Professional Practice

Are You an Art Teacher Who Collects Weird Things on Summer Vacation?

last supper

Art teachers see the world from a different angle. This makes us great, creative critical thinkers and problem solvers, but it can also make us professional hoarders. We have the unique ability to see trash or junk as potential art. While most people bring home a souvenir or two from a gift shop when on vacation, art teachers are known to collect and haul home all sorts of fascinating paraphernalia.


Whether you want to gain new ideas for what to collect on your next trip or you just want to see if you’re represented on the list, keep reading for the strangest and weirdest things art teachers collect on vacation.

1. Patches

Whether they’re iron-on, sew-on, or just going into a shoebox of memories, patches are great pieces of art to remember places visited. When you get back to the classroom, add them to your apron if you’re brave enough for it to get covered in paint the next day!


2. Stickers

Stickers are memories you can slap onto so many surfaces! From laptops to water bottles to car bumpers, stickers are a fun souvenir to remember any vacation. Stickers tell stories about travels and interests, and students love to ask questions about them!


3. Pins

These are great mementos to add to a denim jacket, lanyard, or backpack! Pins come in so many fun shapes and sizes.

4. Keychains

Keychains offer a memory that travels with you. Attach them to your classroom keys and enjoy the clinking sound all day long.

5. Flags

Collect, hang, or even sew fabric flags from different countries and states visited. Create a flag banner and hang it in your classroom for colorful decor. Gain further inspiration from Marilyn Artus, who sews large flags with unexpected materials like matchbook covers, tickets, and playing cards.

6. Currency

Depending on where your travels take you, currency may look different from one country to another. Keep a record of these colorful bills and coins in a box or book. For more creative ways to display money, see how Amai Rawls creates artwork using dollar bills.

7. Art

Tourist art is never in short supply on vacation, so collect a piece from your travels. If you want to do a bit of digging, you can research local artists and where to purchase their work. Once back in the classroom, share the artist’s work and social media handle or website with your students.

8. Postcards

The variety of postcards available is mind-blowing. There are mega-postcards, regular-sized postcards, and even tiny postcards! Some can be holographic, include photography, have minimalistic designs, and more. Mail a few to family and friends, or keep a few for yourself to remember your journeys.

9. Magnets

Similar to stickers, keychains, and postcards, magnets are readily available in tourist souvenir shops. Select the color, size, and imagery that work for you, then throw them on your magnetic whiteboard at school to display the next reproduction or handout!


10. Visitor Pamphlets

Save all the paper pamphlets from museums, tours, zoos, and more. Keep them in a memory box, attach them to a sketchbook spread, or decoupage them to a surface in your classroom.

11. Maps

Mark off places visited or routes traveled. Frame a map to remember the vacation, or use a map as your artmaking surface, like the artwork below by Ed Fairburn. Check out his portfolio for more possibilities.


12. Napkins

Restaurants and fast food places often have their business name embossed or printed on napkins. Each one is a reminder of the places visited. Collect enough to cover a sculpture or sew them together to create a new textile! Or, if you sketch on napkins while you wait for your order, add them to your sketchbook.

13. Plastic Bags

See how many different colored plastic bags you can collect on your travels. Save them to keep clay projects moist. Cut them into strips and weave, macramé, or wrap them to make a tapestry, plant hanger, or coil basket. Check out Josh Blackwell’s woven plastic bag art for ideas.

14. Soda Tabs

Collect soda tabs for endless possibilities. Wear gloves while collecting, and be sure to sanitize all tabs. Sew the soda tabs onto a piece of fabric to create a textile with sound and movement. Upcycle a lampshade and thread the tabs onto a fishing line and then sew the threaded fishing line around the shade. Check out the artist Marita Dingus, who constructs innovative sculptures using soda tabs.

soda tab lamp

15. Plastic Lids

Ask people traveling with you to save their plastic lids from soda, tea, and water bottles. Keep a resealable plastic bag handy to store them in, then clean all the lids once you return home. Use the lids to make a mosaic or a sculpture. Use Mary Ellen Croteau’s artwork that turns plastic lids into works of art for more ideas.


16. Fortune Cookie Fortunes

This is easy to collect at home when ordering Chinese takeout. Save the fortunes from the inside of fortune cookies! Collage all collected fortunes onto a sheet of paper or page in your visual journal. Then, paint directly onto the new surface for more dimension and texture.

17. Receipts

Receipts are small memories to document your purchases. Turn them into art instead of tossing them into the trash. Turn the receipts into mini snowflakes; fold the receipt and cut out tiny shapes. Alternatively, use receipts as your canvas like Dong Kyu Kim, who transforms receipts into kimonos and more.

last supper

18. Tickets

Tickets are usually printed on heftier paper, so these make great additions to a collage! See how Andy Gershon turned his collected ticket stubs into art.

19. Stamps

Stamps are tiny pieces of functional art, and they can be a great source of inspiration for artists. Create a super-sized, photorealistic painting of a stamp you collected. Or sort stamps by color and use them to create a collage. Jordan Scott is a fantastic artist who creates mesmerizing patterns using stamps.


20. Pressed Pennies

From childhood, the magic of turning a penny into a work of art was so exciting. Use a rotary tool to drill holes at the top, and hang pressed pennies in a DIY mobile or windchime. Or experiment with resin and create a coaster filled with pressed pennies.

21. Stones and Shells

Selecting a piece of nature to bring home is a great way to remember the environment. Place collected stones or shells in a clear container and display them in a living room or on a kitchen counter. Or create a mini zen garden using collected items.

22. Plastic Wrappers

Hoard food wrappers such as chip bags, candy wrappers, or fruit snack wrappers. Remember to sanitize and clean these before creating. Arrange by color, then stitch together to create a new canvas or material. This is the ultimate trash-to-treasure challenge! Check out Lisa Hoke, who transforms wrappers into colorful and intriguing artworks.

food wrapper sculpture

23. Sand or Dirt

Place sand or dirt inside a clear holiday ornament and display it year-round, or carefully place the sand or dirt into a clear vial and wear it as a charm on a necklace. Alternatively, mix the dirt with a binder to create natural paint!

24. Dried Leaves and Flowers

Pick flora with permission, or take it if they have already fallen on the ground. Press dried plants between glass and hang them in a frame to mimic stained glass. Laminators can do interesting things with dried flowers too. If you have access to a laminator, make a bookmark. Take a look at the work by Tricia Paoluccio; she makes beautiful artwork with pressed flowers. Be sure to check out the Flowers In Art Collection in FLEX Curriculum.

Did this list hit items you collect on vacation? While traveling, art teachers see the beauty in objects that non-art teachers may discount or label as weird. Embrace the stereotype and pursue anything that interests you. After all, everyone is weird in their own way, and art teachers just own it! So, on your next trip, whether that be a walk around the block or traveling to another state, collect items from this list to bring back and share with family, friends, and students. Use them to beautify your classroom or as materials in future artwork! Whatever you decide to collect and however you use them, enjoy the adventure and memories!

What is the weirdest thing you have collected while traveling?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jackie Myers

Jackie Myers, an upper elementary art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She enjoys road trips with her family, creating mixed-media collages, and trying out new recipes in the kitchen.

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