Our Senior Graphic Designer, Jon-Ross Le Haye, lets us into his world of origami paper and trips to Paperchase as he reveals the design behind the poster for the forthcoming Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition

1 of 5
  • Jon-Ross Matisse Poster The Cut-Outs Tate Modern
    Senior Graphic Designer, Jon-Ross Le Haye at his desk in the Design Studio
  • Jon-Ross Matisse Poster The Cut-Outs Tate Modern
    Poster planning
  • Jon-Ross Matisse Poster The Cut-Outs Tate Modern
    Scissor happy: testing out shapes and colours with origami paper
  • Jon-Ross Matisse Poster The Cut-Outs Tate Modern
    Spot the studio: a handy sign points visitors in the right directionr to the Design Studio in Tate Britain's offices
  • Lydia Delectorskaya, Matisse at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, c. 1952 Henri Matisse (1869 -1964) Photographer: Lydia Delectorskaya
    Matisse in his studio, surrounded by paper

I’m Jon-Ross Le Haye, Tate’s Senior Graphic Designer. I’ve been designing Tate posters for two years and I’m very lucky to be working on the current Matisse exhibition poster.

Before my life at Tate I designed posters for the Whitechapel Gallery and over many years I’ve developed my own particular method for making a poster. I’m very passionate about posters. I love having a singular format, just one chance to communicate an idea. It’s ruthless! Every poster I design has, at its heart, its own individual idea, but the methodology for coming up with an idea is the same it’s a five-step process (more on that in a minute).

For the Matisse exhibition I wanted to make a poster without using a computer, just as Matisse would have done in the 1940s… which I did… up to a point! I found a copy of Matisse’s 1947 book Jazz and photographed the spreads. I went to Paperchase, bought a lot of coloured origami paper and glue. So much that the sales assistant asked me if I was a primary school teacher!

Jon-Ross Matisse Poster The Cut-Outs Tate Modern
Getting to grips with origami paper

Once back at the studio I traced some of Matisse’s shapes from Jazz, his edition of Verve magazine and The Snail. I then cut the shapes out freehand, using a small pair of scissors and saving both the item cut out and remaining scraps of paper. I assembled various layouts, seeing what works and then scanned them giving me a ‘palette’ of Matisse shapes that I could use on the poster along with the lead image, Icarus from 1947, and the poster typography. Before this fun part though, I began with my usual five-step process:

Step one

I gather materials, which I’ll admit is a chore. I start with Wikipedia (just to get it out of the way), I learn everything about the artist and their work, even someone as well known as Matisse. I go to briefings, other museum shops, see if Tate has any works currently on display, read blogs, monographs and any previous catalogues.

Jon-Ross Matisse Poster The Cut-Outs Tate Modern
Jon-Ross' pen and paper drafts for the poster design

Step two

Once I have enough materials I start to put rough ideas on paper. Selecting facts that are unusual and interesting. I begin sketching very rough compositions, really rough, so rough that no one else can even read them. This is all without using a computer, that’s really important, even if colleagues are looking anxiously at me, worrying that I still haven’t ‘started’ the poster!

Jon-Ross Matisse Poster The Cut-Outs Tate Modern
Jon-Ross points to a cut-out motif in an original poster by Matisse that inspired his Tate exhibition poster

Step three

At this point I turn the computer on, I design everything in black and white first so I get the composition right, then I introduce one colour at a time but only if its a colour that the artist uses in their work. I make hundreds of compositions and colour combinations, I exhaust every combination. I print everything out and pin them up.

Step four

I go and do something else, listen to music, read, go to the cinema, put it completely from my mind, try and think of anything but the poster knowing that’s all my subconscious is doing, mulling it over, obsessing about it. By the next day new ideas just seem to come out of the blue.

Jon-Ross Matisse Poster The Cut-Outs Tate Modern
Jon-Ross' exhibition poster pin board at Tate's Design Studio

Step five

I take my poster out into the world, actively seeking criticism, not holding it to close to my chest at this stage. Opening it out to the room means possibilities I may have overlooked will come to light. This stage goes through many cycles, shaping and re-shaping, developing the idea until we have a beautiful and practical solution, a poster everyone is happy with.

As a result of this process, for the Matisse show I developed three layouts which are now nearing the end of stage five, being discussed, developed and refined. Once we have a preferred design the next stage to do test prints on the actual paper and then send to print! Posters will start going up around the gallery this autumn. It’s going to be an awesome exhibition, and after looking so closely at his work in print, I’m really looking forward to seeing so much of Henri’s work first hand.

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern opens April 2014 and focuses on the artist’s paper cut-outs made between 1943 and 1954 – a way of making work he called ‘drawing with scissors’


Really great to get insight into your creative process John-Ross! It's similar to mine for creating jewellery. I need to do more of Step Four though to release the pressure. I can't wait to see the final poster, let alone the exhibition!


Inspired by Matisse's cut-outs, North Kensington Library created during the Art and Craft Session a FANTASTIC display. Seven children contributed with their own creations. We even named the display - Matisse meets Pharrell @ NorthKen Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

You have to see it! I'll send you the photographs if you tell me how. :)