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Matisse Inspired “Dancers” Paper Collage Art Lesson

This is one of my most favorite art lessons. Not only is it colorful, expressive and fun to make, but it teaches a variety of art skills: combining colors, composition, human form and the importance of working neatly. Inspired by the paintings by Henri Matisse, this has been a perennial favorite with my fifth and sixth grade students.

Step One: Making the Background
Get out your box of scrap paper, because this is what you’ve been saving it for! I give 1 sheet of 12″ x 18″ white construction paper to each student. They are required to fill up the background with large blocks of color.
I encourage curvy lines, angles, etc. Whatever shapes and patterns the students like. It’s important to keep the blocks of color large so when the dancer is added, it won’t be “lost” in the confusion.

Step Two: Making the Dancer
Put the background aside and show the students how to cut out a human figure. If you have “forms” in your classroom, this is a great time to use them. I make a paper figure using black construction paper. I show the kids how to cut folded paper to create two arms, two legs, etc. with just one cut. I stress oval shapes over rectangular shapes, but you’ll get those too!

Step Three: Gluing the Dancer to the Background
Sounds easy, but believe me, this step can get messy. Biggest tip here is to tell the kids to lay out their dancer first. Arrange the pieces so that they can get a feeling for how a static figure looks compared to a figure in motion. Once the student is satisfied, then she can glue down the pieces.
I use a glue stick for this. White school glue is a bad idea for this project. Trust me.
Step Four: Dressing Your Dancer
Can’t leave the dancer naked, although I have had a few kids try. This part of the lesson is especially fun for the girls. It’s like playing with cut-outs. I show the kids how to make swingy skirts, crazy hair, bandeau tops, etc. Remind the kids not to use red hair if the background is red. It always surprises me how most kids don’t notice details like that.

Step Five: Adding Details
If there is time, I show the kids how details can really finish the picture off. Like the tiny confetti squares shown above. It gives the dancer a real “kick”. This is where kids can either get really creative or start gluing large sheets of paper over their figure. Don’t be shy in whisking the artwork off their desk and congratulating them on creating such an enthusiastic, expressive piece.

For templates, drawing handouts and more detailed instructions, consider my PDF Art Booklet, 3-Ingredient Art for Grades 5 & 6.


  1. Patty!!!

    Hälsningar från Sverige!!! You are amazing!!! I absolutely love this project. I want to make one! 🙂

    Thanks for teaching me from afar!!!


    February 16, 2009

  2. Anna!
    I love this project too. You’ll be amazed at how creative the kids can be. If you are doing this with younger kids, photocopying a template of a figure might be a good idea. Then they use the shapes to cut out their own figure.
    The trickiest part of this project is making sure the head is not too large!
    Good luck! We mis you here BTW

    Patty P

    February 16, 2009

  3. What a great project! I love the jointed bodies. Such a great way to let kids manipulate bodies into motion. And gorgeous results, too!


    February 17, 2009

  4. Thanks Jessica. It’s a great lesson. Takes about 3 50-minute sessions, but it’s worth it.

    Patty P

    February 17, 2009

  5. I love this – looks like a fun idea for spring (and using up the scrap box!). Thanks for sharing 🙂


    February 17, 2009

  6. What marvellous ideas you have I love it… I follow a scheme of work, with topic cycle that change at the end of each term.
    This term we are looking at – Textiles and Collage
    Your Matisse Lesson plan is just what I was looking for yr2 class… Do you have any ideas for textiles? The focus is Colour, shape, and Pattern. The activity needs to involve drawing; painting and marking out… can you help? This is an yr1 class

    Thanks St Geoege's

    St George's

    June 21, 2009

  7. St George's:
    In my 3rd grade art lesson, Cut Paper Flowers, you can substitute fabric for any of the flowers or add fabric as a table cloth. You could add paint on top of the flowers.
    Not sure what you mean by yr1 and yr2. I'm guessing that you are referring to grade one and grade two? Good luck!

    Patty P

    June 21, 2009

  8. Hi Patty,
    Thanks for the great suggestion I’m loving it already and I just know the children will to.
    And, yes you were right it is grade one and grade two… but we say year 1 and year 2….Key stage one

    St George's

    June 21, 2009

  9. I've admired this lesson for a while and finally did it in February with my fifth graders. I did a Matisse project for each grade and I think these and kinder were my favs! The only problem I had was getting the kids to make the figures LARGE! Fun project, thank you!


    March 18, 2010

  10. Can’t wait to try this. I wanted to do Matisse but the kids needed more of a challange than just cutting out different shapes as I have done in the past. I have some neon colored paper that should look great behind the black figures.

    m rogers

    April 12, 2011

    • Hope you try it. Definitely one of my all-time favorite lessons. I featured a deeper tutorial of this lesson in my 3-Ingredient Art for Grades 5 & 6. You should check it out. Have fun!


      April 12, 2011

  11. I made these fantastic dancers with my 11 & 12 year old class. They loved it and the results were amazing, they really jump off the wall and the kids are so proud of them. Thank you so much for sharing your plans for free, It is really appreciated.

    Julie Williams

    May 2, 2011

    • Hi Julie,
      I love this lesson as well. So dynamic. I always try to offer more free lessons than ones for sale. Although it’s the paid ones that support the free ones!


      May 5, 2011

  12. very great concept style of work and your method of teaching .thanks a lot


    February 8, 2014

  13. This is an amazing project. I love how fun and colorful it is! Thank you for sharing!


    January 22, 2016

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