Anitra Redlefsen
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intro >> teaching & workshops > sample lesson

Positive/Negative Shapes

One of my favorite artists is Matisse, who became famous later in his life for his paper cut out paintings.

One way to achieve harmony in a composition is to repeat positive and negative spaces which vary in size, color, texture or value. Start by first cutting out a positive shape; use the leftover paper around the positive shape as a second by cutting out around it again. Cut a third shape out of the first positive shape, thus altering the it. And so on and so on. Keep using the paper you have to create new shapes which are suggested by shapes already cut out.

Confusing? Try this St. Patrick’s Day project!


  • Scissors
  • Sample drawing of a shamrock (Click HERE for sample)
  • 3 different values of green paper, preferably card stock
  • Glue
  • For Mobile: yarn/ribbon/ string and pipecleaners
  • Henri Matisse Biography (Click HERE for biography)
Note: Wire comes in different colors and gauges; just make sure you have some heavier wire (the 18 gauge, this is the "stable part of your mobile) and other wire that is flexible and shapeable; wire that comes in coiled rolls is perfect because the coiling lends itself to making interesting and pleasant shapes.


  1. Cut out one shamrock, saving the leftover paper. (See printable page for a sample shamrock.)
  2. Follow the outline of the leftover paper, cutting a second, new shamrock.
  3. Repeat this process, using a different size shamrock.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3.
  5. Respond to the scraps of paper that you have left over by cutting some new, non-shamrock shapes.
  6. Assemble shapes onto a surface (another piece of card stock, leftover mat board, etc.) in an interesting composition; secure in place with glue.
  7. Display and enjoy your paper cut out collage!

For Shamrock Mobile:

  1. Punch a hole at the top of each of your pieces and string them in interesting ways to a piece of ribbon, yarn or string.
  2. If you have some pipecleaners, string a shape or two onto the pipecleaner and twist the pipeclearner to the main string/ribbon/yarn.
  3. Your mobile will look festive and move in fun and surprising ways with varying air currents!
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