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  • rosiebritton45

Making Collages

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

When people visit my studio they often ask me how to make collages, so I thought that from time to time I would choose a few of my collages of different sorts and explain a bit about how they were made. I am starting off with one of my larger ones: this collage is 30" x 40".


This collage, by using paintings of sunflowers in a field in France, recaptures for me not just one scene but the whole experience of being there, though no one else would know it! The use of the black and white gesso signifies to me a kind of whoop of delight because I have spent such happy times painting sunflower in situ. On this occasion I used shellac ink and procean dye paintings that I already had, but often I will make drawings and paintings specially for the purpose. So however abstract they may appear, my collages are always full of references to some particular subject, some a lot more overt. Collage proves to be a wonderful way to distil a range of memories and adds purpose to my love of drawing.

The title of this one was inspired by the free flowing black lines used by Joan Miro:

Joan Miro
Fundació Joan Miró



For large collages I find the ideal is a deep box canvas. This has several advantages over using board or paper as the backing:

- it does not require framing, though if one prefers a more traditional look it can of course be framed. This makes it especially suitable for large collages, although small ones look good too.

-it does not require glazing. This means that the materials that it is made from can be better seen.

-it lends itself to a modern decor

-if the plan is only to collage lightly, the canvas makes an interesting, lightly textured background in contrast with what is attached.

The disadvantage is that in order to glue on the collage it needs to be well supported from the underneath as the canvas is not completely rigid, so although you can put it on an easel to play around with ideas, it needs to be flat when doing the sticking. Large canvases have cross pieces underneath so I find the easiest method is to use thick books that I move around to be under where I am working. Fortunately because even a large canvas is light it is easy enough to take on and off the easel.

You will need to prime and seal your canvas to stop things soaking into it. I use gesso to do this. See below.

2. GLUE:

For messing around experimenting at home ordinary PVA glue is fine, and is very cheap. However if you plan to sell your work you should use an acid-free medium, and this you can get in various finishes from matt to high gloss. I use Golden, but being American it is difficult to find in the UK in large containers and very expensive as I get through a lot. Liquidex is another good one, and companies like Jacksonart sell their own online. I use it not only as a glue but also as a glaze, though hardly at all in this particular piece.


This one is very simple and just uses torn paper and black and white gesso. The papers are paintings of mine using dyes and shellac ink that I buy from Cornellisons in Great Russel Street, round the corner from the British Museum. I love the rich sepia gloss of this ink and use it a lot. It is expensive but one bottle will last a very long time. Never use oil paint if anything water-based is to be put over it.

Many years ago my mother made a series of collages using paper torn from the colour supplements that had just started appearing. As a collage artist she was enormously excited by this sudden influx of colourful images, in a way it is difficult to imagine today, and spent hours combing through the treasure trove to find textures and colour-combinations that appealed to her. Sadly within a year or two of being on the walls these papers had completely faded! The same thing happened to the commercially- produced coloured tissue paper that she used. As a result I have always made my own collage papers.

In future blogs I plan to say more about this as creating the materials is almost as important to me as the finished work.



Gesso is usually white but here I have used black as well, and I believe that you can buy clear or coloured gesso too, or you can also add acrylic paint to tint it to your preferred colours. As with the glue you can buy both student and artist grade gesso and you can buy it in tubs or squeeze bottles in different consistences according to how you want to use it. Liquitex and Golden both make super-heavy Gesso for sculptural effects Altogether, these gessos are a wonderful medium for a collage maker, creating a wonderful range of marks and textures. Glazing them would ruin it as it is the 3D sculptural effect that is the great attraction of this kind of collage.


In this particular case, the process of making collage is fairly self-evident. I start by sealing the canvas with a thin wash of gesso, then arrange my papers in the ways I want. I like to collage with torn papers. This is far more time-consuming than using scissors, especially if the 'look' that you are after means that you don't want any white torn edges of the paper to show. However, many artists make a feature of such edges on their collages.

If I want to see the effect from a distance I find that I can just dampen the pieces and they will stick temporarily while I pop the collage on an easel. When I am happy with the lay-out I stick them down carefully, paying particular attention to the edges. Fortunately it doesn't matter at all getting the medium on the front of the papers, in fact it helps seal them. On this particular piece some of the water-colour papers were so thick that they were impossible to keep flat and despite all my efforts they have curled slightly at the edges over time, but fortunately the owner finds the effect interesting! More recently I have learned to keep even thick water-colour paper very thin by soaking it and then pealing off the back, but more of that another time!

Next: on went the gesso. A thin glaze of gesso will dry very quickly, but be prepared to wait several hours if you plan on using it thickly. It takes a lot of confidence to fling the black and white gesso around and spatter it onto the collaged papers as I did with this piece, and lots of practice as it is difficult to control, so you have to be prepared to live with failure: it won't always work!

Finally I decided to adjust the tone of the background, so using a very thin solution of acrylic I 'cheated' and lightly glazed up to the edge of the gesso, and even over it, to darken some areas and soften the stark white of others. Not really recommended, but with such a spontaneous medium it is very difficult to plan sufficiently far ahead to avoid this kind of fine-tuning.

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Fine-tuning background using acrylic over gesso. You can see where the stiff collaged paper has lifted slightly, creating interesting shadows.

This collage is sold, but giclee prints are available,

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