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

Surrealist artists believed that western society was tamed and repressed by self-imposed bourgeois beliefs and taste. 

They believed that to be free meant to be able to see and overcome this constraint. Artists had to access their inner self, their subconscious, to escape the prejudice and preconceptions that modern society had instilled in them. 

To do so they devices a series of Surrealist games and techniques that introduced fortuity and instinct in the creative process.

Many of these techniques have become part of everyday art practice and exploration. 

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

The most famous Surrealist techniques, automatic drawing requires the artists to draw freely on a blank paper, without worrying about composition, proportions, or even content!

Before Surrealism, Dadaist had already devised some sort of randomized art through chance operations. 

Surrealist employed this technique as a means to avoid deliberate intentions during the creative process, allowing the unconscious mind to have great sway.

Andre Breton Automatic drawing

To be successful, the hand had to be completely free from intentional representation.

In art education, automatic drawing is a useful exercise to help students break free from traditional constrictions of figurative art, and can be a wonderful expedient for less skilled kids to successfully express themselves visually. 

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


Drawing on Chance, MOMA Exhibition, 1995


In art, frottage (from French frotter, “to rub,” Rubbing) is a surrealist and “automatic” method of creative production developed by Max Ernst.


Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor in his studio. He thought that he could see images of trees and forests in the patterns and scratches of the floor, so he started tracing these patterns by placing thin sheets of paper on the floor and rubbing over them with soft pencils. 

In 1926 he published the series of rubbings in a collection titled Histoire Naturelle.  

The Blue Forest, Max Ernst, 1925 via Wikiart
The Blue Forest, Max Ernst, 1925 via Wikiart

Exquisite Corpse

The “Exquisite Corpse” is arguably the most famous of the Surrealist games. It involves players taking turns writing a word on a piece of paper and then folding it so that only the last written word remains visible for the next player. 

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

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.”)

The nonsense composition that results from the game often includes unusual phrases and connections that can inspire artists in their works. 

The game is interesting as a starting point for both art projects as well as for literacy activities.

It can also be adapted into a drawing game, called “picture consequences“, where players take turns drawing a collective image. 


Nowadays, pretty much anybody knows what a collage means. Is fascinating to think that this everyday word was actually invented by Picasso and Braque at the beginning of the 20th century when it made its way into Modern art. 

In Surrealism, Collage is used to create bizarre imagery, and to imply meaning between random subjects within a picture.  


“Bulletism” is an artistic process that involves shooting ink at a black canvas or paper. The artists would then develop his art based on the random result of the ink blots. 

Bulletism art Spring Explosive, Salvador Dali, 1965
Spring Explosive, Salvador Dali, 1965

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. 

While Salvador Dali claims to have invented this technique, 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.” 


A calligram is text arranged in such a way that it forms a thematically 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. 

Calligramme de Guillaume Apollinaire intitulé Cœur, couronne et miroir surrealist play
“Calligramme de Guillaume Apollinaire intitulé Cœur, couronne et miroir”

Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War 1913-1916” is a collection of poems by Guillaume Apollinaire published in 1918. “Calligrammes” is a form of visual poetry, with each poem is arranged to form a calligram. The visual representation plays is as important as the words in conveying the meaning of the poem. 


Coulage is a sculptural automatism process, which involves pouring molten material (wax, chocolate, metal…) into cold water. 

Coulage (chocolate). From Surrealist games in the afternoon, November 28, 2010. The Mushroom Collection
Coulage (chocolate). From Surrealist games in the afternoon, November 28, 2010. The Mushroom Collection

Another accepted technique for coulage is to pour liquid color onto canvas to create random shapes and pattern. 

Melted wax poured in cold water


Cubomania is a kind of collage invented by Romanian Surrealist Artist Gherasim Luca. 

Gherasim Luca, “Cubomania” play like a surrealist: Cubomania
Gherasim Luca, “Cubomania” (image via

It’s done by cutting an image into squares, which are then reassembled without regards for the original. 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 images unintelligible, almost abstract, by disrupting their original composition. 

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

Entopic Graphomania

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

“Entopic Graphomania”,Dolfi Trost, 1945

It involves connecting with straight or curved lines the dots, scratches, and impurities found on a blank piece of paper. Easy right?


Grattage is another technique pioneered by Max Ernst.

Max Ernst, La Création du Monde (Oil on paper laid down on masonite), 1951.
Max Ernst, La Création du Monde (Oil on paper laid down on masonite), 1951.

Opposite of Frottage, Grattage is done by laying a canvas painted with oil paint over a textured object and then scraping the paint off to create fascinating and unexpected surfaces.

Max Ernst, Forest and Dove, 1927 via TATE Grattage surrealist techniques
Max Ernst, Forest and Dove, 1927 via TATE

Involuntary sculpture

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

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

Involuntary sculpting is somewhat a three-dimensional version of automatic drawing: it involves manipulating a small quantity of material in the hands without paying attention to shape and form, but rather focusing on tactile sensations and movements


Assemblage is the three-dimensional correspondent to Collage.

Surrealist Assemblage is done by arranging together seemingly random objects: sometimes the objects would be paired into a unique environment, other times they would be assembled to create a new, surreal, object. 

Object, Meret Oppenheim, 1936 Surrealist assemblage
Object, Meret Oppenheim, 1936

Oppenheim’s furry teacup is one of the most famous surrealist work. 

It started with a joke shared with Picasso and Dora Maar at a cafè in Paris. Picasso noted the fur-lined bracelet she was wearing and noted how everything could be covered in fur. “Even this teacup!” Oppenheim quickly replied. She later walked to a nearby department store, bought the cup and the fur, and went back to her studio to complete her most famous artwork. 

Andre Breton Poème Objet [Poem-Object] 1935 Surrealist assemblage art
Andre Breton Poème Objet [Poem-Object] 1935 via Scotland National Gallery


Decalcomania is a blotting process whereby paint is squeezed between two surfaces to create a mirror image.

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.

Play like a surrealist: decalcomania
Source MOMA

Max Ernst, Hans Bellmer, Yves Tanguy, and Remedios Varo also implemented decalcomania in their painting, but not in the abstract way Dominguez did.

Play like a surrealist: Decalcomania Remedios Varo
Remedios Varo “Woman”, 1952 via Cave to Canvas

You may also be interested in:

Have you tried any of those Surrealist games and techniques? 

Leave a comment below