Five Tips to Amp Up Your Collages

collage squareCollage is one of my favorite mediums. Cutting the paper pieces out perfectly and figuring out how to arrange them can be so relaxing and satisfying. It’s the sort of activity that really helps you turn your brain off. I have a massive paper collection that I pull from, containing vintage books, maps, sheets of music and 1950s era magazines.

Today I’m sharing a big collage project that I just finished, and five tips on how to take your collages to the next level. The project began when I stumbled across a big stack of vintage diploma holders, which opened to reveal a lovely cream paper with purple ribbon corners to slip the diploma between. I collaged on six of these, then added gold curtain grommets and purple ribbon for a finished way to hang them.

collage 1

See the other collages and tips after the jump.

#1 Your Materials Make the Collage

You can’t make something great without great materials. Try cutting up old books, use patterned paper for backgrounds or cut into shapes for accents. Sheets of music are great to fill awkward spaces without being busy. I scour flea markets for bits of cool paper, small drawings, and vintage magazines. Many of the images in this project are from a 1950s mens’ magazine (this main image from the one below was from a story called Diana’s Killer Whale Terror) and a ’50s women’s magazine, which had some great ads for ridiculous looking bras.

collage 2

#2 Fill Your Space

I hate leaving white space in collages. I often begin by painting my background with watercolors before I start so that the color can peek through where there is no paper media. My favorite technique is to lay a paper towel over the area and to stipple different colors on top, allowing them to bleed together. It leaves a really cool textured look. At the same time, be careful not to overcrowd. Try using muted colors and being careful with patterns.

collage 9

#3 Try new techniques

In this collage, and the one above, I used packing tape transfers to give another dimension to the collage (see the skeleton, below, and the Victorian lady, above.) Give this a try: photocopy a picture you like, carefully cover it in strips of packing tape on the side where the ink is. Turn the paper over and wet the back with water, rubbing with your fingers to remove the paper as it gets saturated. Once all the paper is gone the ink is left on the tape and you can trim it and add it to your collage!

collage 6

#4 Make a story, and make it fun

The best part about collage for me is creating a story or saying something witty. I love juxtaposing the ridiculous headlines from the fiction sections of my ’50s magazines with pictures that create a whole new story.

collage 3

#5 Be a little risqué

Maybe it’s just me, but really like making my collages just a little out there. The ’50s mens’ magazines are full of slightly scandalous pictures and illustrations. Paired with a good bit of text, you can really spin something cool with them. In the collage below, I’m imaging the floating head to be announcing “Territory and Population,” suggesting that the man is the territory of the geisha, even though he is the one paying her.
collage 5

I’d love to hear any collage tips from readers! Leave them in the comments.

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3 Responses to Five Tips to Amp Up Your Collages

  1. It’s just fun isn’t it? I enjoyed your work.
    Mrs. N.

  2. M says:

    Great post! I really like your last 2 points – one of the awesome things about collages are they allow you to create a new reality with things that exist in another context, which I love!

    A tip that I’ve found a lot of luck with is making rules for myself. Although art for me is often about pushing rules, they also help you to explore new ideas. Recently I made a few of the same bird shape which I’m decorating with different collage themes. It’s exciting to see how different I can make the same shape/idea. Sometimes I also force myself to use collage materials from certain sources, which causes me to come up with new ideas on how to find the shapes and sizes I need.

    • That’s a great tip. Giving yourself rules can make for a great challenge. When I was in college we had to make ten collages a week always with a different design theme, like line or contrast, and it was always a good (and occasionally frustrating) challenge to work within the theme.

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