Traveling may be one of the most fun ways to get creatively inspired. But you don’t have to go far to find travel art inspiration—I went to my local art museum and saw an Henri Matisse exhibit that filled my head with tons of ideas. A few days later I created a collage, and I can’t wait to show you how I made it, and what inspired me.
I love traveling and visiting different cities and countries, but it’s not always feasible to drop everything and go. When I get the itch for some cultural inspiration, I usually head for a museum. A couple of weeks ago I went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where I saw “Matisse in the Studio,” an exhibit that included some of the artist’s favorite objects that he often featured in his work, along with those works. Seeing the objects and the artwork was a revelation in so many ways, but I particularly fell in love with the artist’s intricate North African textiles designed with cutouts and appliques. I also developed a deeper appreciation for Matisse’s use of color and pattern, and how he fearlessly combined bright hues and wild designs to create coherent, beautiful masterpieces.
Here is one of the screens on display; I can’t even imagine the time it would take to sew this piece by hand:
And here is a detail of another textile:
The idea of creating a paper panel with cutouts started to gel in my mind; I started with a rough sketch to work out the main design, knowing it would likely change at some point.
I found some poster board that already had a polka dot design on it, and decided to use that as a substrate. I cut an 11″ x 14″ domed panel shape and stenciled a Moroccan design in areas with turquoise acrylic paint.
Following the sketch I created my own stencil, a six-petal flower that I sized to fit twice on the panel. The flowers were transferred on the back so they’d be easier to see.
The petals were cut out with a craft knife, and I also cut out two rows of small circles on the side borders of the panel. By the way, you’ll find great paper cutting tips and techniques in the Paperology column by Samantha Quinn in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors—I found them really helpful when cutting out the shapes. For example, as soon as your blade starts to drag, change it. Using fresh blades makes the job so much easier.
To emphasize the flower design, mimic the applique technique on the textile, and reference Matisse’s cut paper collages, I ringed the petals, the flowers, and the circles with more cutouts. I used a vibrant palette that reminded me of Matisse’s work, painting book pages with watered-down acrylic paint. I traced the petal shapes, then cut them using a craft knife and scissors. The book page cutouts were adhered with glue stick. I wasn’t going for perfection with the paper cutting; Matisse’s paper cuts are anything but exact, and I love the irregular, uneven look.
The petal shapes were used to further decorate the panel, and I machine stitched around them and the large circles with straight and zig-zag stitches to add texture, and as a nod to the stitching on the original panels.
As I worked on this piece I thought about a chapter in Nathalie Kalbach’s new book, Artful Adventures in Mixed Media, titled Visiting Art Museums and Galleries for Inspiration. Nathalie has fantastic tips for using artwork as inspiration, such as seeking a connection between you and the artwork, and actively observing the art in different ways. This passage really hit home with me: “Being inspired and influenced by the artwork of others is not the same as copying what you see. It’s about understanding why an artist’s work has been deemed worthy of space in a museum, figuring out what you find compelling, and then implementing those things in your own style, in your own work.”
What great advice for interpreting travel art inspiration, even in your own backyard! In addition to Nathalie’s book, check out the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, which is filled with terrific tips and techniques for sketching people at cafés, creating a pop-up studio, and creating mixed-media travel journals.
The most important thing I learned from this museum trip is to keep an open mind, because you never know what form travel art inspiration will take. Happy adventuring!