Fun

Collaging for Beginners

This is so easy, it’s like harder NOT to do it.

One of my collages.

So. You’re not an artist. You have two left hands. You can’t draw, paint, or even take good photos. Also, you have no materials! And you don’t know how anything “should” look. But guess what. YOU CAN STILL MAKE A BEAUTIFUL COLLAGE.

I’m in school studying graphic design, and collage is my specialty. (I make a lot of the collages you see at the top of Rookie articles, for example.) But you don’t have to go to college to learn this technique, obviously. Collage is for everyone! Think of the things you paste in your diary, or the moodboards you make on your Tumblr, or the photos and quotes you stick on your bedroom wall, or your shrine. All of those are types of collage, so you’re already a collage artist, you.

Collage is an easy, fast, and very satisfying mode of artistic expression. There are no hard and fast rules for making a collage: you can make a brilliant one out of two images or a thousand; out of flat or three-dimensional pieces; through analog or digital means.

Follow the links to get inspired, and let me help you start with a few tips!

Sources:

Contemporary magazines

Lifestyle and women’s magazines and free fashion lookbooks provide the most accessible (= the best) materials for collage, because at least 50% of their contents are advertising (which really annoys the non-collagist part of me) and fashion shoots. Those pages contain really strong, beautiful images, which are perfect for collage! Plus, the quality of print and paper in most magazines is really great. You don’t need to buy them—just ask your family and friends to pass them on to you after they’re done reading them instead of throwing them out (it’s even better than recycling).

Three of my pieces, using images from magazines.

Even in trashy tabloids, you can find real gems. The inglorious paparazzi will provide you with material for a nasty piece.

Headlines from the daily paper can make a great comment on your collage and turn it into a piece of poetry.

National Geographic magazine is a great source that deserves its own paragraph. Not only are its photos big and beautiful, but the variety of its themes will serve all kinds of collage needs. People, animals, nature, architecture, prehistoric jewelry, art—National Geographic has it all!

Vintage everything

Old books, magazines, music sheets, and maps (my personal faves) make great collage materials. Vintage ALWAYS looks good. You don’t have to scour eBay for expensive rare editions or haunt fancy antique stores—it’s not worth it, since we’re not collecting vintage photos for their historic value. We’re cutting them up to make pretty collages! Way better sources are second-hand stores, junk shops, flea markets, car boot or garage sales, and your grandma’s cabinets.

This is the one time you SHOULD judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge it by its contents! My favorite books to ransack for collage images are called Sails and Engines and Amateur Gardener. I have no interest in sailing or gardening, but the mysterious diagrams, blurry photos, and complicated technical illustrations or machines, plants, and bodies are great for adding some science-fiction magic to a collage.

P.S. A word of advice on shopping for old books and stuff: when you’re at a tag sale, sidewalk sale, thrift store, or what have you, pretend that all of that precious junk is just JUNK to you. Don’t freak out over every cute box or gorgeous photo, or the seller will see dollar signs in your eyes. Act like you’re buying those vintage copies of Look magazine to pack your dishes in before moving, and you’ll have more room to haggle for a lower price.

Google Images

When I’m working on a commissioned piece for a magazine or album cover or website and have a specific vision of what kinds of images I need, I search for big, high-quality photos on Google Images and piece the collage together on my computer. I can add an “analog” feel by scanning papers, textures, and backgrounds. Also, a lot of people scan and publish vintage photos on Tumblr, Flickr, and blogs. With Picnik, Photoshop, or another photo-editing tool, you can crop a photo and change its colors and textures, helping you make a beautiful collage out of almost any shitty snapshot.

Your stuff

Making collages out of your own photos and/or drawings doubles your creative satisfaction.

You know what else is fun? Working on a piece with a friend. Allowing someone to change your work can be difficult if you’re a control…enthusiast, but it’s also really interesting and can be rewarding and have great results. Like, look at this collaboration between the collagists Andrei Cojocaru and Captain Spezzo:

Stuff by other people

There are COLLAGE KITS you can buy—they’re like the kits people make for scrapbooking, prepared by individual artists. Some people sell them on Etsy; some artists trade them through Flickr and other art-sharing sites.

Tools:

Of course, if you’re making an analog (nondigital) collage, you know that you need scissors and glue. But wait! It’s not that simple! Because glue and scissors come in many different varieties!

Glue

A nonsponsored, unpayed-for recommendation from the bottom of my heart: UHU glue sticks are THE BEST. They don’t stain or wrinkle paper like liquid glues; rip your paper like cheap, hard glue sticks; or dry so quickly that you have to glue the same piece of paper over and over while you figure out where to place it. For big areas (e.g., the background of a collage) and for achieving different textures, I use double-sided adhesive tape, but don’t try that with thin magazine paper—the tape does some weird chemical thing to the paper to leech it of color after a couple of months.

Scissors

As a lefty, I prefer X-ACTO knives to scissors, which can be awkward for me to use. X-ACTOS require a lot of attention and patience at first, but they’re way better for small, detailed pieces, since they’re more precise than scissors. When using one, be sure to put a thick, stiff, unslippery plate or mat between what you’re cutting and the surface you’re working on—hurting yourself or damaging your furniture with an X-ACTO blade is easier than you think!

Alternative materials:

You don’t have to use paper for your collage. Try wood, cardboard, or canvas; experiment with different markers, paint, pencils, or even puzzle pieces. You can collage your mirror frame or notebook cover, or a letter to a friend.

Secret tricks:

Collect

It starts with a shoebox; pretty soon your collage-junk stash has taken over your whole desk. You never know which tiny piece of that photo form your mom’s old Elle will become indispensible for a future work of art. Sometimes the leftovers and scraps turn out to look more interesting than the original thing you cut out!

Organize

You’ll need to develop a system to navigate your sea of papers. It can be whatever works for you—it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else! I spend a lot of time organizing pictures by COLOR and SUBJECT in separate folders.

Sometimes I find some photos that I really want to use somehow, but have no idea how to combine them. I tape them to the wall above my desk and stare at them for a couple of days; eventually my brain connects the dots by itself!

Scan

If your archival family photos or vintage Vogues are too precious to cut, scan them in 300 dots per inch and then print them out or work with the digital versions.

Watch and share

This is nominally a collage DIY, but a step-by-step isn’t really going to help you. Collage isn’t like a paint-by-numbers set, and there’s no one way to go about it. I think the best thing you can do is to look at a lot of different work and learn about different approaches to the medium. Luckily there’s this thing called the internet, where you can find tons of collage inspiration. You don’t need to be a professional artist to become part of the online collage community! Here’s where to start:

  • Notpaper is a blog that features interviews with collage artists.
  • Kolaj is a Canadian magazine devoted to collage, with artists’ portfolios and articles on the history and philosophy of collage art.
  • WAFA is a global collaborative collage artists’ collective.
  • The Jealous Curator features art recommendations written with wit and charm by a cool (and jealous) lady.
  • Collagista! is a good source of inspirational links.

Good luck, and have fun with your scissors and glue (or scanner and Photoshop)! ♦

46 Comments

  • FlaG March 5th, 2012 11:26 PM

    This is so up my alley! I’ve been collaging since I was little, and is generally my preferred medium – I just love the DIY aesthetic to it.

    I figure now would be as good a time as ever to share my Tumblr dedicated to this very art: http://artofthewrittenword.tumblr.com/

    There aren’t many pieces on it at the moment, thanks to a slow working muse and a full time job.

  • chelsear March 5th, 2012 11:31 PM

    I’ve always admired the collages featured on top of the articles. You’re extremely talented!

    xo
    http://couturecultureblog.blogspot.com

  • jana March 5th, 2012 11:34 PM

    thank you!!

  • Maraschino March 5th, 2012 11:41 PM

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/where_it_lands/

    I’ve always thought that these were really beautiful.

  • Pashupati March 5th, 2012 11:46 PM

    I put a lot of papers and old magazines aside for when I have time to make collages. A LOT.
    Ah watching others’ collages leaves me both aweful and… self-conscious?
    I also cut words in books that I don’t like and old school stuffs, so I can make stuffs I actually like with those.

  • ivoire March 5th, 2012 11:50 PM

    yay! love this article. emma’s collages are so wonderful, keep it up!

  • Adrienne March 6th, 2012 12:16 AM

    YES! So inspired right now. Thanks Emma! I’ve never actually made a collage (except for maybe binder covers but mine sucked!).

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • Starboardd March 6th, 2012 12:32 AM

    Collage college?
    Sounds awesome!

  • Susann March 6th, 2012 12:41 AM

    Great ideas! Lately, I made all my collages with Photoshop, haha.

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com/

  • Razzmatazzberry March 6th, 2012 1:17 AM

    yay this makes me want to get collaging! Whenever I print stuff to collage with, it always looks shoddy. I was wondering if you could recommend a good paper to print stuff to collage with? (or it could just be my printer)

  • aliastro March 6th, 2012 1:19 AM

    Crap Hound zine is another great source for images, each one has a theme, and like million vintage images on that theme:
    http://www.buyolympia.com/q/Item=craphound8

  • Diama March 6th, 2012 1:40 AM

    When looking for photos on google images or other internet sites for collaging, what would be your advice on copyright and stuff like that?

    • Emma Dajska March 6th, 2012 5:55 AM

      It’s a really good question, Diama, but I’m afraid I’m not able to answer it as the legal matter is different in almost every country… There’s a “right to quote” but the rules are not clear. And the whole SOPA/ACTA situation made it even more complicated. I’m not educated enough to theorize, but in practice, I try to avoid well known photos by famous photographers when I work on a commercial comission and I choose photos accesible on creative commons license (the Internet is full of them). I take only a small part (i.e. a hand, pattern from clothes ), so the artistic message is completely different. Changing the context of a picture – that’s what collage challenge is about, right?

  • Astrophysics March 6th, 2012 1:50 AM

    I really love collaging so I was so excited to see this article. And then you put up one by Ben Rohlmann! I love love love him, his drawings are absolutely fabulous too, he goes by the pearpicker. Everyone should check out his stuff. Thanks, yet again, for being awesome Rookie.

  • LittleMissE March 6th, 2012 2:01 AM

    Ah! Thank you, Emma – this is perfect. I’ve been wanting to start collaging for a while (I got inspired by all the really amazing collages at the top of Rookie articles) but I wasn’t sure how to start. Now, I know how!

  • spookyburger March 6th, 2012 2:11 AM

    this is so apropos! today i found some of my collages from freshman year of high school, and they were a great insight into my younger self – and were a pretty good snapshot of magazines in 2004, ha!

  • Narnie March 6th, 2012 3:10 AM

    Yes! Collaging is the best thing ever! I’m terrible at drawing/painting/printing but I’ve always had a burning desire to make art, so collaging is my perfect medium! I’m so happy you have this story, everyone should know the joys and satisfaction of collage.

  • necroticbird March 6th, 2012 6:41 AM

    Excellent! One of my favorite childhood-to-late teenage memories is staying up late on summer nights and making collages with my three sisters.

  • closerr March 6th, 2012 8:02 AM

    gee, i can so well remember when i had all the time i wanted to cover each and every notebook and textbook i needed in my high school <3 i still consider them my personal masterpieces! thanks!

  • talia anais March 6th, 2012 8:24 AM

    My Nana started collaging with me when I was only 2 or 3, and in the past few years, I’ve rediscovered my love for it. My clipping collection has already taken over two drawers of my desk. This article is wonderful!

  • Aly March 6th, 2012 9:56 AM

    I L-O-V-E doing collages. I use them for my notebook covers and to decorate things in my room but the only magazines I ever have are boring teen magazines and ones about kitchens. I never thought of printing out pictures. Haha, great article it really helps!

  • pobody March 6th, 2012 10:54 AM

    no WAY! I was just looking for some inspiration for a fashion collage book that I haven’t worked on for a while, and then this article is posted! This is a sign; my afternoon class is cancelled so I’m going to bust out my glue and get cracking. Also, in case anybody is interested in my shameless self-promotion, I post (mediocre quality photographs of) the pages here: http://fobody.tumblr.com/tagged/please+read+me/

  • Mila March 6th, 2012 11:06 AM

    this article is so cool! i really ADORE making collages and your advice is very helpful!

    i’d like to collage more often but don’t have enough time. it’s really a pity.

  • lmaily March 6th, 2012 11:14 AM

    I love the idea. I can’t paint and this is for a idiot like me PERFECT! :D

    lmaily.blogspot.com

  • Libby March 6th, 2012 12:35 PM

    Collage is wonderful. I’m seeing how it’s more and more of an art form too, possibly even something that could be my final piece for art class?

  • sttefaaa March 6th, 2012 1:55 PM

    Whoever make these collages – YOU ARE A GENIUS PERSON!

    http://stefanystrange.blogspot.com/

  • DymondMag March 6th, 2012 2:44 PM

    I love a good collage. I’m interested in graphic design because I want to be an art director of a magazine and I was wondering what sort of stuff do you do for graphic design?

  • Luzi March 6th, 2012 3:23 PM

    Collages are the best! :D
    http://creepyteenagers.blogspot.com

  • rayfashionfreak March 6th, 2012 3:33 PM

    Wow, this is fab! Definetly going to help me with my collages. I love Rookie mag for things like this!

    http://www.fancyfashionfreak.blogspot.com

  • Doink March 6th, 2012 4:12 PM

    perfect! i just bought some candles in glass jars, i was gonna refer to Jamie’s amazing shrine candles, now i’m like, double-double inspired!

  • Cosmo Beatrix March 6th, 2012 4:47 PM

    Hey this is my favourite diy or art article so far!
    your stuff and eveything you’ve shown us is awesome i can’t wait to get started with this and send my own in!

  • limegreensunset March 6th, 2012 5:22 PM

    i adore collaging, this article is perfection.

  • queserasera March 6th, 2012 6:28 PM

    I used to make collages when I was bored in elementary. This encourages me to take it up again!

    http://mercurialmanic.blogspot.com/

  • MissKnowItAll March 6th, 2012 7:05 PM

    Collaging is a great time filler:)

  • erin March 6th, 2012 8:36 PM

    I wish I wasn’t such a fail of a hoarder. I mean, I’ve got tons of crap (National Geographics all up and down my room) but I just can’t bring myself to ruin the magazines! when I had sculpture class two years ago, we had to cut up old National Geographics from the ’60s and ’70s. I couldn’t bear it! I guess I’m just weird.
    http://keepingupwithunstuck.blogspot.com/

  • bibliovore March 7th, 2012 8:31 PM

    This reminds me of making collages when I I was younger, and all through high schol. Another art form that’s easy and fun to do is zine-making. A great book on zines is “whatcha mean what’s a zine?”

  • Grace Eleanor March 8th, 2012 4:18 AM

    Love!

  • db March 12th, 2012 3:39 PM

    RAY JOHNSON

  • Joyce March 14th, 2012 2:56 AM

    I really enjoyed reading this, I checked out the sites at the end and they are awesome. :)

  • nutellacube March 17th, 2012 7:09 AM

    fuck this is awesome

  • Selle March 18th, 2012 2:26 PM

    Rookie, you’ve made me remember how much I love sitting up sleepless all night , photoshopping pics I took into artsy-fartsy madness, so I did just that. http://selley.tumblr.com/post/19523878689/a-collage-i-made-inspired-by-this-rookie-tutorial

    Much love to you, rookie mag!

  • keisya April 2nd, 2012 6:03 AM

    interesting! i really love making some collage :)

    http://daisycats.blogspot.com

  • KinuKinu April 22nd, 2012 9:08 PM

    I made a collage,and it actually….looks good.Thanks so much Emma!!♥♥

  • xsocca15x May 1st, 2012 7:55 PM

    This is great! A website to collage things electronically, whether it be fashion, hair, interior design, or art, is polyvore.com.
    Check it Out! And thanks for this great read emma! xo

  • firky May 17th, 2012 11:53 PM

    Ahhhh thank you for this! I needed a bit of inspiration to finally get started.

  • azultardis June 19th, 2012 12:16 AM

    doing this right now :D