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Activity: Make an Abstract Collage Portrait

Arranged paper shapes that overlap or cover parts of the background create the face of a person

Today’s activity is inspired by The Poetry of Joseph E Big Bear by Frank Big Bear. Learn more about this artwork, then try your hand at making a colorful collage portrait of someone you care about with materials found around your home.

Frank Big Bear (Anishinabe), The Poetry of Joseph E Big Bear, 2010
Frank Big Bear (Anishinabe), The Poetry of Joseph E Big Bear, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 55 3/4 in. × 40 in. × 1 5/8 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Frank Big Bear (Anishinabe), The Poetry of Joseph E Big Bear, 2010, 55 3/4 in. × 40 in. × 1 5/8 in., acrylic on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Look Closer:

Take a moment to look closely at this painting. What words would you use to describe it? This painting is a portrait, a picture of a person. Portraits can not only show us what someone looks like but also their personality and mood. What do you think the man in this portrait is like? If you met him in person, how would he act?

Frank Big Bear painted this portrait to remember his brother, Joseph E Big Bear. Joseph was a poet, and the artist shows his brother’s poetry in the title and through the colorful, creative look of the painting. What details do you notice? Frank Big Bear is an Indigenous artist and includes symbols from Anishinaabe tribes in his work. Here, the artist painted a bear claw necklace and floral designs as a sign of respect, showing how important his brother was to him. 

Activity: Make a Collage Portrait

Materials Needed:

  • Paper or cardboard background
  • Pencil
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Colorful paper 
  • Recycled paper from around your home, like magazine pages, junk mail, newspaper, etc.
Materials needed to make a collage portrait
Drawing of person’s face, neck, and shoulders with cut out paper shapes as the background and more cut shapes, scissors, and glue stick on table beside it.


Step 1: Decide who you want to create a portrait of. How do you know them? What words would you use to describe this person?

Step 2: Use your pencil to draw a large oval on a piece of paper or cardboard. This will be the person’s face. Then, draw a neck and shoulders below it.

Step 3: Cut out paper shapes for your background and glue them outside of your drawing. Where do you want your person to be? Are they in their favorite place or surrounded by things they like?

Step 4: Cut out paper shapes to create your figure. Remember, it doesn’t need to look like the person in real life. You can use whatever colors you want. Try to include any features that help identify this person like curly hair or a hat. You can also include objects to show how this person is important to you.

Colorful cut paper shapes create the nose, eyes, mouth, hair and shirt of a person
Arranged paper shapes that overlap or cover parts of the background create the face of a person

Step 5: Arrange these paper shapes until you are happy with how it looks. Then, glue them down. Don’t worry if your shapes overlap or cover parts of the background. 

Step 6: Once you are finished, let it dry. Then, display it in a special place or give it to the person whose portrait you created.

Have fun creating!

Written by Marie Hofer, museum educator, Crystal Bridges.


Special thanks to our sponsors:

Youth and Family programming is supported in part by AMP Sign & Banner, Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services, Juan, Marcy and Joaquin Camacho, The Coca-Cola Company, iHeart Media, JTH Productions, Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Pinnacle Car Services, Procter & Gamble, Gordon and Carole Segal, The Simmons Family Fund, and ViacomCBS Consumer Products.

Education and Learning is supported in part by Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, The Northern Trust Company, Pamela and Wayne Garrison, Doug and Shelley McMillon, Jack and Melba Shewmaker Family, Neff and Scarlett Basore, Galen and Debi Havner, Lance and Sharon Beshore, Cardinal Four Foundation, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Harry Cornell, Cox Communications, Dorothy Hurt, J.M. Smucker Company, Kimberly-Clark, Nice-Pak Products, Inc., The Russell Berrie Foundation, Stephen and Claudia Strange, Felix and Margaret Wright.