Collage: Open-ended Art-making With Paper, Scissors and Glue



Introduction: Collage: Open-ended Art-making With Paper, Scissors and Glue

About: Ann McMillan paints plein air oil and pastel paintings of the Bay Area. She is currently teaching too much at the Palo Alto Art Center and at her children's elementary school. In her free time, she design...


Get the students to create a collage based on a story, or abstract idea. I have the class think for a moment about a story or character that they want to illustrate, then they pair share, then a few group share. Because the starting materials are solid, or small patterned, we end up with collages that are not just cut pictures from magazines. The favorite material for this project is high quality brightly colored cardstock. I offer a few samples to get people started--

  • Eric Carle's books: Blue Horse, Hungry Caterpillar (narrative)
  • Gee's Bend Quilts (abstract)
  • Matisse paper cut-outs (a mix)

I usually demonstrate the technique to the students before getting going. I pre-cut and rip a scene out, and then have the students guess at the story being told as I stick the pieces down... It is usually Little Red Riding Hood. During the demonstration, I emphasize how to stick the parts down smoothly, "Sketching" out the collage by laying it out and moving it around, making changes by papering over "mistakes", and finishing up with a final layer of glue. We also talk about how the glue dries clear, even though it is whitish when just applied. Some people prefer to just use clear glue; that makes it easier, since some of my students just will not believe that to be true.

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Step 1: Supplies for Collage

Collage Supplies Checklist:

  • Scissors
  • Glue-- Clear Elmer's Glue, glue sticks, or Modge Podge.
  • Glue pots-- I use the ones that preschool teacher use with double lids, one for dipping and one as a cover. Anything with a broad base will do. The students will leave the brushes in the pot, so it has to be sturdy enough to not tip over.
  • Broad Flat Brushes-- half inch or inch.
  • Colored Card Stock.
  • Substrate, i.e. Chipboard, or Pieces of Paper about 11 x 14 or 12 x 16 are good sizes for tables with kids.
  • A huge pile of paper scraps without images on them. Cut magazines into strips or small bits if that is all you have. For a class of 24 students, I keep two 12 gallon plastic bins full of collage scraps.
  • I also collect music scores, old maps and atlases, and text in other languages.

Step 2: Best Practices

A few guidelines for successful collage from found materials with large groups of kids or kids at heart:

  • Choose base materials that are free from large text or images. If you use old magazines, cut them up in small strips ahead of time-- If you give images to the maker, they will spend the whole time dedicated to artmaking combing through them, looking at the pictures, reading the articles and hoping someone has included the perfect kitty cat or watch, or car, basketball or gem that will complete their artwork perfectly. Seriously. This happens.
  • If the makers are making books out of their collages, remind them that collages cannot be more than a layer or two thick. In our paper class we often get sculpture on collage day-- gooey, the glue-will-never-dry sculpture. For some students, every art project is more a sensory experience than a product-focused activity<---and that is a wonderful thing.
  • Encourage people to rip and tear paper in addition to cutting it-- it is faster, makes a cool line, and you can't find the scissors anyway in the mess.
  • Never provide just a bit of anything sparkly, pink, shiny, gold, see-through, prismy, or silver. You can use these things, but bring plenty, or your class will transmorgify into a hoarder's anarchy<---phenomenon not limited to minors.
  • Glue sticks are best and less messy for simple projects, but a layer of glue, a piece of paper and another layer of glue makes the best result-- more durable and long lasting. be sure to reassure the makers that the glue dries clear. I prefer matte glue to shiny. Elmer's works fine, or you can splash out on Modge Podge, if you have a budget for this project.
  • Consider glue sticks a one-use item in your budgeting, my kids use them up, or lose the tops every time.
  • One of the teachers at my school discovered Clear Elmer's Glue-- I am a convert, since my students don't believe me when I say the glue dries clear.
  • I just invented a little gizmo that works well for glue in collage. Take a small tupperware container, about a half cup size with a lid, and stick it to a paper plate. voila, a preservable and stable and cheap glue repository, with a place to rest your brushes.
  • Hardware stores often have bulk packs of glue brushes-- great and cheap enough to throw away if they get wrecked. Dry them after washing, or they rust badly:
  • Brushes with strength work best-- stiffer bristles and at least a quarter inch wide work best. Small wimpy watercolor brushes get damaged in this activity and just take to long for people to be happy with the work.

Step 3: Materials Sources for Paper Scrap

Here is a quick write-up of how I get materials for collage projects with lots of people, with some notes on problems to be avoided.

  • Altering paper is a great way to create art collage supplies. Paint paper a la Matisse-- messy, fun, cheap and time-consuming (sometimes that is a good thing with kids). You could also dye, paste, marble, spatter, etc. My favorite online clearinghouse for cool kid projects is Tinkerlab. Coffee filters and watercolor or food dye is always fun
  • Go to Kelly Paper and buy reams of colored cardstock. They will sell you the equivalent of one or two reams of colored samples-- you make your own rainbow-colored ream or two and ask to buy them at the ream price rather than per sheet. They are cool with helping out school projects and similar. Ask permission of the manager humbly and gratefully. The results, especially if you use just this stuff looks posh and designery. Buy extra pink.
  • Check the paper recycling bins outside your Friends of the Library sorting room. Text, magazines, phone books etc all make great base materials and are freee freee freee.
  • The covers of hard back booksmake great collage substrates, if you want something with some oomph. take a box cutter and just dismember the books on site. n.b. kids will not dismember books, even if they see them fished out of the trash. Adults won't either. I guess we all read Fahrenheit 451. Disassemble books ahead of time, unless you want to teach a unit on information management. Binders that are being thrown away also have stout pieces of cardboard hidden in the covers.
  • Old maps, wrapping paper, wallpaper scraps, obsolete books, music scores, book pages in other languages all make great materials for collage.
  • For San Francisco Bay Area Locals: has a room full of wallpaper samples and another of cloth. Check their web site for their rather persnickety distribution schedule. Fabmo is a non-profit, completely volunteer-run organization. Volunteers there are helping you out the goodness of their hearts. That said, it is almost as much fun as Alan Steel or Weird Stuff, RAFT or SCRAP.

Step 4: Recommended Reading

Picture This! Story-telling book

Matisse Cut-outs

Gee's Bend Quilts

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