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Picture books and the art of collage.

Close your eyes and imagine you are listening to someone reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1969). In your mind you see the little egg that lies on the leaf and the vibrant blue-green circles that form the caterpillar. As the story continues, you visualize all the different foods the caterpillar eats and the cocoon he builds around himself. Finally, you picture the "great big beautiful butterfly." Carle's illustrations are as much a part of the story as are the words. The images he created are forever linked to the words he wrote.

Picture books create meaning by blending art and text. As visual representations of the words, illustrations add to the information and help make the text more understandable (Huck, Hepler, Hickman, & Kiefer, 2001). In picture books, the illustrations are more than background for the authors' words; they act to engage the reader cognitively and emotionally as the story progresses. Illustrations add a richness and depth to an author's words by creating the setting and heightening the mood. They help us flesh out our understanding of the characters by vividly depicting their actions, challenges, and triumphs. Patricia Polacco's The Butterfly (2000) serves as a perfect example. The illustrations capture the fear, sadness, and ultimate joy of her characters, who are living in France during the time of Nazi Germany's occupation. We understand a little better how frightening that period of time was, and why we must always remember it.

Adults know that for very young children, the pictures are the story. Often, when a child is holding a book that an adult is reading to her, she needs to be reminded to move her hands away from the page so the reader can see the words. Children may be puzzled by such a request, looking at the reader as if to say, "What's the problem? My hands aren't covering the pictures. Keep reading!" For older children, the pictures offer contextual cues to further exploration of texts. Children may use the pictures to help them figure out unfamiliar words or to verify that they read the text correctly. Beyond their literary value, beautifully illustrated children's books also offer exposure to the visual arts. "Picture books are designed to be taken in through the ear and the eye, to be savored as an auditory and visual experience" (Savage, 2000, p. 99).


In 1994, the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations (now known as the National Coalition for Education in the Arts, but here referred to as CNAEA) published the National Standards for Arts Education. These standards espouse the belief that in order to be truly educated, children must receive instruction in the arts. In support of that belief, the consortium developed a set of competencies in dance, music, theater, and the visual arts that specify what children should know and be able to do by the end of 12th grade. The standards for the visual arts are:

* Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

* Using knowledge of structures and functions

* Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

* Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

* Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of [students' own] work and the work of others

* Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines. (CNAEA, 1994)

As teachers, we can engage in appropriate art instruction that focuses on one or more of these standards. This article explores how teachers can use picture book illustrations to teach children art lessons, specifically examining the art of collage.


For centuries, folk artists have put pasted objects and papers into their artwork. However, collage first truly emerged as a fine art when cubists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque incorporated pasted papers and objects into their designs (Brommer, 1994). Incidentally, the word "collage" comes from the French word colle, which means "to paste."

Picasso's Still Life With Chair Caning (which was completed in the spring of 1912) is considered by most to be the first modern collage. In this work, Picasso used oil paint, oil cloth, pasted paper, and rope in a three-dimensional construction, or assemblage (Brommer, 1994). Braque created his first collage using only paper in the summer of 1912. He incorporated wood-grained wallpaper into a series of charcoal drawings. Other artists quickly followed these innovators and expanded on their collage techniques. Silberstein-Storfer and Jones (1997) explain how Henri Matisse drew images by using scissors to cut pre-painted papers that he then assembled in layers. Matisse began using cut paper collages as his sketches for commissioned works, and later exhibited these collages as finished works (Silberstein-Storfer & Jones, 1997).

Today, collage is considered an important medium for artistic expression. It may be used alone or combined with other media as artists create and visually communicate their ideas.


Many artists use collage techniques for illustrating picture books. Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Lois Ehlert, Ezra Jack Keats, and Bryan Collier are just a few whose collage illustrations are well-known. Each of these illustrators has a unique style. This article will focus on three different collage techniques: cut paper collage, photomontage, and texture collage and collage construction.

For cut paper collage, artists use scissors as their drawing tools to make lines and shapes. Then they arrange these shapes into a pleasing design or composition. Fine arts collagists who use this technique include Carrie Burns Brown, Gerald Brommer, Carole Barnes, and Gladys Russo. Steve Jenkins, Ellen Stoll Walsh, and Lois Ehlert are among the picture book illustrators who use this collage technique.

The second technique, photomontage, incorporates photographic images and pictures from print media into the artwork. Collage artists who are known for their photomontages include Romare Bearden, Annell Livingston, and Shirley Moskowitz. Children's book illustrators Bryan Collier and Ezra Jack Keats make use of photomontages.

In the third technique, texture collage and collage construction, artists include materials that provide texture and/or a three-dimensional quality to the finished work. Elements contained in these collage constructions might include fabrics, twigs, bark, fibers, wire, sand, and the like. The work of Jim J. Bray and Charlene Martin serve as examples of collage constructions. Illustrators whose works incorporate a variety of textures include Lisa Desimini, Alex Ayliffe, and Jeannie Baker.


Fine artists often employ more than one collage technique in their work. The same is true for illustrators. The three picture books described below will each showcase a different collage technique, and may be helpful for organizing your own art instruction. If possible, consult and collaborate with the school art teacher to increase your understanding of art objectives, methods, and techniques.

Cut and Torn Paper Collage

Elephants Swim (1995): Linda Capus Riley; Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

In Elephants Swim, Riley uses simple rhyming text to describe how different wild animals behave in water. Children and teacher alike may be surprised by what they read; endnotes provide further information on each animal's behavior.

The cut and torn paper collage used to illustrate Elephants Swim are realistic and colorful. By layering carefully torn paper on top of cut shapes, the illustrator gave depth and detail to each animal. Different types of textured paper are used to depict the various types of animal hide or fur. In some of the illustrations, the ragged edges of the torn paper realistically suggest tufts of the animal's fur. The illustrations are so lifelike, readers may touch the pages expecting to feel the textures.

Art Curriculum Activities

* After reading and discussing the text, focus the children's attention on Jenkins's illustrations. Have the students discuss the qualities of those pictures that seem realistic. Focus on the use of textured papers, color, and details. Discuss the interplay of cut versus torn papers. Content Standard: Reflecting on and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the works of others (CNAEA, 1994).

* Assemble many different types and colors of textured and homemade papers, white glue and water, heavy watercolor paper for background surfaces, and scissors. Have the students select an animal, and use the cut and torn paper collage technique to illustrate it. Some students may want to refer to photographs of an animal to help them make it look realistic. Younger children could even trace a stencil of an animal. Talk with the students about planning their collages. Revisit Jenkins's illustrations to discuss how he made each animal. Ask the students to think about how they will convey the animals' textures, then have them draw and collage their chosen animal. Content Standard: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes (CNAEA, 1994).

* Suggest to the students that they make a book or books (depending on the number of children in your class) similar to Elephants Swim. To do this, the students will need to decide on a theme for the book. For example, they may choose animals' favorite foods or nocturnal habits. Once the theme is selected, each student will choose an animal to research and collage. After completing the research and collage processes, the students will write the rhyming text. They will need to decide on the sequence of the illustrations, in order to facilitate the rhyming process. The amount of teacher input and help necessary will depend on the grade level and abilities of the students. Upon completion, the book or books can be shared and discussed. Content Standard: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes. Content Standard: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas. Content Standard: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines (CNAEA, 1994).

Photomontage Uptown (2000): Bryan Collier

In Uptown, Collier explores the world of a young boy growing up in Harlem, New York. Readers and listeners are taken on a special tour of this dynamic area, from the Apollo Theater to a barbershop to shopping on 125th Street, and more.

The illustrations are combinations of watercolor and collages, and Collier includes photographic images and pictures from other print media. These collages may be regarded as photomontages. The colorful collage illustrations communicate the vitality of Harlem. Collier won the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for Uptown.

Art Curriculum Activities

* Show the children a few examples of the photomontage works by Romare Bearden, Annell Livingston, or Shirley Moskowitz. Discuss how these and other artists incorporate photographs into their pictures to express their ideas visually. Read aloud and discuss Uptown, and revisit Collier's illustrations. Tell the students that Collier often uses photographs or parts of photographs in his compositions. Ask them to examine the pictures carefully, looking for individual details. What parts appear to be painted in watercolors? What parts are collaged? Which illustrations are photomontages? How does Collier incorporate the photographs into his illustrations? Content Standard: Reflecting on and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the works of others (CNAEA, 1994).

* Provide the children with the collage materials that are listed in the previous example and add magazines, newspapers, and photographs. You may want to shoot several rolls of film in both black-and-white and color, capturing people and objects of interest. Using the children in your classroom as photographic subjects will add interest and a sense of fun to the students' photomontages. Request duplicate prints when having the film developed. Invite the students to create a collage that incorporates the pictures into their compositions. They can arrange and rearrange the different elements as they work until they are satisfied with the designs. They may choose to add some details with watercolors, as Collier does in his work. Content Standard: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes. Content Standard: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas (CNAEA, 1994).

Texture Collages and Collage Constructions

The Hidden Forest (2000): Jeannie Baker

The Hidden Forest is a story about a boy named Ben who has little regard for the natural environment. He lives by the sea and likes to row out onto the water to catch fish in his trap. After falling overboard and losing his trap, he invites his friend Sophie, a strong swimmer and diver, to accompany him to retrieve the trap. She agrees to do so only if Ben will join her in exploring the wonders under the sea. Ben is transformed by what he sees and experiences.

Jeannie Baker's illustrations are elaborate collage constructions. She uses natural and human-made materials, such as preserved plants, sand, fabrics, twigs, bark, and clay, in her collages. Many of her completed collage constructions used as illustrations for her picture books have been exhibited in museums around the world. Baker received the Australian Wilderness Society Award for The Hidden Forest.

Art Curriculum Activities

* Following the read-aloud and discussion of the story, engage the children in a discussion of Baker's collage constructions. Talk with the students about how she incorporates natural materials into her collages to create realistic textures and dimension. Content Standard: Reflecting on and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the works of others (CNAEA, 1994).

* Ask the students to collect and bring to school found natural materials (e.g., pieces of bark from dead trees, fallen twigs and pine needles, and the like). Add fabric, sand, dirt, feathers, dried flowers, yarn, modeling clay, pieces of tin, and any other interesting objects you have available. You will need acrylic paste or gel, a strong adhesive, a piece of cardboard or heavy posterboard for each student, scissors, and garden snips. Invite the students to sketch the natural environment. They might look out the classroom window or draw a picture of a place they like to visit. Once they have completed a sketch to their satisfaction, they can redraw the picture on the cardboard or posterboard. Once the drawing is complete, they can begin to work on the picture with the collage materials, adding colors and textures where desired. Encourage the students to think about which materials and textures should be used in their compositions to create a realistic feeling. This activity is likely to stretch over several days or a week. The children might be interested in holding an exhibition of their works of art. Content Standard: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes. Content Standard: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas. Content Standard: Reflecting on and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the works of others (CNAEA, 1994).


As children create collages with cut and torn papers, photographs, fabrics, natural objects, and other materials, they are practicing an art technique used by many fine artists, introduce children to such artists as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Romare Bearden, and Charlene Martin, as well as illustrators Steven Jenkins, Bryan Collier, and Jeannie Baker. By linking fine art and picture book illustrations with children's art lessons, the activities become more authentic and truly art focused.

Beyond their other merits, the books discussed in this article were chosen because their illustrations encompass three different collage techniques: cut and torn paper collage, photomontage, and collage construction. Many other children's books are similarly illustrated (see Figure 1 for a partial list). Look for these books as well as others from these authors and illustrators. The books listed are a combination of fiction and nonfiction and may contribute to your thematic planning in other curriculum areas.

Cut and Torn Paper Collages

Cendrars, B. (1982). Shadow. Translated and Illustrated
by Marcia Brown. New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons. (The 1983 Caldecott Award)

Ehlert, L. (1998). Top cat. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Ehlert, L. (2001). Waiting for wings. New York:
Harcourt Brace.

Emberley, R. (1995). Three cool kids. Boston: Little, Brown.

Falwell, C. (2001). David's drawing. New York: Lee
& Low Books.

Falwell, C. (2001). Turtle splash: Countdown at the
pond. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Hall, Z. (2000). Fall leaves fall! Illustrated by Shari
Halpern. New York: Scholastic.

Jenkins, S. (1999). The top of the world: Climbing
Mount Everest. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Lionni, L. (1967). Frederick. New York: Pantheon
Books. (A 1968 Caldecott Honor Book)

Rockwell, A. (2001). Bugs are insects. Illustrated by Steve
Jenkins. New York: HarperCollins Juvenile Books.

Rockwell, A. (2002). Becoming butterflies. Illustrated
by Megan Halsey. New York: Walker.

Wisniewski, D. (1999). The wave of the sea-wolf.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Young, E. (1992). Seven blind mice. New York:
Philomel. (A 1993 Caldecott Honor Book)


Day, N. R. (1995). The lion's whiskers: An Ethiopian
folktale. Illustrated by Ann Grifalconi. New York:

Keats, E. J. (1966). Jennie's hat. New York: Harper
& Row.

Keats, E.J. (1978). The trip. New York: Greenwillow.

Keats, E. J. (1980), Louie's search. New York: Four
Winds Press.

Olaleye, I. (2000). In the rainfield: Who is the greatest?
Illustrated by Ain't Grifalconi. New York: Scholastic.

Perdomo, W. (2002). Visiting Langston. Illustrated
by Bryan Collier. New York: Henry Holt.

Rappaport, D. (2000). Freedom river. Illustrated by
Bryan Collier. New York: Hyperion Books for
Children. (A 2001 Coretta Scott King Award for
Illustration Honor Book)

Rappaport, D. (2001). Martin's big words. Illustrated
by Bryan Collier. New York: Hyperion Books for
Children (A 2002 Caldecott Honor Book)

Texture Collages and Collage Constructions

Baker, J. (1987). Where the forest meets the sea. New
York: William Morrow. (A 1988 Australian
Children's Book Council Picture Book of the Year
Honor Book)

Baker, J. (1991). Window. New York: Greenwillow
Books. (The 1992 Australian Children's Book Council
Picture Book of the Year Award)

Baker, J. (1995). The story of rosy dock. New York:
Greenwillow Books. (The 1996 Australian
Children's Book Council Picture Book of the Year
Award; 1996 Boston Globe/Horn Book Magazine
Honor Book; and 1996 American Library Association
Notable Book)

Coleman, E. (2000). To be a drum. Illustrated by
Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson. Morton Grove,
IL: Albert Whitman.

Hathorn, L. (1998). Sky sash so blue. Illustrated by
Benny Andrews. New York: Simon & Schuster.

McGill A. (Collector). (2000). In the hollow of your
hand: Slave lullabies. Illustrated by Michael
Cummings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Moon, N. (1995). Lucy's picture. Illustrated by Alex
Ayliffe. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.


Baker, J. (2000). The hidden forest. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Brommer, G. (1994). Collage techniques: A guide for artists and illustrators. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.

Carle, E. (1969). The very hungry caterpillar. New York: Philomel.

Collier, B. (2000). Uptown. New York: Henry Holt.

Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. (1994). National standards for arts education: What every young American should know and be able to do in the arts. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

Huck, C. S., Hepler, S., Hickman, J., & Kiefer, B. Z. (2001). Children's literature in the elementary school. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Polacco, P. (2000). The butterfly. New York: Philomel.

Riley, L. C. (1995). Elephants swim. Illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Savage, J. (2000). For the love of literature: Children and books in the elementary years. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Silberstein-Storfer, M., & Jones, M. (1997). Doing art together. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Catherine M. Prudhoe Associate Professor, Early Childhood Education, West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Association for Childhood Education International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Prudhoe, Catherine M.
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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