11 Projects to Paint, Inspired by Matisse

Take a tip from Matisse and find inspiration for your next painting from the objects you see around you.

By Holly Davis

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Matisse took inspiration from the objects surrounding him in his studio — from everyday household items to global treasures acquired from his travels — and you can, too. These objects don’t have to be unusual or expensive — they just have to grab you in some way and set your imagination spinning. Here are a handful of Matisse-inspired projects you can embark on this week.

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1. Start with your morning cuppa.

Place a mug or teacup in a standard (or nonstandard) still life setting. Or expand the context and paint a couple, talking and sipping at their kitchen table. Maybe head outdoors and paint a lidded paper cup on a park bench — or hang a teacup from a tree branch. Turn the cup upside down or view the inside from above. There are a zillion ways to paint a cup or mug.

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2. Take a seat.

Now try a larger object — say, a chair. Take a good look at the one closest to you. Note the lines and angles of the basic structure. Does it have both soft and hard surfaces? What colors do you see, and how will they affect your palette? Does the chair cast shadows? What is it about the chair that most appeals to your artistic sensibilities? Now paint the chair — or a grouping of that chair — but concentrate on its most appealing characteristics. Forget that a chair is something to sit in and think of it simply as a vehicle for design.

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3. Express the meaning of a treasure.

Do you have a treasured heirloom or collectible? Whether or not it’s valuable is beside the point. That object means something to you. Plumb those feelings, and find a way to convey them, as well as the object, in a painting.

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4. See exotic souvenirs in new ways.

One way Matisse fed his creativity was through travel — changing the scene to alter his expectations and buying exotic souvenirs for his collection. Often, though, in his paintings he’d set items he brought home in a completely different context from that of their origin. Try composing a painting with an exotic object in a mundane setting. (Tip: Museums have loads of exotic objects you can sketch — so does the Web.)

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5. Explore local finds.

You don’t have to visit a foreign land to give yourself a change of scene, and with COVID-19, travel right now is a little dicey. Instead, head somewhere closer to home — a place you’ve never been or haven’t visited lately. Bring back a local find that reminds you of that place — a printed napkin, an oddly shaped rock, a farmer’s market vegetable — anything. Let that item trigger ideas for your next painting. Once again, you might set your find in a completely different context from where you found it.

Matisse in the Studio
Acrobat by Henri Matisse

6. Play with your penmanship.

Try your hand at a calligraphic line painting — like Matisse’s Acrobat. A little research on Chinese or Arabic calligraphy will feed your creativity.

Matisse in the Studio
Vase of Flowers by Henri Matisse

7. Paint an object’s personality.

In his article on Matisse, John A. Parks says that the vase in Matisse’s Vase of Flowers has a “hands-on-hips” look. Maybe Matisse intended that association; maybe not — but what a creative window that idea opens! Start with a lamp or lighting fixture. What personality do you think it would have? What gesture could you give it? Paint the object with those ideas in mind. Adding a face (or faces) and limbs (or wings or a tail) is optional.

Matisse in the Studio
Self-Portrait by Henri Matisse

8. Look in the mirror.

Check out Matisse’s Self- Portrait. Note the bold, simplified rendering. Try painting your own portrait this way. (Okay, your face isn’t an object — but it is something near and dear to you.)

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9. Examine your textiles.

Matisse was also big on patterns. He borrowed many from textiles. Examine your clothing, curtains, and upholstery — or gather swatches from a fabric shop. What about fur patterns on cats or dogs or tile patterns on floors or walls? Work one or more patterns into a painting.

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10. Search for textures.

Matisse’s paintings tended toward a flat, graphic look, but yours don’t have to. Look around you for textures, just as you did for patterns. Consider wood grain and tree bark; knitted wool and smooth satin; brick, stone, and water; animal fur and plush toys. Try combining patterns and textures in an abstract painting.

11. Show us what you’ve created!

Choose three things from this list, work them into one painting, and show us a pic of the results on Instagram — don’t forget to tag @artistsnetwork!

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