Ten Tips for Making Color Work in Collage

fabric collage
How many shades of yellow can you see in this
fabric collage by Alisa Burke?

cate pratoI used to think I didn't like yellow. I have absolutely no yellow in my wardrobe and very little in my home.

Consequently, until a couple of years ago I had almost no yellow fabric in my stash. What I did have had either been given to me or was leftover from one of my kids' projects.

Then, I started planning my daughter's graduation party. And she wanted the theme color to be yellow. I wasn't thrilled, but of course I went along.

Soon, we were making yellow fabric banners and yellow seersucker tablecloths. We were searching for yellow napkins and plates with yellow daisies. We even found her a yellow dress to wear for the occasion.

And you know what I discovered? Yellow isn't so bad. Yellow ranges from the palest butter bright lemon curd. From orangey ochre to green-tinged peridot (my daughter's birthstone).

And, once I had more shades of yellow in my stash, I started to see how well it went with green, how it complemented purple, how a little touch of yellow could make an entire collage pop. It was a great lesson in color. Now I grab yellow fabric, found objects, and paper ephemera as often as I can.

Of course, I can't throw a party every time I want to experiment with color. But I can play with colors in a collage art to learn more about how they work together, and in turn use colors as collage inspiration.

Mixed-media fiber artist Alisa Burke is an expert at using color in a variety of media. I love her tips for how to make a collage work better by exploring color theory and experimenting.

Color Tips by Alisa Burke

blue collage
Repeating the blue from the focal point in the border
gives Alisa's collage unity.

1. Take a little time to learn color theory. Though it can be really boring, having a basic understanding of how colors work together will help when it comes time to select colors for your own work.

2. Look to tradition. There are a variety of different color schemes and harmonies that have been around forever (warm and cool color schemes, primary color schemes, analogous color schemes). Fall back on these schemes for a fail-safe way to select colors.

3. Keep a color journal. Dedicate a full journal to color observations and reflections. It is a really a wonderful way to build up a resource of information and be more intentional when working with color.

4. Look around you. Look for color inspiration in your everyday world. From food and flowers stands, to nature and fashion, don't underestimate finding color in everyday life. Snap photos and make note of places and things that have colors that catch your eye.

5. Pick colors with your heart. Instead of thinking too much, try to quickly and intuitively grab colors to work with.

6. Use repetition. Repeat color throughout the surface of your work to create a sense of balance and unity.

7. Keep contrast in mind. I always tell students that the best way to maintain balance and a push/pull in your artwork is to be aware of contrast.

8. Limit your palette. While it is easy to go a little crazy and pick all kinds of colors to work with, try limiting yourself to 1-2 colors.

alisa burke jenn mason discuss collage
Alisa Burke (left) and Jenn Mason
discuss color and collage in the
Collage in Color eMag.

9. Give yourself permission to play. Take a break from color theoryfrom trying too hard to select the perfect colors for your work, and instead just take some time to have fun playing with color.

10. Give yourself time and permission to fail. Understand that working with color in your art can often take years to develop and get comfortable with. There will be lots of trial and error along the way. Don't feel pressure to master color right away; just enjoy the process.

Alisa discusses color theory on video with Cloth Paper Scissors Editor Jenn Mason in the interactive Collage in Color emag. This eMag (available for download to your computer or as an iPad app), also has an interactive section on color theory and advice and projects from an array of artists.

Now, go play with color! (And be sure to give yellow a chance!)

P.S. Have you learned to love a color you thought you didn't like? What turned it around? Share in the comments section below.


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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