Build a Better Collage

Last week I talked about ways to improve your art composition. Today I thought I'd build on one of the tips, layering, by talking about ways to literally build up the layers on your collage for a dimensional design.

collage art background
This painted background is a good start,
but it doesn't have much depth.

Like a pyramid, you want to start at the bottom with a strong foundation. One way to do this is to literally add depth and dimension to the surface of the substrate with mediums like gesso, modeling paste, Cellu-Clay®, and white PVA glue.

For example, in this piece I'm working on, I applied a thick layer of gesso over the top of the canvas. Then I drew into the gesso with a plastic fork to make lines and added some dots with an empty decongestant blister pack.

collage shapes
I like to stamp into Model Magic to create dimensional shapes.

Another way to add texture to your foundation is to attach something to the surface that has texture, such as joint compound tape from the hardware store or fabric like burlap. I had a snippet of leftover hot pink lace trim with a nice open weave.

Knowing that gesso can act like an adhesive, I laid the piece of lace over the gesso while it was still wet, making sure the trim was in full contact with the gesso before leaving it to dry. You could achieve a similar effect by using modeling paste or even heavy gel medium.

Once you have a strong foundation, you can build upon that foundation with more layers. I took a foam brush and started painting lightly over the gesso to bring out the dots and ridges I had made in it. I used purple, blue, and green paint to add depth, then I hit the top and edges here and there with dark gold metallic paint. Over the lace trim, I used a heavier hand and more paint to cover the pink color, working the paint into the crevices.

This is also a good time to add background papers and ephemera, old text, some scribbling, a piece of fabric with stitching, or stenciling. You could also add lines with expandable paints or create a texture design by scraping modeling paste through a stencil.

Now that you've built up a nice foundation with several layers, you can add focal points and accents that top off your collage "build." Ideas for dimensional pieces to attach include wood trim, found objects, metal pieces, and mini collages.

collage
Collage built up with fabric, Model Magic, corrugated cardboard, scribbling, and layers of paint and ink.

One of my favorite ways to add dimension is through embellishments made of Model Magic. Model Magic is air-drying modeling clay that you can shape, stamp into, and paint. For this piece, I made a few embellishments: the letter M stamped with a baby block, an impression of beaded metal lace, and hearts cut out with a cookie cutter and impressed with the lace. After the Model Magic dries, it's stiff but lightweight; you can paint it and it's easy to glue onto your substrate with gel medium.

These are just a few of the ways you can build up your collages to make them more textural and interesting. Experiment with new (and familiar) materials to see which ones work best for your art.

And look at other artists' materials and methods for inspiration. I've learned many of these tips from watching Cloth Paper Scissors® WorkshopTM videos. For example, mixed-media artist Sue Pelletier shows how to make a collage using unusual dimensional materials in her video "Textures for Collage: Build 'em Up!" available as a download or on video.

P.S. How do you add dimension to your collages? What are your favorite materials to use? Share your knowledge and advice in the comments section below.

Categories

Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques

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