Seth Apter’s 5 Principles of Collage

Seth Apter is the Cloth Paper Scissors Artist of the Month for July, and he’s here today to share some of his top tips for making a collage. Be sure to also check back later this month for our exclusive free July downloads, featuring artwork designed by Seth!

I love collage. It is accessible, enjoyable, and just plain fun. I look at collage as taking bits and pieces that do not belong together and using them to create a cohesive whole. By that definition, it is almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I say almost because the pieces are not typically created to fit together, and in that lies the challenge. I often tell participants in my workshops that it is easy to make a collage. But it isn’t so easy to make a good one.

In my video Seth Apter’s Top 10 Collage Principles I outline 10 approaches to collage to help guide artists to a more satisfying result. These are ideas to consider if you are a beginner, a seasoned pro who is struggling with completing an individual piece, or if you find yourself in a dreaded artist’s block.

By following Seth’s principles of collage, you’ll confidently bring elements together to form a cohesive piece. (Artwork and photos by Seth Apter.)
By following Seth’s principles of collage, you’ll confidently bring elements together to form a cohesive piece. (Artwork and photos by Seth Apter.)

The collages I make in my video workshop focus on creating with representational objects, such as pictures of faces and doors. A good amount of text was added to the pieces as well. The principles can be equally applied to more abstract collage, such as the artwork featured in this post and, in fact, can be used in other areas of art as well.

All of my principles of collage are action or ‘ing’ words. Five of the most helpful for me include:

• Overlapping: Having individual elements touch or overlap with other elements is a simple way to begin to make your piece more cohesive. This technique adds depth, layers, and dimension too.

Hot tip: If many of your collage elements do overlap, it can be quite compelling to add a single, other element that floats off on its own.

• Outlining: Adding an outline or edge to individual components in a collage has two seemingly opposite functions. First, an outline grounds the element into the background so it doesn’t just look like something stuck on something else. At the same time, it makes it pop off the surface.

Hot tip: Outlining can be more than just creating straight lines. Think scratches, broken lines, dots, letters or words, stitches, etc.

Make your artwork come alive by using your favorite supplies and techniques and taking a mindful approach to putting them together.
Make your artwork come alive by using your favorite supplies and techniques and taking a mindful approach to putting them together.

• Repeating: Taking an element in a collage and repeating it is a surefire way to make a collage more cohesive. Think about repeating something concrete like a shape, color, or symbol, or something more abstract, such as an emotion or feeling.

Hot tip: Consider repeating an element an odd number of times and remember that in art, three is the magic number.

• Contrasting: Adding dissimilar elements to a collage is interesting, compelling and sometimes unexpected. The contrast can be in color, size, texture, mood, direction, etc.

Hot tip: Sometimes when you are struggling with a collage, choosing an element that you might initially think doesn’t go can often lead to magic.

Contrast, repetition, and layering are three principles of collage that can lead to creative magic.
Contrast, repetition, and layering are three principles of collage that can lead to creative magic.

• Guiding: People bring their own interpretations and sensibilities when viewing artwork. But we as artists can have some say in how our work is actually seen. Placement of elements in a collage can often guide the viewer’s eyes around the piece, perhaps supporting the message that we are expressing in the work.

Hot tip: Consider shapes like circles, lines and arrows, as well as text that reads left to right or top to bottom, as a means of directing the viewer’s eyes.

As a fun exercise, have a look at some of the collages you’ve already made and see how many of these principles of collage you might have used—and which ones you may have missed. Then, start a new piece with the principles in mind and see where your creativity takes you.


Seth Apter is a mixed-media artist, instructor, author and designer from New York City. His artwork has been exhibited in multiple exhibitions and can be found in numerous books and national magazines. He is the voice behind The Pulse, a series of international collaborative projects that are the basis of his two books: The Pulse of Mixed Media and The Mixed-Media Artist, both published by North Light Books. He is also the artist behind six mixed-media workshop DVDs, also from North Light. Seth is an instructor at Pratt Institute in New York City, and his live workshops have been held throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and the UK. He is a member of the Association for Creative Industries, and designs products for Spellbinders Paper Arts, StencilGirl Products, Impression Obsession, and PaperArtsy. See more of Seth’s work at sethapter.com.


Get tips from Seth in this guest blog post on how to use embossing powders to create fantastic texture and layers.

Discover the secrets to Seth’s unique mixed-media techniques in the Mixed Media Techniques Kit with Seth Apter, which includes two videos, plus Seth’s stamps and his special palette of paints.
Stop struggling with collage! In the video Seth Apter’s Top 10 Collage Principles you’ll get Seth’s best techniques and ideas for creating compelling collages.
Artists of all levels will learn how to get creative with supplies in Seth’s video 10 Techniques for Mixed-Media Artists.

Categories

Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques

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