Mismatched Collage

Author: Sarah Clowe, Director of Art Programs

Materials: magazines, scissors, glue,

Note: Instead of magazine pictures, you may also print and use images from the museum's Digital Collections Database

The mismatched collage activity featured in this blog takes its inspiration from artist Michael Oatman. Michael Oatman's work was most recently on view in the 2018 exhibition,Birds & Beasts: The Scary, Magical, and Adorable Animals of the Albany Instituteand his 1992—2002 collage piece The Birds is part of the Albany Institute's permanent collection.  Through the support of the National Endowment of the Arts, the Albany Institute of History & Art interviewed four artists including Michael Oatman for a special series called Artists' Voices. Learn more about Michael Oatman and his art by streaming the video at the end of this post.

Step 1: Select a Background

Look through your supply of old magazines, calendars, and other images you have available. Find a scene you'd like to be your background. In The Birds most of the backgrounds used are landscape images. In my example, I've used a background image from an old nature calendar.

Step 2: Choose Images to Add to the Background

What or who is going to be the focus of your collage? Search through your pictures and cut out a person, animal, or thing to emphasize. It can be something that you would not ordinarily find with your chosen background.  

Hint: In Michael Oatman's interview he describes matching the style of images together— for instance, using all painted images or all photographed images. This will make the style of the collage match even if the objects shown usually don't belong with one another.

Step 3: Get Playful!

What mismatched items will go with your focus image? Will animals and birds wear silly hats and boots? In my example I matched up my bird image with toothbrushes. Use your imagination and look through your magazine images to find funny things to combine.

Our Inspiration: The Birds by Michael Oatman

The Birds
Michael Oatman (b.1964)
1999-2002, collage on paper, welded steel frame
Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase Prize, 2003 Exhibition of Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, 2003.14


The Birds is based on the apocalyptic paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel, and Hitchcock's film of the same name. According to Oatman in 2003:

"I have been making collage since 1983, but it is only in the last two years that I have worked on a large scale with the medium. Each collage is composed of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of individual hand cut pieces. No digital material is used, save for the occasional single color 'background'. My imagery is culled from a specific and narrow stylistic range of science, nature and children's' illustrations from the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s.” 


Artists' Voices: Michael Oatman Video

Visit our Collections Database to see The Birds a collage work by Oatman in the Albany Institute's collection :



Published April 9, 2020