Putting together a collage

Decide on a theme and story:

What are you interested in, and what kind of story do you want to tell? Think about where the story takes place and what elements you wish to include. What kind of people or animals or objects are you interested in? Or would you prefer something nonrepresentational, using textures and colors?

Choose your background.

Where does your collage story take place? Do you want a forest scene or city scene? Inside or outside? Or would a blank piece of paper serve better?

Look for collage elements ("cutouts"):

Find collage elements that will complete your scene. Pay attention to not only the image, but the image size, the look of the paper, and the intensity of color. Don't be afraid to use partial images that are cut off by the edge of the paper or partially hidden. These cutouts can be used on the edge of your collage.

Here are a group of cutouts for a collage. The covered bridge background is in the upper-left corner.

Different cutouts

Cut out collage elements:

Cut around your collage elements. How precisely you do this is up to you. I prefer the look of a thin border around each cutout (and the lower precision required makes the trimming process easier). However, you may want to trim more exactly. Remember a razor blade or X-Acto knife can be useful for tight corners and inside areas.

A detail of three of the cutouts. When I trim each figure, I like to leave a thin border, which you can see around the woman's hair or the hawk's back.

Closeup of cutouts

Arrange cutouts on the background:

As you trim the cutouts, arrange them on the background. This is where your artistic taste reigns: add, subtract, and rearrange them until the collage looks right and tells the story you want. Remember cutouts can be placed on top of each other, or even interwoven (for example, to show a woman carrying something under her arm). As I rearrange the elements on the background, it will become obvious when some elements look good together, or are placed in the right location. Sometimes there are too many elements, sometimes they need to be rearranged, and sometimes it's clear something's missing. Keep rearranging until the composition looks good.


Check the back!

If you find a particularly good magazine or catalog for cutouts, check the back side of the page before you cut out the image. Sometimes there's a good image on the front side of the paper, and a great one on the back side.

Think about it

Don't glue things down right away. Let your composition "cool" overnight, and look at it the next day with a fresh eye. Sometimes you'll have an idea that will turn your good collage into a great one.