How Do You Use Recycled Magazines in the Art Room?

I inherited an abundance of old magazines when I started teaching middle school. Most of the magazines were National Geographic magazines from the 1960-1980’s and others were teen magazines donated from the school library. Somehow I continue to acquire magazines. My colleagues randomly drop them off in my mailbox and my family members send them my way. I feel like I have old magazines coming out my ears! I love having a variety of magazines to choose from, so I say the more the merrier. But sometimes I find myself wondering…

What am I going to do with all these magazines?


I’ve used magazines in my classroom as mixing trays for paint and in collage projects. These are just two ways magazines can be used in the art studio, but I know the readers of AOE are filled with creative ideas. I’d like to hear how you recycle magazines.

Do you have an abundance of magazines?

What is your favorite project to teach using recycled magazines?


Cassidy Reinken

This article was written by former AOE writer and life-long learner, Cassidy Reinken.


  • Beth McDonald

    I get quite a few magazines as well. One of my favorite projects to do with my high schoolers is to create a surreal collage. Students spend a great deal of time searching for images they can juxapose into bizarre combinations. Once completed, they use the collages as inspiration for creating a surreal painting that references some of their ideas in the collage, but does not copy it completely. They seem to really enjoy it and finish the assignment with a greater understanding of what makes a work of art surreal.

    • What a great idea, the collage acts as a sketch for the painting! Love it.

  • Art on my hands

    Use magazines for collages, color, theme, etc and for surrealism

  • Marcia Hirst

    I use them as paint palettes. I have my high school kids keep them in their drawers. They use the first page to put paint out onto. At the end of the hour they just fold it in half, rip it out and throw it away. This seems to eliminate wasted paint and dirty palettes in the sink!

    • It’s amazing how much cleaner my sinks are when I use magazines intead of palettes!

  • Vivian

    I cut long triangular strips (in a zig zag fashion) to roll over straws and make beads- adding glue with a paintbrush with 4h-5th graders, but you can layer cutouts and make some interesting pendants with glue (magazine jewelry pieces). There’s also weaving magazine images, which can create interesting surrealistic effects.

    • I love magazine beads, I’m sure my middle school students would love them as well. Magazine weavings sound interesting…

  • Cheri

    My Studio Art classes have a final. They have to pick an artist and do a short report on them, then choose one of their artworks and recreate it in collage that is usually 18″x24″. I have had some stunning results. AND it uses A LOT of magazines!

    • I love how you have them use such large paper, great idea!

  • Daisy

    I plan on using old magazines to create “altered book” pages. This can be a warm-up for the real altered book project I want my students to use as an art journal for the year. These magazine altered pages can be compiled and used in a binder instead of a real book.
    Happy recycling!

    • What a great introduction to altered books!

    • Linda Evans

      I have found that an easier resource to get than books, yep someone had a fit, are all the catalogs we get at school. My sixth graders loved using the catalogs. There is an interesting array of color with catalogs that books sometimes do not provide when the pages are folded.

  • When tearing from magazines, I always try to censor the content first and tear out any inappropriate images (National Geographic, anyone?) but of course kids can find the funny in EVERYTHING- Even underwear ads can cause quite a commotion. I tell the students if they find something inappropriate, to tear it out hand it to me and be responsible about it. It works most of the time. :) A colleague of mine uses magazines for observational drawing to create half magazine drawings. Students cut a picture in half, and then draw the other half from observation to make a complete drawing. these are always very impressive.

    • Using National Geographic magazines allow me to have a conversation about how people from other cultures and countries wear different clothes, or sometimes no clothes at all. :)

    • Linda Evans

      I can always tell who does not get magazine at home when they find the visual images to be so shocking! I too have them give the page to me, or recycle it. It leads to an interesting discussion about advertising, media, how we are a visual culture, and acting responsibly.

  • Phyllis Brown

    My students use magazines to create surreal collages. They turn out great. Large full page images are environments, backgrounds; smaller images are carefully cut out to the edges and placed into an environment where they do not belong (displacement) and juxtaposing images that do not belong together.

    • Linda Evans

      I did that with my junior high kids in the 70’s….dating myself. They did a watercolor background first. They always turned out so nice.

  • Martha

    I use old vinyl records to make mandalas with kids. Next year I am going to use them as a base for Mexican Suns. They throw a ton of them away at a thrift shop near me. I am also going to use the records as a base and have kids each create their own color wheel with colored pieces from old magazines.

    • Linda Evans

      Oh, I knew I should have bought those old LPs for fifty cents each at the rummage sale! I’ll have to call her and see if she still has them. The sale was at the home of an ex-student of mine.

  • Cheri

    I do the half magazine project also. I let them do either a realistic recreation of the other half, or a surrealistic side.

  • My school is being renovated and I am about to purge all but a set of 30 National Geographics! The hoarder in me is both terrified and delighted. I use magazine pages for palette liners. It is so much easier to just toss the magazine page than spend hours after school washing palettes.

    • Dawn McKay

      I use magazines and catalogs for palettes too. I take a section, staple it at one end, then just tear to page off when a new sheet is needed .

      • Linda Evans

        I also collect the Scholastic Book Orders from the homeroom teachers to use for printing palettes. Works great. I used to keep them from day to day. I have so many this year I just toss them….at least I reused them.

        • Behind the Marble Walls

          Old phone books also are wonderful for printing palettes. I have the students rip off a new sheet each time and they always have a clean spot to print.

  • Vicky Siegel

    One year I had early finishers or classes who needed a one day project find certain color images. I pre-drew the color family words in bubble letters (primary, secondary, warm, cool, neutral). Students then glued on the colors (Warm: W in red, A in orange, R in yellow, M in pink) etc. I cut out the letters, glued to black, had them laminated, and now they hang up all the time in my art room!
    -I also use magazines for a soft surface when students work with metal tooling foil.

    • Linda Evans

      Another good idea for those done early.

  • Seems I am in the minority here…but I can’t stand having a big, messy stack of magazines in my room! Donations go straight to the lounge or the recycle bin. And now my secret is out! Eek! :)

    • Too funny Amanda!


      You are not alone! I’m too OCD!


    When I first came to my current position, I was taking over what was clearly the previous teacher’s second closet. She had been there for 30+ years and collected everything – I mean, she had paint from 1956 and psychedelic tissue crafts still in the original package, copyright 1967. Needlesstosay, I went to reorganize and I opened over 14 cupboards FULL of magazines, some nearly 50 years old. I think I nearly died – I have never strayed from the occasional magazine collection but this was too much. I went for it and recycled it ALL. Every last page. I knew more would come in if I needed it – I think there’s a stamp on our foreheads that say “bring me junk”. But wow, it was an experience. I’ve only ever used them for the reasons you’ve mentioned and haven’t used any in the last few years unless I need disposable palettes. We do get out current magazines to look at advertising and layouts but we don’t use them for our actual projects.

    • Yes! I LOVE getting rid of stuff like that!

      • ArtclasswithLMJ.Wordpress.Com

        When it’s junk – it’s the best feeling in the world, I know!

    • I had a very similar experience. The stuff that was saved….yikes! I almost couldn’t breathe when I saw it all. It felt so good to clear it out.


        It was probably a health hazard when i did begin clearing some things out. I had a ton of old lead based materials that had to be removed using health-happy processes…it was crazy! Glad I’m not alone!

  • Elizabeth C.

    Oh, I LOVE myself some magazines!!! I use them each year to teach pop art and collage. The other material I love to use for collage is wrapping paper!!! So awesome!!!

  • Kristy Rolig

    I use them for lots of things! I teach elementary, so I have the little ones go on “shape and color scavenger hunts” in the magazines. They love it and it is a nice 1 day activity. You could probably use it for other elements too! I also do color wheels. I’ve had the older kids use their polygon templates from their math curriculum to trace shapes and cut out for collage. Last year I did it before thanksgiving and they made polygon turkeys. I gave them images of real turkeys a d they created their own out of polygons. Everyone’s was different!
    I also talk to the kids about potential ads that might be inappropriate. I just ask them to tear out anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or that their parents wouldn’t like. It totally works. As far as the National Geographics, I, like another commenter, use it as an opportunity to talk about other cultures.

    • Behind the Marble Walls

      Great ideas! Love the color wheel! I have had kids explore just one color and rip out all the tints and shades of red, etc. The kids all seem amazed by how many different tints and shades there can be of one color. We then do a one color collage- i.e. an apple for red, etc.

  • Elizabeth

    It is true. The bags of stuff that get left outside my door is mind boggling. Some of it great, some goes to “what were they thinking”! Anyway…Different mags for different projects. Kids use them for paper weavings, beads, or rolled to make beautiful paper mache bowls. We search for faces showing emotion, colors, font examples, all kinds of collage subjects…I used to go through and sensor, not so much anymore. I do struggle with the messiness, but

    • Linda Evans

      Good use of materials when budgets are short! I like some of your ideas.

  • Liz

    I had plenty of left over magazines when I started at my school! One day I went to the art museum and came across a wonderful sculpture. It was a free standing vase like shape (wide mouth top) with a cover over it. Quite wonderful! I was determined to see how this was made because it was made out of recycled magazines! It took me a few weeks but I learned how to make it! Last year and this year I had my eigth graders make these awesome 3D bowls. Not made out of paper mache either. Had to tear out one page at a time, roll it with a ruler to make a bunch of tubes. Then place the ends together. Once have enough to start then take one end and tightly roll tubes. This is so much easier to show rather than explain! I have also used magazines for collage, drawings, and my lastest lesson: to show movement! Students have to find a picture that demonstrates movement.

  • D Goodenberger

    I do a project based on Salvador Dali where students create a room in perspective with window or doors. They then cut out magazine images, superimposing and put them together to create a surreal room. Windows with giant eyes peering in and floating fish!

    • Linda Evans

      Sounds, neat! I do a project in a shoebox called a Peep Show or Shoebox Theater. I do it with 6th graders and using the National Geographics they created a place/space about one of the cultures they study.

    • Behind the Marble Walls

      Great idea! I use Salvador Dali also for a mixed media collage. I usually have the kids do a watercolor landscape and then we collage pictures onto the landscape. I love the idea about using perspective with older students for Surrealism.

    • Lynda Akins

      I would love to have these lesson plans for students to create a room, and do you have any pictures you might like to share my email is: This is my first year to teach art and I need all the idea I can get. A BIG Thank You!!

  • Art = Gotta Love It

    I also cut magazine pages into squares and use them for practice origami paper or to make origami boxes. I have an old large desk in my art room and keep the magazines in the large bottom desk drawers – out of sight. When the drawers are full I recycle. I use old art supply catalogs for palettes and scrap paper to put under glue stick projects to keep the glue off of the table.
    Students are told to tear out inappropriate images and put them into the recycling bin, but they also open up dialog for discussion relating to art and culture.

  • Carissa Zill

    I had my art club create life size self-portraits collaged with magazine pieces – they were stunning!

  • Behind The Marble Walls

    The longer I teach the more I appreciate the “junk”. My first teaching position was taking over for an art teacher that had taught in that room for 35 years. I was overwhelmed by the stuff, but now I look back and I got rid of a lot of really great still-life props and boxes of magazines. My favorite projects for magazines include all types of collage. I also like to use them for visual reference, especially the National Geographic. I’ve torn out the best pictures out of many and created file folders for people, birds, animals, landscapes, etc. They are great idea starters and sketchbook references at the beginning and end of projects. I will often place the pictures (of whatever subject we are working with) out on a table and tell the kids to grab 2-3 pictures and start drawing in their sketchbooks. This is a good way to switch on their art brains and settle the class for the first 5 minutes. Here is a link to my blog, I have a recent post called “Trashy Art” that uses trash as the medium.

  • arlyart

    I am a collage artist so I have an affinity for magazines of any age but in the classroom I use them in two ways that I love, other than when I teach photomontage. As a palette, they are great, but rather than throw the painted on paper away, I teach my students to ‘paint out’ the image on the page, make marks, explore patterns, and then once dried, tear this painted paper up for mixed media work. It is so much better than construction paper and once it is painted, it won’t fade like traditional paper. I also use magazines to teach my students to draw. They grab a sharpie ‘black line’ an image. When this is done over time, it trains their eyes to see perspective, to understand form of objects, and sense of spatial awareness. When they go to transfer their outline with graphite in stand alone sketch, they are amazed at how good their drawings turn out. Great confidence builder.

  • Rae

    I started my teaching career last year in January. I was very, very overwhelmed by the amount of hoarding I discovered. Old lawn mowing shoes anyone? As much as I love to hoard myself, I needed to get rid of previous instructors hoarding so I could have room to begin my own stash! The previous instructor used magazines as palettes as some of you have described but were 3 cabinets full necessary? I had my students use the magazines to create paper sculptures hoping to eliminate some of the clutter. I show them several different techniques, expose them to many different examples from various artists who completely transform their paper from from the 2-d to the 3-d and let them go! They have really impressed me with their designs. I have had beautiful abstract designs, a functional model desk (we are talking hinges, and drawer stops), a ferris wheel, bowls, and even sculpted animals in their natural habitats! It has been a very successful project that I might have to keep hoarding magazines for…. : )