A collage of torn paper on a purple background with many torn pieces of paper that represent Washington, DC, including museums, monuments, a river, and a cherry tree.

What’s special about where you live? Make a torn-paper collage inspired by your hometown!

Time: 45–60 minutes
Skill Level: Beginner
Topic: Place


A vertically oriented rectangular collage with a light blue background and many different colored torn paper shapes crowded together.

Alice Acheson, The City, 1970. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest, 1981.

Look closely. What do you see? Describe the colors, lines, and shapes.

Are any shapes recognizable? What do you think they might be, and why?

This artwork is titled The City. You may have noticed the light blue background. A large dark blue horizontal piece of torn paper is at the bottom of the composition. Several vertical shapes are stacked together above the dark blue paper. Did you notice the photograph of a bicycle wheel in the upper right corner?

The edges of most of the shapes are torn and slightly frayed. On their own, the pieces of torn paper might be considered trash. But assembled together, the artist transformed the torn paper into a cityscape (a picture of a city). Does this remind you of anywhere you’ve been or seen before?

Artist Alice Acheson (1895–1996) often made art inspired by the places she lived and traveled. Born in Charlevoix, Michigan, she grew up in Detroit, received her art degree from Wellesley College, and then spent most of her adult life in Washington, DC. She was raised in a family of artists—including her mother and grandfather—and was encouraged to paint from a young age. Acheson studied art at the Corcoran School of the Arts and the Phillips Collection while living in Washington. Acheson was an active member of many artist organizations, and her works have been collected by several museums in Washington, DC. She lived to be 100 years old and never let old age temper her feisty spirit! While in her 80s, she once told off someone trying to rob her! Acheson was best known for her watercolors and oil paintings.


For this project, we take inspiration from Acheson’s collage The City to create your own torn paper collage based on a place that is special to you! A collage is a type of art made by combining different two dimensional materials, like multiple pieces of paper, together. 

  1. Gather materials. You’ll need:
    • Sturdy paper for your collage surface
    • Assorted paper (various sizes, colors, patterns, etc.)
    • Mark making tools (markers, crayons, etc.)
    • Scissors
    • Glue
       An assortment of various colors of paper, a glue stick, scissors, a pencil and a few oil pastels.
  2. Think about your collage. What places inspire you? Acheson’s collage is named The City. She lived in two different cities during her life: Detroit and Washington, DC. You might want to make a collage about your neighborhood, your town, or another important place. We chose to make a Washington, DC collage!
  3. Make a sketch. Sketch out some ideas for your collage. How do you want to represent your special place? Think about the colors, buildings and nature of that place. We chose to represent DC with monuments, museums, and the Potomac river!
     A sketch of various Washington, DC landmarks, including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Hirshhorn Museum situated alongside a bold blue river, uses bright colors on a light blue paper background.
  4. Choose your background paper. Acheson used a light blue background. What color do you want to use?
     A piece of purple construction paper sits in the middle of a white background.
  5. Tear your paper! If you want to use a color of paper you don’t have, make your own by coloring or painting your paper!
    Older kids (6+) may find it helpful to sketch out approximate shapes before tearing paper. If you want straighter torn edges, you might try cutting out your shape. Then you can fold the edges and tear, or leave the clean cut edges if you prefer.
     Various pieces of torn and cut paper arranged on a purple background.
    Note: Cutting, folding, and tearing paper are great ways to develop hand strength and fine motor skills! 
  6. Experiment with your composition. Spend some time arranging your torn paper in different ways. Note: Take a photo of the composition you like the most to remember how you arranged your paper and imagery.  
  7. Begin collaging. Once you have an arrangement you like, start attaching your images to your background paper. Use your glue to add your paper to your collage! For a realistic looking background, start with the pieces of paper that you want higher in the collage so you can glue layers over them for pieces lower in the composition.
    For our collage, we placed the building shapes on the purple background first then overlaid a green midground and a light blue foreground to create depth in the composition.
    Two hands gluing a piece of torn paper to a paper background.
  8. Title your work. We named ours Monumentland.
     A collage of torn paper on a purple background with many torn pieces of paper that represent Washington, DC, including museums, monuments, a river, and a cherry tree.

We want to see your creations! Share on social media @hirshhorn with #HirshhornInsideOut.