connection with jazz, and agreed that when we started creating our own artwork we would have some upbeat jazz music playing in the background as additional inspiration.

Finally, we watched a brief video clip of Matisse working on a collage.

We wondered what type of paper he was using; it looks so fluid, yet we know that he was cutting out paper that had been painted with bright colors, which we would have thought would be much stiffer than this appears to be.  We plan to experiment with several different types of paper to discover which we like best.

In just two days we’ve learned a lot about color, shape, and composition.  We’ve also made a new friend in the art world — Henri Matisse!

Books Used on Day 2

lives of the artistsLives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought)
by Kathleen Krull

great big art activity bookThe Great Big Art Activity Book
by Sue Nicholson and Deri Robins

usborne art treasuryThe Usborne Art Treasury
by Rosie Dickins


Print Friendly