Collages Inspired by the National Zoo

I’ve found a lot of inspiration from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Over the years, I’ve visited the zoo numerous times, and have taken lots of pictures of the animals in their different exhibits. I thought I’d share some images of the work I’ve made that was specifically inspired by some of the animals found at the National Zoo.

Red Ruffed Lemur by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Red Ruffed Lemur.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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I’m fascinated by lemurs, and think that the red ruffed lemur is a beautiful creature with colorful fur and bright eyes. When I was walking by the exhibit where this particular lemur lives, I just had to take a few pictures which later inspired this piece.

Fine Dining for Pandas by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Fine Dining for Pandas.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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Pandas are a lot of fun to collage. This collage was inspired by feeding time for the pandas, where one of the pandas was so engrossed with eating bamboo.

Tree Baby (Firefox) by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Tree Baby (Firefox).” Collage on paper. 16″x12″
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This collage was inspired by a day when one of the red pandas was pretty active, climbing around his or her home.

Cuddling Meerkats by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Cuddling Meerkats.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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Meerkats are one of my favorite animals. During one of my zoo visits, several of the meerkats were clumped together and looked like they were all cuddling with each other. I just had to take several pictures of them and use those images as references for this collage.

What Are You Looking At - orangutan - by collage artist Megan Coyle
“What Are You Looking At?” (Orangutan).
Collage on paper. 16″x12″
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It’s eerie how much orangutans look like people to me. They’re so expressive, and it seems like half the time I see them at the zoo, it’s difficult to tell who is really watching who.

Turtle that thinks she's a Giraffe by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Turtle that thinks she’s a Giraffe.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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During another zoo visit, I noticed a turtle that had an unusually long neck, and it reminded me of giraffes. From the turtle’s unusual appearance, I was inspired to make a piece modeled after that species.

Flamingo by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Flamingo” Collage on paper. 7″x5″
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I love how colorful flamingos are, and I always enjoy taking pictures of them to use as references for future works of art. I suppose I’m really drawn to their vivid pink feathers.

The Otter Sisters by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The Otter Sisters.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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I think otters are adorable and I always get excited when I see them at the zoo.

Animals are definitely one of my favorite subjects to collage. I love how they come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors. And I really appreciate that Washington, D.C. has a zoo that is so easily accessible to the public. Being able to visit the zoo frequently, makes it a lot easier for me to tackle my animal compositions.

Collages Inspired by the D.C. Landscape

I grew up in Northern Virginia, so I’ve become pretty familiar with the Washington, D.C. area over the years. And as I’ve grown to love different buildings and places, I’ve also found a lot of inspiration from my surroundings.

The Torpedo Factory by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The Torpedo Factory.” Collage on paper. 12″x9″
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The Torpedo Factory is an art center in Old Town, Alexandria. As a kid, I used to take a number of art classes there. In high school, I was mentored by a painter that had a studio there. And after college, I became a visiting artist for a couple of months over the summer. So over the years, the Torpedo Factory has had a big role in my development as an artist – it’s no wonder that I was inspired to make a collage of it.

Downtown Shopping by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Downtown Shopping.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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“Downtown Shopping” was inspired by the townhouses in Old Town, Alexandria. Growing up, I used to wander around Old Town, and I became really familiar with the bright and colorful townhouses that line the streets.

Paddle Boating by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Paddle Boating.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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Whenever I walk by the Tidal Basin, the paddle boaters remind me of the days when I was a kid and went on field trips around the city, or visited museums with my family.

The US Capitol by Night by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The U.S. Capitol by Night.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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“The U.S. Capitol by Night” was inspired by one of the iconic buildings in the D.C. area. It reminds me of the times I’ve lived in the city, or walked along the National Mall.

Air Force Memorial by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Air Force Memorial.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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The “Air Force Memorial” is a collage of one of my favorite memorials in the city. I love how the Air Force Memorial is abstract and sculptural. The fact that it doesn’t look like so many of the other more traditional memorials or sculptures, is what really draws me to it. I’ve made a couple of pieces inspired by this distinct landmark.

The Botanic Garden by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The Botanic Garden.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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The colorful glass sculptures outside the Botanic Garden have always caught my eye when walking past that building over the years. I like how they give the landscape a pop of color in an otherwise gray environment.

Air and Space Museum by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Air and Space Museum.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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I spent a lot of time at the Air and Space Museum back when I was in elementary school. I actually spent a summer going to space camp there, and always had somewhat of a fascination with space. It seemed only fitting to make a collage inspired by a place where I went on many school field trips and summertime outings.

National Gallery by collage artist Megan Coyle
“National Gallery.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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One of my favorite memories of art when I was a kid, was when I got to see a Vincent van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery. I’ve been inspired by van Gogh’s work ever since I was in the second grade and did a school project on him. Over the years, I’ve continued to stop by this gallery to admire their permanent collection or check out the latest exhibit. I’m pretty grateful that I live in an area where museums like the National Gallery are free to the public. It makes it a lot easier to frequent the museum, and to continue to gather inspiration from artists throughout history.

National-Museum-of-the-American-Indian
“National Museum of the American Indian.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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When it comes the Washington, D.C. architecture, the National Museum of the American Indian is by far my favorite building. I love how different it is when compared to the more traditional buildings in the surrounding area.

The Washington Monument at Sunset by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The Washington Monument at Sunset.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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Over the years, I’ve made a number of collages of the Washington Monument. And I’ve also taken numerous photos of it whenever I’ve strolled by.

The landscape of the Washington, D.C. area reminds me of a number of experiences I’ve had while living here. With my collages, I enjoy focusing on these familiar places, and showing a them in a different way – in paper form.

Why I Make Collages

I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember. I guess you could say that first I learned to walk, then I learned to draw. When I was in preschool, I spent an unusual amount of time in front of an easel. During grade school, I took after school pottery classes and other artsy classes, like bookbinding and drawing comics. In college, I continued to make art in my free time until I decided to major in it. And now, I can’t go a week without working on something.

But why collage? I’ve been making collages since high school, and over the years my style and technique have shifted. There’s just something about collage that makes me come back to it year after year.

Sea Explorer by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Sea Explorer” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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With collage, I like how I’m constantly surprised with what I’m making. I especially like the medium because I’m working with found materials. And since I’m not mixing my own colors, and I’m relying entirely on what colors I can find in other images, I’m never quite sure how a piece will turn out. It’s always a surprise.

There’s also something therapeutic with the repetitive motions involved with constructing a collage – paging through magazines, cutting and pasting paper. I’m drawn to how these motions help me relax and escape from the stresses of life. And for a moment, I can stare at something other than a computer screen.

Flamingo Dancers by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Flamingo Dancers.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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Back when I was first learning how to paint, I was taught to look at objects as being constructed of different shapes. With collage, I can actually cut out those shapes. Thus it makes it easier for my process as an artist, when it comes to visualizing my compositions.

Lastly, I am constantly amazed by artwork that challenges the limitations of different mediums. I love art that looks like it was made from one medium, when it was actually made by something entirely different. That’s why with my artwork, I like to manipulate paper in such a way that it mimics the brush strokes in a painting.

Collage is a medium that I’ve worked in for years. I’m drawn to how it surprises me, and how flexible it is – I can easily layer paper and pull up previous layers. And when it comes down to it, collage brings me joy, and I’m trying to do more things that bring me joy these days.

Code Artist by Day, Fine Artist by Night


People often think I’m a full-time visual artist, although I’m actually a full-time web developer who makes artwork part-time. I still consider myself a full-time artist in a sense, since my day job involves the art of developing and building applications and websites. Instead of using scissors and paper for my tools, I’m using different pieces of code, and thus creating what you could almost call a digital collage. Regardless of what tools I’m using, I’m still able to satisfy that inherent drive I have to make things. I am able to live the creative life full-time – whether it’s code I’m writing or collages I’m constructing.

I like to tell people that I’m a code artist by day, and a fine artist by night. And I like how these two worlds of mine inspire each other. I first got started with working on websites because of my artwork. Back in college when I was studying painting, I took a class where one of our projects was to create an online portfolio. The first version of my site was pretty terrible, but I was so proud that I made a functional website all on my own. I managed to teach myself enough about coding to create and deploy a website – and that’s what got me hooked with web development.

Hermit Crab by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Hermit Crab” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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Over the years, I’ve continued to grow as a developer. The direction of my art career often inspires changes on my portfolio site, such as updating the overall layout or adding an online store. And sometimes the coding I do for my art website inspires the coding I do for my day job. Other times I’ll make something at work that inspires the direction of my portfolio site.

As a web developer, I’m able to tackle problems with my web presence as a fine artist and come up with creative solutions. When my site was fairly new, I noticed that I kept hearing from students and teachers who wanted to learn more about my work. So I came up with the idea to make things easier for them by developing an education section for my website. The section includes information about my process, as well as online lesson plans to help teachers teach my technique in class. As a result of launching this section, I started hearing from more and more classes around the world.

Student Collages inspired by Megan Coyle

When people hear that I’m a full-time web developer, they often ask if I want to some day become a full-time visual artist. I always answer “no,” because I enjoy the variety in my work. I like how I’m able to live the creative life with two fields that inspire my work in both areas. I’m happy that I’m able to challenge myself creatively in a number of ways, and because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

The Ongoing Discouragement Factor

Colorful Collages by Megan Coyle

I’ve been told that as a kid, I used to draw an abnormal amount. I’d spend hours with coloring books or craft projects, like making my own paper dolls. When art stopped being a hobby for me and became a part of my daily routine, I noticed a pattern – some people shot down my dreams of becoming a professional artist almost immediately.

When I was graduating from high school, and was getting asked the whole “what’s your plan” question, I remember talking about my creative interests. And I remember hearing a few people tell me sarcastically, “good luck trying to make a living at that.”

And this pattern continued. Later on I decided to pick up art as a second major in college, and started exhibiting my work in galleries after I graduated. Even then I remember hearing the phrase, “it’s difficult making a living as an artist.” Or sometimes, “not many artists can make it big.” And although I had a wonderful support network of friends and family who encouraged my artistic endeavors, I kept having run-ins with people who were trying to dissuade me from the creative life.

Coffee Time by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Coffee Time” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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So why do so many people feel the need to discourage the artistic lifestyle? Is being an artist really as tough as some people say it is?

Well, being an artist is difficult and so are a lot of other careers. As an artist, you’re essentially running your own business, and being an entrepreneur is a lot of work. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible and that there aren’t people out there who live and work as full-time artists.

For whatever reason, our society likes to feed the idea that art isn’t important, that it’s valued less than math or science. Society tells us this in a variety of ways – let it be the starving artist stereotype or how funding for the arts is usually one of the first things gutted whenever money gets tight. Cultivating this type of thinking gives birth to art naysayers. Or should I call them art un-enthusiasts?

Moo-ve-Out-of-the-Way
“Moo-ve Out of the Way” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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So the next time someone tries to discourage you from your artistic dreams and goals, just remember, you can do anything as long as you set your mind to it. If it’s your dream and passion, then you’ll make it happen. When faced with setbacks and failure, you should never give up – you should pivot or rethink your approach, but never give up. Success happens when you persist. As for all the naysayers you run into along the way? I say you use them for motivation to work even harder, so that you can one day prove them all wrong.

Why I am an Artist

Colorful Collages by Megan Coyle

“Why are you an artist?”

I get asked this question a lot, and every time I hear it, I’m always surprised it was ever asked in the first place.

“I’m an artist because I don’t have a choice.”

I guess it’s hard for non-artists to understand what I mean, and to understand what fuels me to live the creative life. I’m an artist because I need to be one – I have this inherent drive to make things. It pulses through my veins, and makes me fiercely resistant to the thought of ever giving up the artist title.

When you’ve been making art every week of your life for years, the process of art making gets ingrained in your mind. What may have started as a hobby, or something that was “just for fun,” blossoms into something you can’t live without. It becomes a habit through repetition, and when you finally go without it for a few days, you feel like something is missing from your life – the pangs of art withdrawal. It’s moments like those when I realize I can’t live without being an artist in one form or another. Being an artist is what gives me purpose in life.

Art has also been one of the few constants in my life. Even when times have been tough, like grieving the loss of a loved one or coping with the pain of a broken heart, art has been around for me. During those times, art has not only been a creative outlet, but also a form of therapy that helps me through the days when it’s difficult to stay afloat. I guess you could say that when life gets messy, making artwork is one of the few things that makes sense amid the chaos.

Squirrel by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Squirrel!” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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When I was growing up, art had a major role in my life, which is why it makes complete sense that it still does. As a kid, I took art classes at local galleries and whenever it was possible at school. I remember back in high school, it didn’t matter how stressed out I was from my other classes, because I could always count on feeling a great sense of relief when I went to art class. I could momentarily forget all my other worries as I focused on drawing or painting.

Although I went to college for creative writing, I quickly realized that visual art needed to have an active role in my life every year, so I picked up a second major in painting. It was at that time that I realized something – that no matter what criticism I received for my visual art, I was always able to bounce back. Rejection is a pretty tough thing to overcome when it comes to an artist’s work, simply because we are putting ourselves out there when we share our art. And even during the worst critiques, when I felt incredibly sad and didn’t know if I should continue making artwork at all, I’d find myself painting in my room late at night and realize it was meant to be.

National-Museum-of-the-American-Indian
“National Museum of the American Indian.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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As an artist, you would think rejection is something I get used to since it happens often enough in an artist’s career. Although for whatever reason, whenever a gallery has rejected my work, I still find myself wondering if there is any point in continuing to make art. I’m glad that I’ve never given up entirely because of the opinion of a handful of people. No matter what, I’m still drawn to creating something, let it be a collage, drawing, or painting.

So whenever I’m asked why I’m an artist, all I can think is it’s not something I choose to do – it’s something I have to do. I’m an artist because making artwork is what drives me through each day.