5 Tips for Painting with Collage

What’s collage painting, mixed media painting, or combined media painting? How does it differ from collage? 

How can you use collage elements in painting without being highjacked or overwhelmed by the collage image?

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: A collage painting is more paint than collage elements.  The paint is 60% or more of the painting.  The collaged parts merge and meld seamlessly into the whole. 

 How to do it? Here are 5 tips. All paintings shown here are acrylic paint on paper or canvas.  I affix collage pieces to the surface with glossy acrylic gel medium.

1. Use only your own images whenever possible, including photographs, text, and your own sketches and handwriting.  You can also use copyright-free black and white images.  Copy and recopy the same  images in larger and smaller sizes at a copy store or using a laser printer.  Black and white is easier to incorporate, and leaves the color elements to the painter and paints.  I prefer to avoid colored magazine images, as tempting as they are.  The more you play with a single image by altering size, color, dimension, the more freedom you will gain  in painting.  You’ll own the image, rather than the image “owning” you.

2. Choose a theme. I used non-copyrighted Dover deer. Avoid themes that are intensely personal, like pictures of your dog, your mom, or your child.  You need to have a bit of distance to use images effectively, or to rip one up.  Eventually you’ll develop image banks of differing themes that become your private visual language.  

3. Paint first.  Put color on the surface, or paint a very sketchy painting, then affix images, then paint some more.  Painting first, before applying images, establishes that it is more a painting than a collage.  For all of these I chose a crucifix composition and applied paint first.  Then I put down ripped black and white collage images.  A warm background is good, as it can glow up through layers of paint.

4.Be willing to sacrifice the image.  Let go of the image you love and let it disappear, if the painting demands it. Show only a part of it.  If you want to keep it perfect, do regular collage, not collage painting.  This is one of the hardest parts of using collage elements in paintings.

5. Cover your images with glossy gel medium or UVLS varnish as you apply them.  Then you can pile on coats of paint and still wipe back to find them.

Toss the collage boxes and go back to only a few images.  Use them  thoughtfully in series of paintings. And have fun! 

Please use the comment section for questions on the collages or techniques.  I’m happy to share what I know.  If you’re one of my student who gets the blog, please share something about your experience with collage painting.

Mythic news:   Deer are symbols of sacrifice and purity, often used in Christian iconography.  It was said that deer gathered at the foot of the cross where Jesus hung.  I used them here  in these three works floating up and down through a penetrable horizon of birth and death, ancestor souls.  Collage itself belongs to the realm of Kali: dismembering  of paper , appropriation of image, rebirth of pieces into a new whole.  The goddess of Necessity wields the scissors and snips the thread of life– or the image.

15 thoughts on “5 Tips for Painting with Collage

  1. Thanks for the tips, Suz. Regarding copyright, I find it’s usually easier to glue or staple the original animal or person directly onto the support. This can be challenging when you want to incorporate landscape or astronomical objects such as galaxies or black holes, but the dificulties can usually be overcome with epoxy resin.


  2. Hey — isn’t that “my” painting up there (the one where the frame broke?). It sure looks like it. The only time I collage in paintings is when I have t0 — when I’ve worn a hole through the paper and have to fix it.


  3. I think I see a way to minimize my stash, simply by keeping only my own material. I am not sure, though, what you mean by “toss the collage box”. I think you mean I should narrow down my options, and maybe throw almost everything away, instead of returning it to the files….. in any case, I have too much stuff – but what I do is definitely collage painting (at least most of the time….)
    BTW, I found a few – mostly unfinished – things that had been donated to a thrift shop that look like they were made at one of your workshops


  4. Hi Suzanne,
    Just wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying your beautiful painting “Peacock’s Ball”! I have been out of town, but couldn’t wait to get home to my new painting.
    Love your blog-thanks for the tips. Looking forward to taking a workshop from you in the Spring. Please keep me on the notification list-I’m sure they fill up fast.

    Best Regards,
    Judy Ludovise


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  6. wow thanks for advice but can I ask if my background layers are too much like I have thick paint on the canvas and I also used dark colors can I still apply acrylic paint or I have to use oil paint?


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