Paper bag dolls recycled material art lessons

Art Projects Inspired by Earth Day

I’ve been known to dig through the lunch bins rescuing styrofoam trays for printing projects. I save newspapers for delicate ceramic projects and concentrated juice can tops for robot heads. Is it enough? No way. Sometimes I start to collect things then abandon the idea when I can’t come up with an art project or the pile threatens my limited storage. Then back to the bin they go. Depressing. But every once in a while, I adapt or create an art lesson that uses up my collections of recyclables.

paper bag dolls recycled material art lessons

Here are some of my favorites Projects using recycled materials…

robots recycled material art lessonsRecycled Robots This lesson came to me via Painted Paper. Laura’s colorful little darlings inspired me to start collecting tag board from the teachers workroom. After I got enough to crop at least 60 rectangles, we embarked on our project. I added concentrated juice can tops, sode can tabs, plastic fruit baskets and old buttons and yes, I actually snip them off all my old clothes!

rocket ships and space recycled material art lesson

rocket ships and space recycled material art lessonUsing similar recycled materials, I created Rocket & Space Collage. I saw this idea behind a glass case at the Aerospace Museum at The Los Angeles Science Center. I snapped a picture and began collecting tag board scraps. You’ll need something heavy like tagboard but you could also cut up corrugated cardboard boxes or cereal boxes. It’s a dynamic piece that not only uses up old scraps but covers many art concepts. A real keeper!

katrina paper bag dolls recycled material art lesson“Katrina” Dolls require some collecting. Egg cartons, newspapers, old lunch bags, paper plates or recycled card stock, cereal boxes and toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls. The results are worth it! 

foil fish recycled material art lessonfoil fish recycled material art lessonFoil Fish This is a bit of a half and half project. You’ll need new tin foil but it’s a fantastic use for old fruit and vegetable net bags. I collected dozens and made my own texture boards. My students created fish and sea turtles but you could change up the subject to include almost anything. The original idea came from a Usborne Art Book. 

city at night city scape recycled material art lessonCity at Night is a one of my favorite art lessons. The project was created by Gail at That Artist Woman. I did this lesson with my sixth grade students and although the project looks fairly easy, many of my students took a long time to cut up the little windows and details. This is one of the best uses for all of your post-holiday wrapping paper piles. The metallic papers look fantastic against plain construction paper and really jazz up the project.  Here’s my City Scape tutorial but Gail’s is better.

matisse name panels recycled material art lessonMatisse Name Panels and Matisse Dancers. When you want to use up paper scraps there is no better artist to inspire you than Matisse. Both of these lessons require only one new piece of paper for the base. Everything else can be found through scraps. Do this project at the end of the year when your scrap box is overflowing! 

symmetrical aliens recycled material art lessonSymmetrical Aliens uses a bevvy of recycled materials: plastic twirly’s from a plastic manufacturer (okay, I don’t know what the heck they are) and lots and lots of paper scraps, old buttons, old fabric, plastic tops, etc. Here’s my tutorial for Alien Shapes.

Household supplies to save:

  • Toilet Paper rolls
  • Paper Towel rolls
  • Egg cartons
  • Tag board, poster board
  • Tissue paper and gift wrap from every celebration
  • Curly ribbon
  • Buttons from discarded clothing
  • Fabric scraps from discarded clothing
  • Fruit baskets & net bags
  • Old lunch bags (if you can!)
  • Plastic bread bags (good for stuffing with newspaper and using as a base for papier-mache)
  • Paper Scraps from art projects (divide into painted paper, white paper and colored paper)
  • Old markers (to use as rolling pins for ceramics)
  • Dish detergent/shampoo/ plastic bottles (for form-based projects)

Now, here are your tips!

recycled material art lesson

Amy wrote: “I’ve been collecting old clothes… stained, holey clothes that would normally be trashed, and my kids are weaving with them… as well as cut up plastic bags, some old screen I found, bags of chips, etc. The kids are encouraged to bring anything in from home that they can weave with too… as long as it is something that was headed to the trash can or recycling bin.”

Susan wrote: “I love doing decoupage’ wine bottles with my students. If you don’t drink wine, most any restaurant will save them for you.”

Midge wrote: “I reuse all my Clorox wipe containers for my markers and colored pencils and black sharpies and paint pens. I reuse all my large butter tubs to house oil pastels and crayons. and any small ones i get I but beads, and such in each… I never buy containers! Also I use egg cartons for paint with my kiddos! one pump per section per color and it works perfect on portion control and the lid closes and keeps the paint fresh for 2 weeks!”

What do you think?

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  • Fruit Arrangements

    These are wonderful – what creativity!

  • Megan

    Patty you are such an inspiration!!! I am going to try the Matisse project as well as the collages. I have never done collages with my students…any tips?

    Thank you so much for sharing your great ideas!!

    • Patty

      I think the biggest tip is to have the children cut out the big pieces first and layer back to front. So often a kid will cut out a shape and glue it down immediately. Ask them to wait until they have a few pieces then talk about composition. I keep paper clips nearby so kids can clip their loose pieces together until the next class.

  • Cheryl Hancock

    Awesome projects!! I just wish we could use egg cartons too but with children who have allergies to all sorts of things including eggs I Just have to be careful.
    Cheryl H

  • Koree Fugate

    Hi Patty,

    We have 27 more days of school left, but I’m totally out of paper for painting! Any suggestions? I do have printer paper left. I don’t have a kiln or clay so that rules out any pottery making….


    • Patty Palmer

      Try doing a weaving project with recycled paper…newspapers, magazines, etc.
      Also, you can paint on card stock, or perhaps use markers on card stock….drawing on copy paper? If you have colored paper, try painting on that using tempera paints mixed with a bit of white paint or even chalk. Good luck!

  • Lisa Roese

    I am a 5-6th grade art teacher who is so impressed with your recent generosity of offering us lesson plans that we can post. Not only do you offer the lesson plan but a video as well. I find making videos challenging but I want to succeed. I can learn from watching yours. Thank you so much!!

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