Studio Saturday: Travel Art Inspiration

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:

Matisse textile used as travel art inspiration, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
This North African textile was among Henri Matisse’s collection of cherished objects. (Photo taken at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

And here is a detail of another textile:

Matisse textile detail, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
I used the petal shapes from this textile as travel art inspiration for my paper panel. (Photo taken at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

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.

Travel art inspiration sketch
From the original inspiration I derived a sketch to use as a rough guide.

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.

Stenciling a design onto poster board
A Moroccan-inspired pattern was stenciled onto poster board.

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.

Transferring a design to the back of the poster board panel
After creating a stencil, I transferred the design to the back of the poster board.

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.

Composing a cutout collage with travel art inspiration
The cutouts were ringed with more paper, cut from painted book pages.

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.

Stitching detail added to Matisse-inspired collage
Machine stitching added some nice detail to the piece.

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!

July/August 2017 Cloth Paper Scissors: The Travel and Adventure issue
Looking for great tips and techniques for travel art inspiration? The July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors is packed with ideas for your summer adventures!
Artful Adventures in Mixed Media by Nathalie Kalbach
Artful Adventures in Mixed Media by Nathalie Kalbach has everything you need to channel inspiration into beautiful artwork.
Storytelling Art Studio by Cathy Nichols
Every artist has a story; learn how to tell yours with techniques in Storytelling Art Studio by Cathy Nichols.
Incite 4: Relax, Restore, Renew
Incite 4: Relax, Restore, Renew features the work of more than 100 mixed-media artists from around the world.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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