Collage Basics: Less is More!

Collage – meaning “to glue” in French– is an art form in which the artist gathers various items and glues them to the base of their choosing.  Though this particular artistic medium is many centuries old, it really moved into the mainstream art world in the early 1900’s when Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque started adding a little “something extra” to their canvases.

Collage can be a tricky medium to master.  What materials should you use? What goes where?  How do you know when to stop gluing things down?  I’ve come up with my answers to some of the questions collage asks of us, and will share these collage basics below.  Photos of some of my collages will serve as visual examples.

Getting Started

Plan ahead:
I like to make a very rough sketch of my collage idea before I start the hands-on part.  Making these notes on design, materials and color will also help you remember what you’re hoping to create if you’re inspired weeks, days, or hours before you can actually sit down and create.

Decide on a base for your collage: Know this – you’ve got options. You can collage on something as flimsy as a blank greeting card or as dense and as immovable as a wall.  However, sturdy and portable are usually better options.  Some of my favorite collage bases include a rectangle of matboard, an old book cover, or a canvas.

Select some collageables: Gather odds and ends that appeal to you, including one to three images or elements that could be your main focus.

Stock up on a few different types of adhesive: Different adhesives work best in different situations.  I like to have a glue stick, photo mounting squares, Terrifically Tacky Tape, and Diamond Glaze handy when creating.

Design Tips

The Rule of Thirds is your friend

Wikipedia provides an excellent explanation of the rule of thirds: The rule of thirds is a compositional rule of thumb in visual arts such as painting, photography and design. The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.  Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.

(To see the complete entry, click here:


This collage’s main image, the photo, is off-center.  It’s aligned along a vertical third.

Throwing away the rulebook

I use the rule of thirds in my work the majority of the time.  However, from time to time I do stick something smack-dab in the middle of the collage. It’s occasional, but it does happen. Once you’ve gotten used to using the rule of thirds, you’ll likely know when to deviate.


With the main image in the center, I matted it with the yellow, vintage photo envelope.


Size matters…

Ensure that your collage materials include items that range in size.  From small to large, you might have something as big as a postcard and as small as button.  Too many items that are the same size will result in an uninteresting collage that lacks finesse.


From the very small buttons and nail, to the larger shamrock image and the piece of fabric, this collage shows range of size. Variety in size also helps the viewer’s eye move around the collage.

Variety is the spice of life!

Your collage materials should also include a variety of textures.  Slick, bumpy, satiny – these are just a few adjectives you may want your collage to embody.  Paper, ribbon, buttons, glass, aluminum foil, dried flowers – almost anything that can be glued down is fair game!


Textures for this rose collage include tissue paper, fabric, paper, metallic tape, and glass.

Limit your color palette and be complimentary

Rainbows are beautiful but a chaotically-colored collage is not.  Best to limit the main colors you use to a handful, including neutrals like black, white, and metallics.  And remember to use complimentary colors when you want something to “pop”.


This collage’s palette, red, black, and silver, is striking but harmonious.

Give the eyes a break

Please, please, please – resist the urge to cover or fill every fractional inch of your collage with glued on materials.  Leaving some blank space for the eyes to rest (also known as negative space) is very important.  You may find it very hard to follow this suggestion, as open space sometimes makes us feel as though the work isn’t complete.  The line between “too much” and “not enough” is very fine, but with practice you’ll find it.  In the beginning, it’s best to err on the side of more negative space – you can always add more to your collage later if, after much careful consideration, you decide you’ve stopped just short of perfection.


Though the background is subtly textured and patterned there is plenty of negative space, which gives the eye a chance to rest.

I’ve been framed!

Whether you put your collage in an actual frame, or just use some of your materials to create a decorative border, consider adding a frame to your project.  It will add a little polish to your piece, and will tie everything together – whether your frame is made of decorative tape or varnished wood.

I like to use tape for a quick, easy, and inexpensive frame, as in the rose collage above.  Metallic tape from the hardware store and masking tape both work well. You can also find a slew of decorative tapes online and in stores.

Go Forth and Glue!

As I said before, creating a good collage is a tricky thing.  Finding the path to visual interest while avoiding visual overload isn’t easily done.  However, with a little practice you can do it!  Play.  Practice.  Have fun! Enjoy getting your hands dirty and covered with adhesive, and when you execute a successful collage give yourself a pat on the back.  Just make sure you wash your hands first!

Warm regards,

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  1. Posted December 7, 2010 at 10:43 am by Ellen | Permalink

    Love these suggestions! I always look forward to your blog post~

  2. Posted December 7, 2010 at 11:15 am by Melody | Permalink

    Thanks so much! I’m glad you’ve found this post helpful, and am really glad you’re enjoying my blog.

  3. Posted December 7, 2010 at 11:38 am by Fran aka Redondowrit | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this. I’m at work and can’t leap into it but I look forward to tonight when I can.

  4. Posted December 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm by Melody | Permalink

    Thank you for commenting, Fran. I hope you enjoy the post!

  5. Posted December 8, 2010 at 12:01 am by Lauara | Permalink

    Nice post. Good reminders about the negative space.

  6. Posted December 8, 2010 at 8:59 am by Melody | Permalink

    Thank you for your kind words. Nice to have you here!

  7. Posted January 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm by Elizabeth Parsons | Permalink

    I love your clean sense of style…very nice work!

  8. Posted January 7, 2011 at 8:52 am by Melody | Permalink

    Thank you, Elizabeth!