Matisse Goldfish

I love to create Matisse-inspired art projects with kids. Matisse’s paintings are full of color, pattern and energy. Here is a project that combines features of two of his famous paintings, Woman in a Purple Coat and Goldfish.
Day 1: pattern hunt

We begin with a ‘pattern hunt.’ I look around the room and find kids wearing patterned clothing. They stand up and we discuss their patterns. Then we take a very close look at Matisse’s Woman in a Purple a Coat, and tally up all the patterns one by one. I can’t tell you how excited those first graders became when they identified the patterned curtains and wallpaper in the painting. They tallied up 13 patterns, including the fruit on the table.

Day 2: create patterned paper
White paper 12″x18″
Tempera cakes
Water cups, brushes
Oil pastels or construction paper

Here is a fast way to create four patterns. Fold the white paper into quarters and open. Using tempera cakes, paint one quarter a solid color. Paint the remaining quarters with patterned lines (wavy, zig zag, etc.). Now take oil pastels and create a pattern on the solid quarter. The tempera cake dries so quickly you can draw on it in just a few minutes. Add oil pastel patterns to the remaining quarters. Place on drying rack.

Day 3: create a goldfish bowl


Blue paper, 6″x10″
Oil pastels (or construction paper crayons)
Glue sticks
Turn blue paper vertically and draw a ‘rainbow’ at the top using a black oil pastel. Draw a ‘smile’ under the rainbow. Cut along the top line to remove the corners and create the look of a round vase edge.
Add goldfish or other aquarium creatures. Glue to patterned background paper with glue stick.

First Grade Results:


Do you have a favorite Matisse lesson?


Sub Plan: Matisse Vase of Flowers

Here is a quick Matisse-inspired lesson suitable for grades K-1. All you need is copy paper and markers. It is just right for a substitute teacher, or anytime you need a low-mess 40-minute project.

matisse vase 2

We began by looking at this painting by Matisse.

Matisse's Woman in a Purple Dress

Matisse ‘Purple Robe and Anemones’ 1937. Source:

We identified patterns in the artwork: I said, “thumbs up if you can see an orange striped wall…a vase with wavy stripes…a floor with black diamonds” etc.  We noticed Matisse used a lot of colors as well.  Next students folded the copy paper into quarters. I modeled how to draw of a vase of flowers on a pedestal in the very center of the paper.

Then the children drew a different colored pattern in each quadrant of the paper. They added a pattern to the pedestal and base as well. Some even added fruit to the pedestal, just like Matisse.

matisse vase of flowers 1

We had enough time to watch this cute video of When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden (via



Do you have a favorite sub plan? 


Art Books to Read Online (for free!)

Did you know there are a lot of art books you can read online for free? The Guggenheim Museum has 65 art books online, including a 1964 catalog from my favorite sculptor, Alexander Calder.

While we are on the topic of Alexander Calder, how about a book for kids?

This book from works great with a laptop or computer/projector.

Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone is for primary grade students and is available in full color from

Picasso and Matisse are lots of fun for kids. has lots of books for kids, all read out loud, including When Pigasso met Mootisse by Nina Laden.

How about a cool, retro how-to-draw book? You can read What to Draw and How to Draw It online.  The second graders loved drawing owls using the illustrations in this book.


p.s. I heard about all four books via Pinterest.

Want more art books to read online for free? Check out this post.

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