Romare Bearden Collage



Romare-BeardenPart of my grade 5 art curriculum is to introduce a collage art lesson. The concept of collage seems easy; placing and arranging layers of paper, paint and subjects on a piece of paper, but in truth, it is a hard concept to grasp. For children, the inherit action to place objects around the perimeter of the paper is still strong in fifth grade. Have you noticed this? Composition, therefore, is an essential learning component to this lesson.

A bit about Romare Bearden…

Romare Bearden was born in North Carolina in 1911 but moved to New York as a baby, participating with his family in the Great Migration of African Americans to the north and west. Influenced by African and Asian art as well as Diego Rivera, Bearden’s work is primarily focused on the lifestyles of the American South. Best known for his collages, Bearden produced over 2000 pieces of art including drawings, montoypes, murals in public spaces, record albums and even costume design. Please visit The Romare Bearden Foundation for more information and teaching resources.


For this lesson, you’ll need a 12″ x 18″ white piece of sulphite paper for the background. I set out tubs of blue and green paint and told the kids to paint whatever background they wanted. I left them alone for a bit until I realized they were all painting the exact same thing. I showed a few more samples of Bearden’s works (I used the 2012 Bearden calendar for visuals) and pointed out that a collage doesn’t need to look like a real landscape. Not many kids were willing to part with their perfect landscapes!

Once the background was painted, I took a few moments to explain the layering of a collage: main background layer, background paper details, main subject, and finally finishing details. Children used scraps of paper, pieces of burlap and oil pastels to decorate the background.


After the background details were in place, I gave a brief tutorial how to make the farmer with nothing but scissors and glue. I really wanted the kids to experiment with “drawing” with paper and scissors as I feel this technique allows for the most creative and personal creative expression. It’s hard to convince 5th-grade students that their person doesn’t need to look perfect, so I tried to reinforce the organic nature of Bearden’s works: the large hands, un-proportionate bodies, etc.


The most tricky part of this art project was to make sure the kids didn’t glue the farmer to the edge of the paper. I strongly encouraged a more central location!

For the final details, I had the students step back and see what was missing from their piece: are there any empty spaces that your eye goes to? Can you add more details to the farmer? Can the sky use some color? They responded by adding the most wonderful details: corn, plants, animals, stars, moon and even a few cacti!


Download this free lesson guide on our Chicken Little template for more farm art inspiration! 

What do you think?

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  • Ashley

    I just started a Romare Bearden lesson today with 4th grade! I live in North Carolina and in 4th grade they learn all about our state, so I’m teaching them about artists from NC. Yay for collages! I just spent the afternoon unclogging glue bottles!

    • Heather Shelton

      Hi Ashley,
      Check out the comment I posted below about the new Bearden collage app. We hoping to get teachers comfortable with using it!

  • paigepb

    Hi Patty,

    I have noticed this concept is hard to grasp, with the layering, proportion, juxtaposition, etc. . One of the ways to get my students more connected was to illustrate a favorite moment from a book they were reading or a family moment. This created more personal meaning and I reminded them that for their scene they are very much like setting the stage of a school play or set of a movie, where all parts work together as a whole. It does take a lot of convo & examples!

    • Patty Palmer

      Gosh, I’m just reading this comment now and love it. This is a great way to encourage more personal expression. Great tip. Thanks!

  • Marji Stevens

    I teach homeschool art. We’ve been doing collage also. In the last lesson, I put three blobs of complimentary colors on a canvas and gave them discarded credit cards to scrap and blend the background. It worked wonderfully. I find using something like a credit card help free them up. Then we used chunks of styrofoam, bubble wrap and spray ink to build the background. They produced some really fun, and different pieces. Marji

  • Heather Shelton

    Reading with enthusiasm both this post and the responses! We wanted to let everybody know that the Smithsonian has just released a really fun and engaging app for iPad that allows users to re-imagine Bearden’s works using pre-cut and hand-drawn shapes. You can even save and share your collage with others. Here’s the link: http://www.sites.si.edu/romarebearden/apps/index.html

  • Karen Graham

    Great lesson. Thank you !

  • Mary

    Did this project take two days to complete, or does the paint dry quickly? Thanks.

    • Patty Palmer

      This project took about 2-3, 50-minute sessions. Some children finished quickly, while others spent more time developing their images. We used liquid tempera paint which can take a few hours to completely dry. You might want to try puck tempera for a faster drying time.

  • Savia Viegas

    I wish we had more teachers like you. Bearden is my favourite artist and this tutorial was special. Power to you and your work!

  • Aniyah Douglass

    I like how Romare Bearden created with old peceises of scrap paper

  • Aniyah Douglass

    I like how Romare Bearden uses old magazines to create his artwork.

  • Bethany

    Hi, Could you please list the title of the Romare Bearden artwork you reference in the above image? Thanks!

    • Bethany

      Hi Bethany. Our lesson above was inspired by Romare Bearden The Lantern. Please visit The Romare Bearden Foundation for more information and teaching resources.

  • Jill Hatcher


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