Collage – How to – working with it.

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Collage is a really fun art form. It is incredibly easy to do and many of us are introduced to it in junior school (Grade school for my US audience) using magazines, newspapers and, in my school at least, sweet (candy) wrappers. You definitely don’t need any specialist equipment; just a willingness to give it a try. You never know but you might just spark something new which you can take into the art form you best like to use. So, why not give it a try?

Most of us have leftover pieces of wallpaper in the home and maybe even old items of clothing which you know that you should have thrown out years ago. Well, those items make get elements to collage with.

In my book/journal-making groups, there are lots of makers who use collage to create their book covers and some of these look absolutely amazing. Many artists I know use collage in their sketchbooks when experimenting for bigger works; others make huge collage sheets on wet strength tissue paper which they layer over their canvases and paint allowing bits to show through. It looks amazing.

So, how do you get started with this medium? In my opinion it is good to start with an idea. You don’t have to stick religiously to it, in fact just having an idea and letting the work ‘tell’ you where to go next often works best. However, having a starting idea will stop you from wasting time telling yourself that you can’t do it because you can’t think what to do.



If you are going to use magazines then here are some ideas to start with which may be just what you need:
The sea
Motorways etc.

Next, it is good to cut out the images and text from magazines and newspapers, depending how you feel the images are talking to you and what you feel you want to say. When you look at text you can decide if it is really the text which interests you most or just the colour of it.

Create a big pile of things which interest you: that old strip of textured  wallpaper; the glossy magazine photos; or something you have made yourself, maybe using a gel plate. I will go over gel plate printing again in the future. But maybe you just want to stick with a theme.

If so, go through those old magazines and cut out any items that align with your theme. If you don’t have any magazines or newspapers at home (really?), download a few images from your computer and print them out. You don’t need loads but do have a few items to consider.

Next, you will need a piece of paper as your foundation piece. If you can have a few on the go even better. If you have some gesso, slap a bit on your paper before you start cutting images from magazines. You don’t need to be careful you just need to get some texture on the paper. Stick some cellotape on the paper in random ways, or use masking tape if you have it. Mix it all up. Don’t worry if you don’t have something I suggest, maybe you have something even better. You are just simply going to be playing.

If you are anything like me you will have all sorts of bits and things tucked away. Get them out. That old watercolour set; those tubes of acrylic you have never tried; some oil or chalk pastels you bought because they looked good in the art shop but you have never used. You might have birthday wrapping paper; party napkins; old greetings cards. Just gather all the bits together and use them.

When I do this kind of thing I like to place all the sheets of paper together in a line and make a connection between them. It could be a simple line; a block of colour or you could decide to stick all the sheets together like you get in a concertina sketchbook and have the theme travel across all the pages. Do adjust your horizon line on each of the pages to add interest and also so that each piece can stand alone, too.

I have used Posca pens, watercolour paints, wax crayons, acrylic paint and paper cut-outs of doorways and doors as my starting theme was buildings

The paint reacts in different ways, depending on the surface it is painted on and this varies between paint types. Watercolour, for instance does not dry and stays on the cellotape, whereas the acrylic paint does. Watercolour on gesso moved around and created really interesting effects, whereas the acrylic became textured rather than mobile. I used cellotape to lift the surface from the pages of glossy magazines (NB it doesn’t work with all magazines, you will have to experiment) and painting over the magazine paper caused different reactions with watercolour and acrylic as well as when I used pastels.

As you can see from my work, which is on watercolour paper but joined together in concertina sketchbook style, I have tried to mix up the size of the line. I have included large areas of dark and light with an easy visual route through. Although yellow is not a colour I would normally work with, I have linked all the pages by using this one particular colour at about the same strength for continuity. I also decided to change the theme. Whilst I started with the idea of buildings and doors, I found that the buildings started to take on a seaside feel to them. The flamingo, which is cut from some fancy napkins we were given, then led me into the sea-themed page. This was produced some time ago now but from time to time I use this method and this is what I teach in my concertina sketchbook classes.

As with all of these things, there are no rules. This is just experimentation. You may discover something you really enjoy which could take you to working up a small area into something much bigger. You could stick to using just three colours or you could throw the entire box of colours at the paper. The choice is yours.

I hope that this gives you something new to work with and will spark new ideas for you in your artwork, or if you are like my bookbinding friends, new ideas for creating book covers, box coverings etc. The world is your oyster so just give it go.


And if you would like to join one of my classes in my purpose-built studio then either email me at or head over to my website and check out the booking form for scheduled classes.

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