Arranging a collage

Arranging a collage takes an eye. Here's how I do it.

I started with this background, containing a covered bridge

Covered bridge

Covered bridge scenes are a little trite, but I bought this thrift store painting because I liked the sketched-in trees and wispy reeds of the sparse winter scene. Rather than the covered bridge as the focal point of the scene, I wanted the collage elements to be the focal point. I'm not a fan of covered bridges, but I do like cake.

I decided to make this collage about cake. I had a large image of chocolate cake with white frosting that fit perfectly over the covered bridge. That would be the new focal point of the collage.

Collage cutouts, including fashionable women and varieties of cake. Note the large cake in center left:

First arrangement of collage cutouts

For my first arrangement, I placed the large cake in the center, surrounding it by smaller cakes. A woman sitting on one of the smaller cakes completed the image. Some of the cutouts--the cupcakes with names and the large cherry cake in the background-- are incomplete images. However, I can still use them by tucking them behing other cutouts or using them at the edge of the collage.

My first arrangement of cutouts on the background:

First arrangement of collage cutouts

I thought the woman was too gray and faded to fit with the colorful cakes, and the composition was leaning to the right because of the bright yellow cake. I substituted a smaller chocolate cake and a more graphic woman. I like the way she lovingly eyes the smaller cake she's leaning against.

My second arrangement of cutouts on the background:

Second arrangement of collage cutouts

However, the second woman I used didn't seem to naturally fill the space and fit into the composition. In addition, some of the detail on her hand was messed up. I substituted a woman in a deeper red dress.

My third arrangement of cutouts on the background:

Third arrangement of collage cutouts

The third woman is a drawing rather than a photograph, and the colors of her dress didn't stand out. I tried a trio of new ladies. Thier arrangement fits nicely within the triangle of cake behind them.

My fourth arrangement of cutouts on the background:

Fourth arrangement of collage cutouts

However, the trio of ladies were faded and made the composition too cluttered. I went back to the woman in red, but changed the cakes in the foreground to be more interesting. While I was at it, I added some perching birds to give the collage some suprising elements and add spots of color like a garnish.

My fifth arrangement of cutouts on the background:

Fifth arrangement of collage cutouts

The collage was almost finished, but I wasn't quite happy with the woman in red, so I set the whole collage aside for a few days. I found a better woman to put in the foreground; this woman is clearer and more photographic, and her colors match the rest of the collage. I moved some of the cakes and birds to make a more pleasing composition, and glued it down.

The finished collage:

Final arrangement of collage cutouts


Play with your composition

I don't create a fully-formed collage the first time I arrange the cutouts. It takes some experimenting and substitution to get the final product. Don't be afraid to experiment with your collages, moving pieces around until you're satisfied.