Torn-Paper Collages – How-to video

Torn-paper collages are among my favorite ways to illustrate an artist’s journal.

I’ve created a YouTube video to demonstrate one technique.  You can scroll down to see it at the foot of this page,  or you can see it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOrH0OQeo08

Here are the steps to create a torn-paper collage.

(Looking for a print version?  Choose either of these, and right-click to save the file to your hard drive:  No-frills b&w PDFExpanded color PDF.)

1. Gather supplies.

All you really need are some pictures, something to use as glue, and something to support your collage, like a piece of paper.

More details:

For pictures, words & phrases

– Magazines, newspapers,  printed materials, junk mail

I especially like fashion, travel and nature magazines for photos.  “W” magazine is great for huge, almost surreal images, as well as great words & phrases. “Town & Country” magazine offers a nice mix of fashion, travel, home & garden photos, as well as yummy ads.

If I’m going to sell the finished work, I’m careful about using magazines such as National Geographic. Though their pictures are gorgeous, they have a reputation for being difficult about copyright issues.

For words and phrases, I like health, fitness, religious and New Age magazines, as well as junk mail… including the envelopes, which are often better than whatever’s enclosed in it.

I find free magazines at public libraries and sometimes at laundromats (ask if they’re ready to get rid of some of them).

Adhesives and glues

For now, I’m using Golden Gel Medium (Soft Gel – gloss) with a sponge brush.  However, I want to try other kinds of glues and mediums.  Golden works fine, but I’m not thrilled with how they run the company, and I suspect that other, less expensive gel mediums work just as well.

When I use a sponge brush, I rinse it out completely as soon as I’m finished with it.  I can usually use the same sponge brush for a week before it starts to fall apart.

When I’m applying the gel medium, I use an old phone book underneath my work.

Support for the collage

Anything can support your collage.  I generally use a regular spiral-bound sketchbook for my daily collages.  However, for this one, I used a file folder.  I’m not sure why; it seemed like the right choice.

You could use poster board, canvas, wood, or almost any surface that will accept glue.

(Some dishes or tiles work well with collages, but others don’t.  Test different materials and adhesives to see what works for you.)

Embellishments

I like gold leaf and glitter, but that’s a personal preference.  Almost anything that you can glue to a surface can be used as an embellishment.

2. Select images and words or phrases.

Go quickly through your materials, and — without much thought — choose images, words & phrases that appeal to you.  Tear out the entire page and set it aside.

Tip: If you like more than one element on a page, separate them.  Otherwise, it’s easy to forget that you were going to use more than one item from a single page.

I often select a word or phrase early in this process.  In this case, I chose “Uncompromised” quickly.  The word “promise” is in red in it, and I realized (light bulb realization) that when I compromise, I’m breaking a promise to myself or to others.  Even if it’s just small and unspoken, it’s still a betrayal (big or little) of an ideal that I held or aspired to.

That’s a concept worth examining, as I work on daily priorities.

Remember that you can use a word or phrase from a sentence.  I chose “you deserve” from a laxative ad!

When you feel pleased with your collection of pages, or when you have a stack of about ten pages, pause and begin working with them.

3. Tear the images in the approximate size, and then to the exact size.

If a page is really large, it can be more difficult to tear out the precise element that I want.  So, I tear the page around the general area of the element, and then tear more exactly.

When I’m making the final tear, I try to tear it all in one go, not inching along, a little at a time.  A smooth tear usually looks nicer, unless you have a specific reason for a very jagged edge.

Also, when you tear the magazine page, there will be a white edge in one direction of the tear.  (The yellow arrow points to it.) I like to work with either all white-edged images, or keep all of my images without white edges.

4. Apply adhesive to the back of the image.

This is going to be a little messy… or even a lot messy.  Revel in it!

With something underneath the image — so you can smear or practically lather the gel medium (or whatever glue) — apply the adhesive to the back of the image.

If the adhesive is too thick, it can be lumpy underneath the image.  If the adhesive is applied in a really thin layer, it can dry too quickly.  However, as long as some of it sticks to the collage, that can be enough.

If you’re using gel medium, remember that it sort of melts with extreme heat.

You can use an iron (there are special irons made for this, too) — with some sort of release paper between the collage and the iron, so the iron doesn’t get all gooey from the melting medium — and the heat softens & reactivates the gel.

So, even dried gel medium can be reactivated and it’ll suddenly adhere the entire image to whatever’s underneath it.

I only do this when the collage is nearly completed — before I apply any glitter or gold leaf — if there’s clearly a problem where part of the collage didn’t adhere correctly.

Keep in mind that your lower layers (and at least some of their edges) will be covered by later additions to the collage.

5. Place the image where you want it to be, in your collage.

Try to place it exactly where you want it to be, or at least fairly close.  If you lift, stretch, or drag a piece of magazine paper, it can stretch and look a little odd in your final work.

If your collage element seems to bubble, it’s okay to pat it flat, but don’t try to smooth it.  (I learned that from collage artist Claudine Hellmuth.)

If you brush it or rub it with your fingers to smooth it, it’ll stretch the paper and the finished result might be disappointing.

Bubbled paper seems to shrink back to shape was the adhesive dries, or at least some papers will do that.  So, if you’re going to put something over the bubbled piece, let the bubbled part dry, first.  It might flatten out on its own.

6. Keep working.  Build up more layers.  Tear more images as you work, if you need more images.

I usually tear out the first three or four images that I’m going to work with, and then start building the collage.

When I’m happy with them, or if I decide to add another image that I haven’t torn out yet, I pause and tear out what I’ll need next.

If I have a massive pile of torn paper — good stuff and paper that I may (or may not) use — it can become confusing.

7. Continue to build your collage.

Remember that the first layers are the background.  As you add layers, they’ll be on top. (It’s amazingly easy to forget this, sometimes.)

The focal point (or points) of your collage should probably be on top. The leading areas tend to attract the attention of the viewer.

However, it’s okay to tuck little surprises in the lower layers, for the viewer to “discover” as he or she explores the collage.

Also, don’t despair if your collage looks messy.  Some will be more messy than others.  It’s okay.

Here’s a close-up of one area on this morning’s collage.

Here’s what you need to know if you make a “mistake.”

1. Milky areas will probably dry clear.

2. If the paper looks translucent in some areas (like right above the letter T in the photo above), they’ll probably turn opaque when the adhesive dries.

3. Anything that looks weird when the collage is nearly finished, can be covered with embellishments (glitter, gold leaf, threads, pieces of mica, paint, etc.) or you can cover it with another image or phrase.

It’s okay to change your mind.

For this collage, I’d selected a great image of a model looking in one direction.  However, I discovered an even better photo on the back of it: Mulawi children in colorful, traditional clothing.

So, allow for serendipity as you work.

8. Keep building your collage until you’re happy with it.

It’s okay to take your time.  It’s also okay to rush through this in a flurry of creativity.

You can start the collage, walk away from it, and finish it later in the day, or the next day, or the next week!

Tip: When you think to yourself, “I think this is nearly finished,” it’s probably finished.  Stop!  Take a break, and then take a fresh look at it.

It’s better to stop too early than take the work too far.

9. Consider adding embellishments.

I love embellishments, but you don’t have to add any at all.  Every artist has his or her own style.

Embellishments can include things like:

  • Glitter, tinsel, gold leaf (or copper leaf, etc.), feathers, or ribbon.
  • Tissue paper (it may remain translucent if you use gel medium over and underneath that layer).
  • Thread, glued on or stitched on.
  • Beads, mica, sand, pieces of glass.
  • Paint, oil pastels, stencils, rubber stamp art.

You can even embed something that plays a tune or says something (like in greeting cards) in your collage, for people to press.

The possibilities are unlimited.

10. (Optional) Finish with a coat of gel medium.

After the collage is fully dry, you can seal it with a thin coat of gel medium.  It’s not necessary, but it will give the collage a uniform level of gloss (or a uniformly matte finish, if you used a matte gel medium).

This will also protect the collage from dust and damage, if you want to leave it “as is” instead of displaying it under glass.

Tip: If you’re using this in an artist’s journal — such as a spiral-bound sketchpad — place a piece of wax paper between the collage and the facing page.  That will prevent the pages from sticking together if the journal is stored where the heat might soften the gel medium.

My finished collage

Though I could probably explain all of the elements, it’s true that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Basically, this is about re-evaluating compromises… things that I decided were okay, short-term, as a step to a more important goal.  for me, it’s easy for those to become long-term issues.

For me, the image of the happy children in colorful clothing is important.  It’s how joyous and self-expressive we all can be.

And yes, we all deserve to live deliciously, savoring every moment!

Here’s the YouTube video.  It’s only four minutes, so it’s a bit of a whirlwind.

How to Collage in Your Art Journals (revised)

The following article was updated from my earlier Aisling.net article of the same name. As part of the 2016 site merge (including ArtistsJournals.com), I need to merge the best of both articles, but — for now — both include good information.

art journal collage

art journal collage

art journal collage

Collage is an easy way to add art to your diary or journal.

For years, I started each day with a quick collage, the same as I used to create my “morning pages”  inspired concepts in the book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

For me, collages are a more visual version of “morning pages.”

I usually allow a half an hour for each collage, but sometimes go back several times throughout the day to add things.

The process starts with the determination that, whether it’s good art or not, there will be a collage when I’m finished!

PREPARING THE JOURNAL

Usually, I just work on the pages in a spiral-bound sketchbook, just as they are.

Sometimes I’ll gesso a few pages my journal, ahead of time. Then they are strong enough to support heavily embellished collages here & there.

I’ll leave a few pages for writing, then allow two or three pages that are left blank for collage. That forces me to avoid having an all-text journal.

In an average journal, I’ll gesso five to ten pages that I plan to use for painted, ornate or heavy collages.

GESSO

Remember that gesso is entirely optional. In fact, most people don’t use it at all.

I use any gesso that’s cheap, from the fine art supplies section of Michael’s or any art supply store.

Gesso makes the paper stronger, so it doesn’t suck up the glue or paint so much, and it has “tooth” to grab whatever I apply to it. I buy cheap white gesso.

Yes, you can buy it in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it (in small batches) with watercolors (including Dr. Ph. Martins), acrylics, even food coloring or unsweetened KoolAid if you like! But I’m happy working with white, usually.

Now and then, I use black gesso for art journal pages on which I’ll stamp text in white, or use a white gel pen.

art journal collage

For more information about gesso, see my other article, Gesso – What it is, how to use it

PHOTOS, PICTURES, AND OTHER IMAGES

I have images stored in folders, kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to do a collage.

I also keep a stack of magazines & newspapers on hand for my collage work. I’ll grab whatever images, words, and phrases strike my fancy at that very moment.

If they connect somehow, great.

If they’re completely disrelated, that’s okay too. It usually makes sense to me when I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.

My favorite magazines for collage include the fashion magazine,  W, because it includes great images, heavy paper, and very large words and phrases that show up nicely on my pages.

I also like glossy magazines such as National Geographic, because the colors are great, the images are unusual, and–since the pages are clay-based–I can use the magazine for image transfers.

(I’ll talk about that at another time. It’s a more complicated collage and embellishment technique.)

GEL MEDIUM

I love layers in my work. For this reason, I’m very big on using colored tissue paper. I use Golden Gel Medium (soft/gloss) for the adhesive, and when the tissue paper is saturated with the gel medium, it remains translucent after it dries.

However, the gel medium will make the paper buckle sometimes. I like that, because I’m very process-oriented. I’m not interested in a collage that looks pre-printed.

The buckling and extra glops of gel medium work for me, but I know that not everyone likes the buckled-paper look.

I apply the gel with a sponge brush. I often forget to rinse them, so they’ll be used just once or twice, and I stock up on the cheapo ones (10 – 15 cents each during Michael’s store sales) regularly.

WAX PAPER IS HANDY!

While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and either write or do another collage. If it’s facing another gel’d page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the gel is fully cured.

Otherwise, the gel remains tacky enough to stick to the facing page.

For more about using wax paper when creating art, see my article,
Wax paper and art journals.

OTHER EMBELLISHMENTS

I also highlight some of my work with different types of leafing… gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with gel medium, too. Don’t get caught up in using the most/only perfect adhesive for the job; gel medium works well for almost anything.

When it won’t hold, I use Household Goop!

art journal collage
For some of my work, I think in terms of other means to attach stuff.

On a “hurting” day, a bandaid may hold an image in place. And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Think beyond tradition and rules!

Most completed journals won’t fully close

I never fret because an item means that the journal won’t close nice & flat.

Frankly, by the time I get done with the gel medium on lots of pages, the whole thing is so buckled that it hasn’t a chance of closing nice OR flat, ever again!

I may sew a button to the front cover of the journal, and a piece of string (I like hemp twine) or ribbon attached with a grommet to the back cover, so I can tie the journal closed when I carry it around or shelve it.

These collages are exciting to me, because I never know how they’ll turn out until I start putting the random bits of paper together and realize what the internal message is. It’s sort of like bringing what’s deep inside me, forward.

TO LEARN MORE…

I hope to teach more journaling classes in the future, because I have a bazillion techniques to share.  Sometimes it’s best when people can actually SEE how this works, and experiment, hands-on.

But I love collage and I love journaling, and what I learn about myself and others in the process.

More? You’ll find additional notes on collage techniques in my Insight Shrines class handouts – at ArtistsJournals.com – and in My letter to Erin about art/journaling. Also see my sitemap for more, related how-to pages.

How to Collage in Your Art Journal

This is from a letter to the old — now closed — ArtistsJournals2 list at Yahoo!Groups.  I wrote it around 2002. Some of the information (and the terminology) has changed.  We started calling them “artists journals.”  Then, people began calling them just “art journals.”  Then, I started saying art/journals.  As of 2012, we’re back to calling them artists journals again.

Whatever you call them, they’re illustrated diaries or journals, and they’re important.

Here’s my early article:

I’ve been doing these quick collages for months now, though not consciously doing them daily. Now, I’m starting each day with a collage, the same as I used to to morning pages. I allow myself a half an hour for the collage process, and often go back several times throughout the day to add things until I’m pleased with it. But it all starts with the determination that, whether it’s good art or not, there will be a collage when I’m finished!

What I do, as in my Artfest journal, is to gesso throughout my journal so the pages are strong enough to support collages here & there. I’ll leave a few pages for writing, then two or three pages that are prepared for collage. That forces me to avoid having an all-text journal. My current journal is fully gesso’d pages, because this one will be entirely art.

I use any gesso that’s cheap, from the fine art supplies section of Michael’s. Gesso makes the paper stronger, so it doesn’t suck up the glue or paint so much, and it has “tooth” to grab whatever I apply to it in layers. I buy only the white gesso. Yes, you can buy it in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it (in small batches) with watercolors (including Dr. Ph. Martins), acrylics, even food coloring or unsweetened KoolAid if you like! But I’m happy working with white, usually.

I have images stored in folders, kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to do a collage. I also keep a stack of magazines & newspapers on hand for my collage work. And I go through and grab whatever images, words, and phrases strike my fancy at that very moment. If they connect somehow, great. If they’re completely disrelated, that’s okay too. It usually makes sense to me when I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.

I love layers in my work. For this reason, I’m very big on using colored tissue paper. I use Golden Gel Medium (soft/gloss) for the adhesive, and when the tissue paper is saturated with the gel medium, it remains translucent after it dries.

However, the gel medium will make the paper buckle sometimes. I like that, because I’m very process-oriented. I’m not interested in a collage that looks pre-printed. The buckling and extra glops of gel medium work for me. But I know that not everyone likes the buckled-paper look.

I apply the gel with a sponge brush. I often forget to rinse them, so they’ll be used just once or twice, and I stock up on the cheapo ones (10 cents each on Michael’s sale) regularly.

While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and either write or do another collage. If it’s facing another gel’d page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the gel is fully cured. Otherwise, the gel remains tacky enough to stick to the facing page.

I also highlight some of my work with different types of leafing… gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with gel medium, too. Don’t get caught up in using the most/only perfect adhesive for the job; gel medium works well for almost anything. When it won’t hold, I use Household Goop!

For some of my work, I think in terms of other means to attach stuff. On a “hurting” day, a bandaid may hold an image in place. And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Think beyond tradition and rules!

I never fret because an item means that the journal won’t close nice & flat. Frankly, by the time I get done with the gel medium on lots of pages, the whole thing is so buckled that it hasn’t a chance of closing nice OR flat, ever again! *grin* I sew a button to the front cover of the journal, and a piece of string (I like hemp twine) or ribbon attached with a grommet to the back cover, so I can tie the journal closed when I carry it around or shelve it.

These collages are exciting to me, because I never know how they’ll turn out until I start putting the random bits of paper together and realize what the internal message is. It’s sort of like bringing what’s deep inside me, forward.

I hope to teach more journaling classes in the future, because I have a bazillion techniques to share, and sometimes it works best in a class where people can actually SEE how this works, and experiment, hands-on. But I love collage and I love journaling, and what I learn about myself and others in the process.

More? You’ll find additional notes on collage techniques in my Insight Shrines class handouts (in PDF format), and my letter to Erin about art/journaling.

In the near future, you’ll be able to see at least one of my journals, and “page” through it. And, from time to time, I’ll display my actual art/journal pages here, as I create them.

Artists Journals – My Letter to Erin

Below is an article about creating an artists journal.  I wrote it early in 2002.  Before you read it, here’s the backstory:

Back then, I was preparing to leave a difficult marriage.  My then-husband wanted me out of the house, but I insisted on staying until my youngest child finished high school.  It probably wasn’t one of my better ideas, but it seemed like the right thing to do, at the time.

Emotionally (and sometimes, mentally) I was holding on by a thread.  The Harry Potter books were what kept happy outcomes in my mind, and several supportive friends were invaluable to me.  They made sure that I got out and saw people, regularly.  I am so grateful to them.  I’m sure that I was difficult to deal with, at times.

One friend in my circle of friends suggested that we could all get together and create our own version of Hogwarts.  It would be a place to learn things like authentic bookbinding, assemblage and found art techniques, and so on.  Of course, it was a fantasy, but several of us were going through difficult times.  Pretending it might be real, someday… that helped tremendously.

One day, my wonderful friend Erin asked me to explain how I worked on the journals that I kept during that time.  The journals were where I expressed my hopes, fears, aspirations, and anxieties, usually through my art, but sometimes with accompanying text.

I replied to Erin, and then I posted my (slightly edited) explanation as an article.  Here it is.

My friend Erin asked me how I work on art/journals.

Generally, I have a couple of them going. One is my angry one, that no one will ever see. It’s unattractive, but keeps me from venting too inappropriately sometimes. Pain and rage are scribbled on its pages.

5" x 8" journal entitled "Hogwarts Journal."Then I’ll have the one at hand. Right now, with maybe ten more pages left in it, it’s my “Hogwarts Journal.” (That’s it in the photo, at left.)  It’s a journal that started as a place to jot notes & sketches for the university I’d love to create someday, either on my own or with my friends.

I started this journal because my partners-in-crime for this project are as busy as I am.  I see one member of the group infrequently, but for longer periods of time. I figured that I could just hand him this journal when our paths cross, and it’d save me hours of explaining my ideas (and probably forgetting half of them) .

But though I thought I was finished with this journal weeks ago, it was always at my elbow, convenient for adding more art & ideas, often unrelated to Hogwarts.

Now it’s nearly full, with about 1/2 Hogwarts ideas, and 1/2 totally different art & ideas.

I also have an event-related journal in progress (I’m writing this in Feb 2002, immediately after Celebrate Art!) And another one that seemed like a good idea before the event, but I didn’t like the stilted not-really-art that I produced trying to deal with pre-event stress, so it went into the trash yesterday.

(No, I don’t usually throw out art, but honestly, this was truly awful stuff, beyond redemption!)

Generally, I start with standard sketchbooks. You know, the ring-binder kind that they sell at Michael’s, and other art supply shops. I like the 5″x8″ size. (For the following illustrations, I’m using my Hogwarts journal.)

First, I gesso & paint and then collage the cover. (Gesso keeps the paint from seeping into the paper.) I use whatever gesso is cheap & available in bulk.

Recently, I added a hemp/string & button closure to this journal, because the pages are too irregular for it to stay closed. I lace the string through two mini-grommets I’ve mounted in the back cover, and I wrap the hemp/string around the antique button loosely sewn on the front. (It’s secured with a smaller antique button on the inside of the front cover.)But, next in the process, I start the title page, which will evolve as the journal does. This one isn’t finished yet.

Along the way, I’ll alternately write and make art in the journal. (I like the phrase “make art” because it sounds like “make love,” and it’s an equally passionate expression.) I deliberately gesso ahead a few pages when I’m doing art, to make certain I keep punctuating my journal with art.

Below is an early page from this journal. This collage started with line taken from a magazine: “You’re not alone.”

A page from my journal, reminding myself that no one is truly alone.

This entry was from the time when I deliberately dropped my boundaries and started accepting hugs from people again.  And I discovered that some friends give fabulous hugs, while other people in my life… well, my own journaling on that page says it:

“I need someone to hold. Someone who won’t pull back at the first sign of release, and withdraw behind the mask as if the whole thing was a little distasteful. Someone who looks me in the eyes and smiles beyond his lips, with a knowledge of the ages and a sense of comfort like returning home to a place I never really left.”

The tissue paper–like most of my images–was applied with Golden Gel Medium (soft, gloss). This leaves the tissue transparent enough to read the text through, while giving it the sense of layers that I value in my art.

Generally, my elements are antique paper (from flea markets), magazine images & text (W magazine and Nat’l Geographic), art & text that I create on the computer, and acrylic paint, glitter, and sometimes gold leaf. Surface embellishments include found feathers & other items, antique buttons, freshwater pearls, and… whatever else finds its way into my art supplies!

And yes, the pages do buckle and bubble beneath the gesso, paint, gel medium, and layers. That’s why I use a string-and-button closure. And no, I don’t mind that it’s such an irregular and funky design. I’m very process oriented, and if the pages buckle and warp… so be it.

So anyway, that’s today’s art blurb. I hope it helps!