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more about making custom (embellished) collage paper

A while back I took I wrote a blog post here about making "custom collage paper" and a while even further back I took a great class (Thumbnail Sketching) with Tansy Hargan (aka @palimpsestparade) and she got me hooked on one of my most favorite, most relaxing, art activities: making elaborately patterned collage fodder from scraps of paper.


I recently had fun figuring out how to explain the personalized process that I use to make papers in two online workshops that I offered.


Here I am going to walk you through the steps that I take to transform bits of paper with color and a wide variety of materials .... giving you some step-by-steps AND A VIDEO TUTORIAL! to get you started.


  1. GATHER YOUR SCRAPS: I recommend gathering a variety of scraps of paper. I like for them not to be perfectly cut and not all the exact same size. There is something inspiring about working on imperfect types of paper (very thin, slick, thick!) and imperfectly shaped pieces of paper (try ripping or tearing them). The photo here shows a bunch of scraps of paper ready to be embellished. I try to keep my scraps no larger than the size of a small postcard or an index card (3x5") but you may prefer to work larger.

2. GATHER YOUR ART SUPPLIES: As you did with the papers, gather an imperfect range of art supplies. Try to limit yourself, as having your entire arsenal of materials may feel overwhelming and make choosing difficult. Consider selecting a few colors of different types of art supplies. Anything goes here, and this is a fun way to really explore new art supplies, or to use ones that you have not been turning to often. Consider using some of the following: watercolor, pencils, pastels, ball point pens, paint pens, gel pens, crayons, colored pencils, sharpies or other permanent markers, water-based markers (think Tombow, even Crayola, etc.), china markers, water-soluble crayons, tempera paint sticks, and anything else that strikes your fancy! (What am I forgetting?)


3. START WITH LINES: I like to start with a network of lines -- the hint of a pattern or structure on which to hang my color embellishments. These can really be anything, and as you make more of your own custom collage papers, you will start to have your own some favorite patterns that you return to, and will continually be thinking of new ones to try.


To help you get started, see a photo here of a bunch of ideas to get you drawing the outlines of simple starting lines. I also show you a photo of a bunch of my paper scraps with the first step (just drawing the first lines).




4. EMBELLISH: I then recommend putting on something easy-to-pay-attention-to (music, an audio book, a long podcast, whatever) and just zone out. Give yourself time to play and explore and experiment. This isn't a fast process. It's a bit zen. A bit meditative. Relaxing. It's also something that you can start and stop whenever you want and it's also a creative prompt that you may find yourself getting addicted to!


You're going to start painting, adding color and mark-making on each piece of paper until you feel that each piece has a level of complexity-embellishment-color that feels good to you. I believe, in this activity in particular, that sometimes "more is more". Consider obliterating your original lines, covering them up with color, line, pattern, marks, layers of interesting colors and textures. You will learn about your materials in the process (what sticks well to what, what colors over what), about how different papers behave, and about what parts of the process feel most exciting/interesting/rewarding to you. When you feel done, you are done.


You can see a time-lapse vide of me making a set of papers here. You can see these papers all finished in this photo, too:


And you can see the big group of papers that I showed you in the previous step, all finished and colored, in this photo:


5. USE YOUR PAPERS: Now you have new interesting papers to use in your mixed media collages or other artwork. Some of these may feel beautiful and precious and feel like little works of art in themselves. In this case, save the piece -- frame it, highlight it somehow, make a card out of it, perhaps. I like making a bunch, keeping them in a special envelope, and then pulling them out when I am ready to make a collage. These brilliant, bold, busy, colorful, embellished bits will add more to your work than any found commercial paper. Enjoy them and when you run out, slow down, sit down, and make some more!


This process is also a great way to allow the things that inspire you to work their way into your collage paper (and so into your collages). I am sometimes inspired by the textures that I see around me (plants, bark, clouds, fabric) and by art that I see that speaks to me.

Most of all, it is a fun and relaxing activity. How attached or fussy can you feel about a little scrap of paper!? So you let go and just explore color, texture, line, and shape.

6. TWO MORE TIPS: After you have drawn your initial pattern lines on your scraps of paper, consider shooting a single photo of them all. And then when you are done, consider taking a second photo of your finished papers. It may be helpful for you to look back and see your most successful papers started out.


The second tip is to not worry if your papers warp. When they are dry, place them between the pages of a thick book overnight, and they should be nice and flat by morning.


If you make some custom collage papers inspired by my explanation here or by my video tutorial on YouTube, please consider posting them on Instagram with the hashtag #customcollagepapers or tag me, @jenniferwilkinpenick, so that I can see them and applaud your efforts!


And have fun.


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