Play Like a Surrealist: 13 Surrealist Games and Techniques to Unleash Kids Creativity

If you’re a parent or teacher looking for fun and imaginative ways to inspire children’s creativity, then you’re in the right place.

Surrealism is an art movement that is all about breaking free from the constraints of reality and exploring the depths of the imagination. By introducing Surrealist games and techniques, we can tap into children’s natural creativity and help them develop their own unique artistic voice. 

In this guide, we’ll be sharing 13 Surrealist games and techniques that are perfect for kids of all ages. From automatic drawing to Frottage, each activity is designed to encourage imaginative thinking, self-expression, and exploration.


Why games?

Play and chance are integral to the Surrealist movement and its exploration of the subconscious mind. Surrealists believed that by breaking free from the rational constraints of everyday life and embracing the irrational and absurd, we could tap into deeper truths and unlock our true creative potential.

Playful games and chance encounters were powerful tools for accessing this subconscious realm and allowing the imaginations to run wild. By engaging in Surrealist games and techniques, artists can challenge themselves to think outside of the box, push past their comfort zones, and explore the unknown. This approach not only leads to more creative and original art, but also promotes a sense of childlike wonder and curiosity. Surrealist games and techniques encourage artists and laymen to let go of preconceptions and embrace the unexpected, leading to a more open-minded and innovative approach to art, and to life itself.

Surrealist games are valuable components of any open-ended art exploration and an excellent addition to project-based curriculums. Many of their techniques and games have become part of everyday art practice, and in the context of art education, Surrealist games can be a useful tool to disinhibit students and unlock their creativity.

More so, they are a valuable component of any open-ended art exploration and an excellent addition to project-based curriculums. 


Play like a Surrealist: 13 Surrealist Games and Activities to Unleash Kids Creativity

Automatic Drawing

Andre Breton Automatic drawing

Automatic drawing is a technique that Surrealist artists used to create art without conscious control. The idea was to let the unconscious mind take over and guide the artist’s hand as they drew. The result is often a highly abstract and free-flowing work that is not bound by the rules of composition or traditional figurative art.

The technique of automatic drawing was first developed by the Dadaists in the early 20th century. They used chance operations and randomization to create art that was not preconceived or controlled by the artist. The Surrealists took this idea further, using automatic drawing as a means of accessing the subconscious mind.

To create an automatic drawing, the artist typically starts with a blank sheet of paper and a drawing tool such as a pencil or pen. The artist then allows their hand to move across the paper in any direction, without consciously planning or controlling the outcome. The idea is to let the hand and the unconscious mind take over and guide the drawing.

For this technique to be successful, the hand must be completely free from intentional representation! That means the artist should not be consciously trying to create any specific shapes, images or ideas, but instead letting their unconscious mind express itself through the drawing.

In art education, automatic drawing is a useful exercise to help students break free from the traditional constrictions of figurative art. It can be an excellent way to promote self-expression, creativity and imaginative thinking. It’s also a great way for less skilled kids to express themselves visually without feeling the pressure to create “perfect” or realistic art.


Joan Mirò,
Joan Mirò, “preparation for birds” via Widewalls


Max Ernst, Forest and Dove, 1927 via TATE Grattage surrealist techniquesFrottage (from French frotter, “to rub,” Rubbing) is a surrealist and automatic method of creative production developed by Max Ernst. The technique involves rubbing a soft pencil over a textured surface to capture the patterns and images that emerge. Ernst discovered this technique by tracing the patterns on an ancient wooden floor in his studio, which he believed resembled images of trees and forests.


In 1926, Ernst published a series of rubbings in a collection titled Histoire Naturelle, which featured intricate and detailed images created through frottage. Frottage has since become a popular technique used in art to create textured and unique images.

To create frottage drawings, kids should select a textured surface such as a piece of wood, a leaf, or a piece of fabric; they should then place a sheet of paper over the surface and use a soft pencil to rub over the surface, capturing the texture and patterns of the surface onto the paper. 

One famous example of frottage is Max Ernst’s Forest and Dove, a 1937 drawing created using the frottage technique. The drawing features a detailed forest scene with birds and animals emerging from the textured patterns.

Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite corpse. Max Morise, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró. 1927. Play like a surrealist

The Exquisite Corpse is a surrealist game that was first played by the Surrealist group in Paris in the 1920s. The game involves players taking turns writing a word or phrase on a piece of paper and then folding the paper so that only the last word or phrase is visible to the next player. The final result is a poem or a sentence that often contains surprising and unexpected connections between words and phrases.


The name is derived from a phrase that resulted when Surrealists first played the game, “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.” (“The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”)

In visual arts, the Exquisite Corpse can be adapted into a drawing game called “picture consequences.” In this version, players take turns drawing a portion of a figure or object, folding the paper to hide their drawing, and passing it on to the next player. The final result is a collaborative and often surreal image. Both the literary as well as the visual version of the game can be used as inspiration and starting point for art projects and literary activities.

Exquisite corpse. Max Morise, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró. 1927.





Collage is a technique that involves combining different materials and objects to create a new image or composition. This technique was popularized by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 20th century and quickly became a staple of Modern art.

Collage is an important technique in the surrealist movement, as it allows artists to create bizarre and unexpected compositions by combining random objects and images. Surrealist collages often feature strange juxtapositions and surreal combinations of objects and textures, creating a sense of unease and disorientation. 

Surrealist artists such as Max Ernst and Salvador Dali used collage to explore the unconscious mind and create works that challenged traditional notions of art and reality. In their collages, they would combine disparate elements such as insects, body parts, and architectural structures to create surreal and dreamlike images that often bordered on the grotesque.


Bulletism art Spring Explosive, Salvador Dali, 1965

“Bulletism” is a surrealist technique that involves shooting a gun at a canvas or other surface to create random marks and patterns.

The technique was developed by Czech artist Jindřich Štyrský in the 1920s and was embraced by other surrealists such as André Breton and Salvador Dali.

Bulletism is different than action painting, in the way that the final art is not abstract anymore, but rather inspired by the original random throwing of ink

The use of a gun to create art was seen as a way to subvert traditional techniques and challenge established ideas about art and violence. Bulletism was also viewed as a way to tap into the unconscious mind, as the unpredictable nature of the marks created by the bullets was seen as a reflection of the chaotic nature of the psyche.

While bulletism was not a widely used technique, it reflected the surrealist interest in chance, automatism, and the subconscious, and contributed to the movement’s overall emphasis on experimentation and innovation in art.

A few centuries before, Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci had already suggested that ” just as one can hear any desired syllable in the sound of a bell, so one can see any desired figure in the shape formed by throwing a sponge with ink against the wall.” 

Spring Explosive, Salvador Dali, 1965


apollinaire radnoti a megsebzett galamb es a szokokut b2bab6 640

A calligram is a creative technique in which text is arranged in a way that forms a related image.

Depending on the age of students, calligrams can be as simple as one-word images, or as elaborate as a whole poem arrangement. 

The history of calligrams can be traced back to ancient Greece, where poets would arrange their texts in various shapes to enhance the meaning of their words. However, it was not until the modern era that calligrams became a popular form of visual poetry. In the early 20th century, poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire began to experiment with this technique, creating unique and innovative works that combined text and image in unexpected ways.

“Calligramme de Guillaume Apollinaire intitulé Cœur, couronne et miroir” is a famous example of a calligram that features a heart-shaped poem formed by the words themselves. Apollinaire’s collection of poems, “Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War 1913-1916,” was published in 1918 and became a landmark work in the development of visual poetry. In this collection, Apollinaire used calligrams to express his thoughts and emotions about the events of World War I, conveying the horrors of war in a way that was both poignant and visually striking.

In addition to poetry, calligrams have been used in various forms of art, including advertising, typography, and graphic design. They are a versatile and expressive form of art that allows creators to convey their message in a way that is both visually and intellectually stimulating. Today, calligrams continue to be popular among artists and writers who seek to push the boundaries of traditional forms of expression and create works that are both beautiful and meaningful.

Scultpural automatism and Coulage

Coulage (chocolate). From Surrealist games in the afternoon, November 28, 2010. The Mushroom CollectionThis technique involves pouring molten materials, such as metal, plastic, or wax, into a container of cold water, causing the material to cool and solidify into unpredictable shapes and forms.

The sculptural automatism technique was popularized by the French artist Jean Tinguely, who created large-scale sculptures using this method. Tinguely’s sculptures were known for their whimsical and kinetic qualities, as the unpredictable shapes created by the coulage technique could be combined with moving parts to create complex and dynamic works of art. 



Gherasim Luca, “Cubomania” play like a surrealist: Cubomania
Cubomania is a Surrealist technique pioneered by the Romanian-born artist Gherasim Luca.
The technique involves cutting an image or a photograph into a grid of equal squares, and then randomly rearranging the squares to create a new image.

This process of disassembly and reassembly creates surprising and often unsettling compositions, as the original image is fragmented and recontextualized in unexpected ways. Unlike collages, cubomania artworks are usually created from one single artwork cut into pieces. While collages find their meaning in the creation of implausible or unlikely connections between random images, cubomania art focuses on rendering the image unintelligible, almost abstract, by disrupting its original composition

Luca believed that this technique was a way to reveal the unconscious mind at work, as the artist’s conscious control over the composition was relinquished in favor of chance and randomness.

The name of the technique is derived from the words “cubo,” meaning cube, and “mania,” meaning madness or obsession, emphasizing the importance of the grid in the process.

Play like a Surrealist: 13 Surrealist Games and Activities to Unleash Kids Creativity

Entopic Graphomania

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Ignore the convoluted name, “Entopic Graphomania” is much easier to do than it is to say!

The word “entopic” refers to the visual phenomenon of seeing patterns or shapes that are caused by the structure of the eye itself, such as the appearance of floating dots or lines when one closes their eyes.


Max Ernst, La Création du Monde (Oil on paper laid down on masonite), 1951.Grattage is a surrealist painting technique developed by Max Ernst in the 1920s. The word “grattage” means “scraping” in French, and the technique involves scraping or scratching wet paint to reveal the layers of color underneath.

Ernst would apply paint thickly onto a canvas and then scrape or scratch it away in a deliberate manner to create texture and reveal new shapes and forms. The result is a dreamlike image that appears to emerge from the canvas. This technique was later adopted by other surrealist artists, including Joan Miró and Yves Tanguy, and has been used in a wide variety of artistic mediums, including photography and printmaking.



Involuntary sculpture

Brassai (Gyula Halász,1899-1984) ‘Sculptures involontaires’, in Minotaure N°1, Paris, 1933

Creating “involuntary sculptures” is the Surrealist version of today’s fidgeting!






Object, Meret Oppenheim, 1936 Surrealist assemblage

Assemblages are the three-dimensional correspondent to collages.

This technique involves collecting and arranging objects in ways that challenge the viewer’s expectations and create new, unexpected meanings. Surrealist assemblages often feature juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated items, resulting in bizarre and unsettling combinations.

The technique was widely used by surrealist artists in the early 20th century, including Max Ernst, whose work “Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale” features an assemblage of various objects including a bird, a metronome, and a flower.

Object, Meret Oppenheim, 1936

Surrealist assemblages continue to be used in contemporary art, with artists like Joseph Cornell and Louise Nevelson incorporating found objects into their sculptures.


Play like a surrealist: decalcomaniaPlay like a surrealist: decalcomania

Decalcomania is a surrealist technique that involves applying paint to a surface, pressing another surface against it, and then pulling the two surfaces apart to create a mirrored image.

This process was popularized by Max Ernst, who used it extensively in his paintings. The resulting images often resemble landscapes, organic forms, or abstract shapes, and the technique relies heavily on chance and spontaneity.

One of the most famous artists to use this technique is Spanish Surrealist painter Oscar Dominguez, who referred to his works as “decalcomania with no preconceived object“.

SEE ALSO: Decalcomania Painting Art Exploration | Inquiry-Based Learning Lesson Plan

He would spread thin layers of gouache on paper or glass, and then proceed to squeeze it on to the canvas. The movement of the painting between the surfaces and the pressure applied would determine the look of the final artwork. Max Ernst, Hans Bellmer, Yves Tanguy, and Remedios Varo also implemented decalcomania in their painting, but not in the abstract way Dominguez did.

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Have you tried any of those Surrealist games and techniques? 

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