Foolproof Tips for Adding Text to Collage and Mixed-Media Art

I’m sure this has happened to many of us: You add the finishing touch to a collage–a word, quote, or piece of text–then stand back and realize:

collage art by kari mcknight holbrook
If I were writing on this collage I would sketch the
letters on lightly to be sure of my placement before
going over them with a permanent marker.
(Art by Kari McKnight Holbrook)

a. You’ve spelled a word wrong.
b. The letter spacing is off.
c. The word positioning is off.
d. The lettering doesn’t look that great (smudged, off-kilter, not pretty, etc.)
e. Some or all of the above.

I love words and they are almost always a part of my collage and mixed-media art. But when I start to write, stamp, or letter on my piece I hold my breath. More often than not, I make one of the mistakes listed above. And then I need to scrape it off, cover it up, or start over. Waah!

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are ways to avoid these mistakes. Moreover, I’ve come to accept that many artists use these tricks, and they are not “cheating.” They are part of the artistic process.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Sketch it out. If you’re only adding one or two words, just lightly sketch the letters onto the collage, journal page, painting, etc. Then go over them with a writing tool to make them permanent.

2. Make the “mistake” work. If a letter ends up with an extra-long stroke, exaggerate it and add that characteristic in somewhere else so it looks purposeful. If a stroke is too thick, doodle on it with white gel pen.


lettering for collage by kari mcknight holbrook

What might have started out as “mistakes”
can be turned into embellishments that may
end up as a font that you love.

(Art by Kari McKnight Holbrook)


3. Stitch in place.

Write, print, or stamp your word or message on a transparency or fabric, again making sure you have it just right. Then cut it out and hand or machine stitch it in place. Sometimes, just a stitched X in each corner works fine.

4. Glue it on. Put your words on a piece of thin paper like tissue paper, deli paper, or sewing pattern tissue. Practice until you have the letters just how you want them and let dry. Because these papers are transparent, you can audition them on your background before gluing them into position.

Mixed-media artist Kari McKnight-Holbrook is going to teach us her foolproof method for adding lettering to your collage and mixed media art with no risk to your previous layers (a version of tip #4) in Creative Lettering: Using Your Doodles, a live web seminar on September 19, 2013. By the end of this web seminar workshop, Kari promises you will have a lovely mixed-media canvas and a new skill set that will enhance your artwork for years to come.

I learned a lot about doodling your way to creative letters in Kari’s Delectable Doodles and Beyond web seminar, so I can’t wait to see how to apply that lettering to art without fear in Creative Lettering: Using Your Doodles.

P.S. How do you add text to your artwork? Do you have methods for making sure it’s just right, or do you simply go for it? Tell me about it in the comments section below.


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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