Make: Fantasy Landscapes – Surrealist Magazine Collages for Kids

Invite kids to observe landmarks, cut up photos, and employ their imaginations to create amazing fantasy landscape magazine collages...

Many years ago, back when I was volunteering at the Toledo Museum of Art, I had a list of beloved works I’d often stop to check in on. Among those old friends was a painting called The Architect’s Dream. About 80 years before the words “surrealism” became a popular art term, landscape artist Thomas Cole painted The Architect’s Dream, a work imagining a city where Egyptian pyramids, Greek temples, and Roman aqueducts all coexist within steps of each other. The details of this large-scale painting are incredible to observe, but what I most appreciated about it was Cole’s imaginative creation of a dream city.

Inspired by the theme of surreal make-believe cities (along with the processes and subjects of some amazing contemporary artists) comes this fantasy landscape project. It’s an art idea you can use to explore surrealism, collaging, and visual experimentation. It encourages playfulness and imaginative creation, while also providing wonderful opportunities to discuss escapism, activism, and storytelling.

A fantasy landscape collage made from magazine and photo clippings sitting on a cardboard background

Get out the magazines, print some of your own pictures, and start dreaming up your very own magnificent cities of the future, impossible places, or incredible experiences. I’ve combined cutouts from magazines and books with photos from my own travels (can you spot LA’s Getty Center, ruins from Pompeii, Palm Springs’ Indian Canyons, and Buckingham Fountain in Chicago’s Grant Park?) and turned them into surreal cityscapes. Absolutely no passport is required for this dreamy city eye candy – just a pair of scissors, a glue stick, and LOTS of imagination.

A fantasy landscape collage made from magazine and photo clippings sitting on a cardboard background

Whether imagining their own dream city, taking the viewer on a deliciously outlandish adventure, or using their surreal landscape to make a personal statement, this project is sure to take kids on a fantastic creative journey that encourages turning their own memories and experiences into incredibly cool, sublimely imaginative artwork.

You can combine this project with a few of our other art-making ideas for interesting variations! Create landscape details with the stamping technique we used in our torn landscape art, add moving elements using an idea from our kinetic shape art, or make a set of transparent tiles you can shift around over top to change the look with our processes art play tiles DIY.

To make your own fantasy landscape magazine collages you’ll need:

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • A sheet of paper/cardstock or cardboard
  • Magazines, photos, old books, etc.
  • Scissors
  • A glue stick

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

  • Stickers, dried flowers, yarn, fabric scraps, or other decorative elements
  • Paint pens, gel pens, or oil pastels, markers or other mark-making tools

Fantasy Landscape Magazine Collage Instructions:

  1. Gather landscape and landmark photos

    I have *literally* hundreds of digital photo folders, so I gathered up some of my favorite landmark photo memories and printed a few I could then cut out. Save some of your printer ink and look for large landscape backgrounds and textures in old books, magazines, and newspapers. Paper ephemera like travel brochures or maps, typically have lots of great photos or details you may want to add to your collages. And sites like Creative Commons have fun vintage photos you can download for free for personal use.

    Consider the way Thomas Cole played with buildings from a variety of time periods to create his dream city. Let your imagination run wild and experiment with combining elements from different times and places. Cole also distorted scale, painting tiny people amongst unbelievably gargantuan surroundings. What happens when you put smaller objects (like our flowers or pool floats) in a setting that makes them look larger-than-life?

  2. Cut out and play with photographic elements to create a composition

    Cut out different elements and start moving them around to create your own surreal landscape. This is ALL about play! Layer them with different backgrounds, various colors or textures of paper – what happens with your composition? Use unexpected combinations of scenery and play with opposites (for instance, how does it look to use an underwater scene as the sky of your landscape and vice versa?).

  3. Use a glue stick to glue your composition to a paper or cardboard background

    Once you’ve created a composition you like, use a glue stick to glue all of your elements to a piece of paper.

    Want to work a little larger? You can use a scrap piece of cardboard instead. This would be a wonderful way to create a collaborative classroom landscape or ongoing fantasy landscape collage that builds over time.

  4. Add details with collaged decorative elements like stickers, dried flowers, yarn, fabric, etc.

    Once you have your flat paper elements finished, experiment with adding some interesting visual additions by playing with decorative elements like stickers, dried flowers, yarn, fabric, etc.

    Stickers, confetti, hole-punched paper, and office or envelope labels are all wonderful ways to add fun bubbles of bright color. And don’t forget you can always color right on top of your art!

A fantasy landscape collage made from magazine and photo clippings sitting on a cardboard background

More Places to Find Dreamy Creative Landscape Collage Inspiration

  • ESCAPE. Using your fantasy landscapes to get away to unknown worlds? Check out the work of collage artist Eugenia Loli, who often explores space and the universe as a means of imaginative escape.
  • IMAGINE YOUR OWN UNIQUE UNIVERSE. Comic illustrator François Schuiten worked with author Benoît Peeters to build an entire imaginary universe – complete with distinct civilizations. Instead of creating stand-alone collages, start building your own community of fantastical places!
  • TELL A STORY. Artist Nancey B. Price carries on a family tradition of storytelling through her collage work. How can you use your own memories or photographs to tell stories about yourself, your family, your ancestors, or your community?
  • MAKE A STATEMENT. Artists Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber make and photograph INCREDIBLE dioramas of cities the earth has reclaimed, reminding us of the resiliancy of nature, and challenging us to imagine a world without, well, us.
A fantasy landscape collage made from magazine and photo clippings sitting on a cardboard background

Explore more imaginative paper landscape art projects with a visit to our (reversible!!) “Night in the City” art project, make a foldout cardboard secret garden or city landscape book that opens up to become a gorgeous playscape, or investigate mark-making with these artist-inspired spring landscapes.

Our scrap fabric DIY adventure maps and paper art memory maps are other wonderful projects that provide a totally different take on landscapes!

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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