collage

Make a collage - 10 practical tips 

I love writing about experiential/existential realms, but in this post I want to get practical. I think infinity always needs containers, and my own infinity becomes visually embraced by the structures I impose upon them, some of which are practical.

When I started to make collages I had NO IDEA what I was doing at all, I just knew that I needed magazines, scissors and glue. For me it was a practice of figuring things out, which was great. At the same time I wish I had some pointers. Writing these tips, I realize that they are essentially catered towards artist that want to create a seamless, well-blended collages to create worlds that seem like they exist somewhere (vs. the ripped aesthetic that can also be super cool). What follows are some pointers that can hopefully facilitate or inspire your own experiments, whether you’re new or seasoned at collaging. 


The older ones that I love look different (no photo on the cover), which makes them easier to spot.

The older ones that I love look different (no photo on the cover), which makes them easier to spot.

1. Get really thrifty

A surprising amount of time goes towards sourcing magazines. I love National Geographics for my pieces, and I’ve been loving the older ones, from the 40s and 50s (which are harder to find and usually more expensive). I also use Life magazines and optical illusion books. Craigslist/Ebay will have some, but I usually prefer to find them in thrift shops/flea markets all over the world as I’ve always had a thing for nostalgia. This way I can also see what imagery I’m buying, and the materials tend to be cheaper in thrift shops than online.

I actually started my body of collage work after I went hiking and stopped at an antique store. I randomly picked up a vintage LIFE magazine, and got fascinated by the imagery. I tend to befriend the owners of these stores, and ask them to be on the lookout for a specific type of magazine that I’m looking for. They more often than not get invested in the work and want to help out and call me when they find something along the lines.

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2. Match textures

I try to only use materials that have the same texture in one collage. So I would never use a vintage image on thin paper with something that I cut out of a thicker catalogue. To me, it will make it stand out too much, when I aim for an even texture and a well-blended piece.

 

3. Don’t ditch the scissors

I know a lot of collage artist use exactoknives but I actually barely do. I’ve found scissors to cut much more precisely, especially very thin paper. Weirdly my preference is singer sewing scissors.

If you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines, your composition becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally, as studies show.

4. Cut inside of the lines

When you cut out any given shape or figure, don’t cut on the edges exactly - cut off a little of the line that separates a shape from its background. That way, when you add the shape into a new environment, the new composition will naturally create an edge to that shape. This way, it all blends better. My often have a depth of perspective but also look flat and smooth, and that’s really why.

5. Use a circular cutter to make your own planets

Another collage artist gave me this tip and it has proved infinitely helpful. You don’t need to find planets all the time if you’re into spacey imagery like me. You can also use pretty much any sky background or solid color with some texture for a DIY planet if you have a circular cutter.

6. Know when to use your exacto

I used to apply stencil methods to try to integrate part of a figure into a given landscape. Kinda ridiculous how long it took me to figure out I cut simply take my exactoknife, cut into the given landscape (along its natural curves) and stick the figure right behind it.

The deer is the point of interest here.

The deer is the point of interest here.

 

 

7. Rule of thirds

My collages definitely depict dreamscapes that have a foreground, subject or point of interest, and background. I have a photography background, so the rule of thirds is something that I use without noticing all of the time, as its gotten so engrained into my visual sensitivities

To apply this, you would break the image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 sections. 

 

8. Repeat colors

I tend to create a feeling of looking inside, and blurring lines between the subject (in my work often a viewer) and her environment. So one trick I use is to pick one of the colors I used in creating my background on the subject itself.

See how the color of my subject’s shirt is reflected in the pinks in the trippy sky visuals he’s looking at? actually a lot of colors from the sky are reflected in the foreground.

See how the color of my subject’s shirt is reflected in the pinks in the trippy sky visuals he’s looking at? actually a lot of colors from the sky are reflected in the foreground.

               I marked the re-appering curved shapes I used here.

               I marked the re-appering curved shapes I used here.

 

9. Repeat lines/forms

This one is a little more subtle and depends on visual sensitivities, but I like to work with pre-existing lines and shapes (properties that the images I pick have) and use similar forms in one piece. Let’s take my collage ‘not what I expected’ as an example.

Don't see this as a set rule - You can take it as far as you want, it’s really fun to play with. Sometimes I try to match my subjects curves to the environment, and sometimes it happens very intuitively.

 

 

10. Ruin your lungs with spray glue and spray glue only

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I really recommend using spray adhesive as your form of gluing. I usually glue AFTER I have the whole composition ready.

 

When I spray my images (from the back, someone asked me that recently), I hold the image about 1-2 feet away from the spray for three reasons: 1. the image doesn’t get too too wet (aka with vintage imagery transparent). 2. It’s not spotty but evens out nicely that way. 3. This way, you can also gently nudge your object around when it's already glued. My favorite brand is ELMER’s, followed by 3M.


That's 10. As artists we seek freedom to express, and real freedom is often found in the ability to have your own boundaries but still feel infinite within. I'm curious to hear if these tips help you. Do you have additional tips? Let me know.

Collage process - life in layers

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Collage to me is such an amazing metaphor for life and the interplay between the unconscious and ego itself, and so is my process. I like to think that how we do anything is how we do everything, so here's a little more background on how I make collages.

The layered unconscious

The way we perceive the world is in layers. Throughout our lives, we have all of these experiences that our unconscious stores, as to make up our unique story, our current experience – for better or worse. Ever wonder why you have behavioral patterns? Why certain things trigger you and others don't? Well, that's just being human, because we are made of an unconscious fabric that we began to weave from the moment we first opened our eyes.

Neurology will tell you that up until a certain age, we can't even register experiences in the then-underdeveloped right brain, so we process these things with only the left brain, which is less structured and more intuitive. So they return as bodily issues emotions without words etc. later on, as our unconscious still stored these things we processed with only the left brain. It's one reason why things that happened to us so early on tend to later affect us in a way that's challenging to grasp. A bunch of stuff gets added on with every day, some conscious, some not. Collage does exactly the same.

Then there's this thing called the collective unconscious, a term coined by Carl Jung, who has definitely inspired my thinking (I see a Jungian therapist who is incredible). The collective unconscious is the idea that certain layers are shared among beings of the same species. So things that happened to us a species over centuries, may be stored in this collective unconscious. This idea makes sense to me as I find that collage taps into that collective realm equally as it taps into my personal unconscious.

 

Collage layers materials the same way that the psyche stores what's happened to us, individually and as a collective. Picking material is effortless, similar to having experiences, and both the process and result is often non-linear. 

Automatic process: expansion

My process is automatic (stream of consciousness) once I picked out the magazines I use. Thrifting and my preferences with materials deserves a whole lot more words and I will get into it in a different post.

I prefer to work analog, as it is less planned or conceptual from the start then digital, so there's time for the concept to form with the constrictions and possibilities of the material. It’s expansion (selecting lots of imagery) and contraction (arranging only a small selection), just like our existence itself.

When I'm at my studio, I automate the picking process as to let the unconscious arise naturally /without restricting it. I trust that my psyche will make me pick what needs to be addressed. What does that mean feasibly? It means I make a big mess by ripping hundreds of pages out of magazines that speak to me that day. Hundreds. Look at my studio floor and my studio floor and desk at the moment. 

Bless this mess! Here, I'm working on the collage 'Kingdom came,' see the video about that below.   

Bless this mess! Here, I'm working on the collage 'Kingdom came,' see the video about that below.

 

notice that I take my shoes off as not to ruin materials. Often people coming to my studio think it's a mess but they're actually ruining my babies.

notice that I take my shoes off as not to ruin materials. Often people coming to my studio think it's a mess but they're actually ruining my babies.

As you can tell by the mess, it is an on-going process. Which is awesome, because a magazine that I thought I've ripped everything valuable out of a week earlier, all of a sudden feels completely new and exciting again today. And that's the art of reusing (: The messiness of my studio is a good metaphor for the messiness of the unconscious itself. So many things happening in there, so many things added up!

Automatic process: contraction

Anyway, once that is done, getting specific, I begin to integrate the layers. Assembling specific layers is the hard part, making something or re-understanding the set of materials, or experiences given.

I go through all that mess, that expansion, and try things out, try to get more limited. It's an attempt of recreating small glimpses of understanding we get daily.

I ask myself questions like 'How would this go with that? Do I like those colors together?' Usually, the less planned, the better. My unconscious is way more on point with the visuals than my ego. Whenever I think nothing's gonna come of what I'm doing (my ego feeling like it's on the backseat and has no say) is when my unconscious does the best work (raw and truthful).

Most times I finish a collage in the last hour before I have to leave the studio for that very reason. Here's a video of one of those last hour spent in the studio actually making the collage:

The very last part is trying to understand what the meaning to me is with my finishing touch. The ego is good at bringing things into complete form, and here's where I let it become part of the experience. If you want to learn more about this collage specifically, find it here .

I'll happily tell you more about the technicalities of my process (what scissors/glue I use etc.) in a later post should that be of interest.

For now, thank you for reading. If you want more collage talk here's my artist statement, or connect with me on Instagram.