Collage: Three Things to Know Before You Take the Plunge

Editor’s Note: One of the things I love about collage is that you can take a handful of miscellaneous papers and put them together to create something that’s wonderfully cohesive. It may not seem like those papers matter–but they do. It’s like meeting someone and immediately having opinions about who she is, if you like her, and if you might have things in common with her. On the outside, you quickly see the final collage of everything that led up to who she is today. It seems simple, but when you look closely, it’s complex.

Collage art can involve much more than what you see on the surface, as we see with mixed-media artists such as Elizabeth St. Hilaire. Her final pieces are beautiful to behold, and have layers of meaning. In her newly published book, Painted Paper Art Workshop, Elizabeth shows how she takes bits and pieces of symbolic and sentimental materials and turns them into art that’s familiar, and yet new. Here’s an overview that I think you’ll enjoy. ~Cherie

Collage ideas with Elizabeth St Hilaire |

Three Things to Know Before You Take the Plunge
A guest blog post from artist and author Elizabeth St. Hilaire

My love of collage started with a scrap box of mementos from my childhood. These small sentimental pieces of my past came from my father, who rescued them from the attic about seven years ago. Stuffing these tidbits into a box beneath my bed seemed anticlimactic. I remember standing there after my had father left, looking at the hospital bill from my birth, my Mom’s nursing school graduation cards from 1967, and thinking, what should I do with this?

Collage art and tips from Elizabeth St. Hilaire |
“Looking in on Jane” by Elizabeth St. Hilaire

I decided to find a way to incorporate these sentimental papers, notes, and snippets of my family’s past into something both memorable and beautiful. Thus was born a representational collage “painting.” This piece, Looking in on Jane (above; a portrait of my mother), won Best of Show for the first time at the Orlando Visual Artists League in 2005, and for a second time at the Women’s Caucus for Arts Matriarchs and Madonnas exhibit in 2007. The success of this piece plunged me head-first into my love affair with collage.

In my recently published North Light book, Painted Paper Art Workshop, I demonstrate more than 30 techniques that teach you how these papers are born of quality products, found and related materials, and experimentation.

Collage and painted papers | Elizabeth St Hilaire,
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Tips on How to Make Collage Art

Collage ideas for paper paintings |
This exclusive collage collection includes “Painted Paper Art Workshop,” Collage Process Overview (DVD), and a pack of textured papers!

1. I use only professional artist colors when painting paper. Some years ago my friend and fellow collage artist Jo Reimer suggested that I try fluid acrylics, since they retain their intensity when watered down. I asked her, “Jo, are they REALLY better? Because they’re REALLY expensive.” She said, “YES!” and I took her advice. Guess what? They are amazing. You can dilute fluid acrylics, spatter, splash, blot into them, and the color stays very intense. Because the paint is translucent, every layer of patterning and texture is multiplied with the one laid down before it; this is what makes my paper palette perfect.

Recently, I received an email from a former student, Andi, who cc’d our entire class and noted: “Don’t buy cheap knock-off supplies and/or equipment. The real stuff will save you time and money in the long run.” She was speaking of spending money on Golden fluid acrylics, because in our class she had limited herself to working with craft paints. She was not happy with her results compared to those of the students around her. When Andi returned home, she invested in the recommended paints and said that it had made all the difference.

2. Make it matter. That first collage of my mom incorporated personal ephemera that related to her graduation from nursing school, marriage to my father, and her first-born child, me. I have gone on to use my kids homework and report cards from elementary school, nursery rhymes about animals, and even recipes in my collages. My collages invite the viewer to look, and having looked, to linger. Printed materials and personal ephemera related to the subject matter make my collage work that much more interesting. I liken the viewing experience to an Easter egg hunt; the longer someone lingers, the more fun and magical stuff they find hidden in the details.

Collage art by Elizabeth St Hilaire |

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment and get creative with unconventional materials. For example, painting your toes and fingers and skittering them across the page offers a direct connection between you and the paper, not to mention some wonderful and organic shapes. Each of your toes and fingers are a different size and shape, and they make for much more interesting patterns than the uniformity of bubble wrap. I utilize these multi-sized spots for many of the animals in my repertoire, including koi fish. (My feature article in The Artist’s Magazine, April 2014, was about said koi fish and toe prints). I have also experimented with many items from the hardware store to make interesting impressions on paper, including silicone sink and tub liners, placemats, and mosaic glass tile sheets.

Over the years my technique has evolved as a result of experimentation with a wide variety of hand-painted, handmade, textured, and patterned papers. Layering and weaving, pushing and pulling the colors, patterns, and values makes collage akin to music. I go back and forth, alternating and overlapping until the rhythm creates something I love.

~Elizabeth St.

For more detailed information on how to paint your own decorative papers and
use them to create a painterly collage, pickup Elizabeth’s book,
Painted Paper Art Workshop today!


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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