Drawing with Scissors

How can you keep all ages in the family occupied quietly, from toddling two-year-old Tom to Great Uncle Geoffrey, whether it’s during the over-excited approach to Christmas or in those lazy days between Christmas and back-to-school when you can’t look another turkey sandwich in the face?

It may not be high tech, and we aren’t going to mention origami (although some of you will get a set from Santa and never make it beyond page three of the instruction booklet). However paper might just be your answer and we aren’t talking the daily news bulletins.

With colouring in all the rage, there’s a variety of Christmas colouring books, posters and tablecloths for all the family to fill in with their felt tips. And if you’ve never tried Decopatch before then it’s an excellent activity for the table between meals and it couldn’t be easier. In a nutshell, you stick small squares of patterned paper onto anything with lashings of PVA glue which makes it shiny, smooth and decorative so the end result is always remarkably good.

You can buy a kit, or have a go in lots of craft shops including Abingdon’s Creative Corner or Witney’s The Decopatch Place, where there are Christmas shapes galore. Our top tip for a decoration to bring out year after year is a ‘Happy Christmas’ banner of which every family member has decorated a letter – and we can vouch for the fact that even a reluctant teenage boy, when enticed with a mince pie and threatened with Michael Bublé, will slap a bit of glue and paper onto a ‘Y’ (oh, why?).

Although you can use any paper, proper Decopatch paper doesn’t tear when it is damp, and there are dozens of pretty designs to cover anything – a Christmas tree decoration, a chair or whatever you have to hand.

For a paper-based day out, head to Henley’s River and Rowing Museum where there’s currently an exhibition of the work of French artist Henri Matisse, who was a key figure in 20th century modern art and was particularly noted for his use of colour. The exhibition is called Drawing with Scissors and runs until 8th January.

Matisse’s showcased technique is that of collage (from the French verb coller or ‘to glue’), which involves selecting fragments of coloured and textured paper, or other material, and sticking them down on a flat surface to create a picture. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, and its use by Matisse and Picasso, that collage was considered appropriate to compare to painting as a form of artistic expression.

Matisse used collage with striking effect to show the interaction between colour and shape, producing bold paper works which were formal semi-abstract configurations, considered radical at the time. These works typified an ‘expressionist’ approach: that composition is the art of arranging diverse elements in a decorative manner for the expression of the artist’s feelings.

Drawing with Scissors features 35 lithographic prints of the famous cut-outs, produced in the last four years of Matisse’s life, including iconic images, such as the Blue Nudes and The Snail. Without the titles the subjects of these works might not be obvious. As his contemporary, artist Paul Klee, famously said, ‘Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible.’ What will you make visible this year?

And back on the living room carpet, drawing with scissors is the perfect post-Christmas past-time. You’ll most likely be awash with screwed up wrapping paper and what a great excuse for getting out the glue (again) and being creative before the recycling lorry comes a-knocking.

One Oxfordshire artist, Robert Strange, in his studio near Harwell describes how last year, once the presents were opened the floor was covered in paper, a sea of colour and pattern –and this became his next picture. ‘I collected every piece up, selected a section from each design and squashed the festive packaging into a glass-fronted box,’ he says.

Recording his obsession with keeping colourful, discarded things in boxes, whether soft toys, crackers or confectionery wrappers, Robert has also drawn cracker toys, and each of these ‘Squashed’ pictures takes between 80-120 hours to complete. And that, of course, is another way to fill any spare hours after Christmas while you wait for the new term to start.

More information on Henley’s River and Rowing Museum and the Matisse exhibition can be found at rrm.co.uk. There’s also a brilliant walk-through Wind in the Willows story for primary school children and big kids aged 18-108, and other water-themed displays and activities.

Robert Strange’s fascinating pencil drawings including his Christmas cracker toys and Christmas paper can be seen at robert-strange.co.uk where you can also order quirky presents like buttons, beads and golf tees.