From life to collage: finding artistic inspiration from personal experiences

It’s a common occurrence that artists will also regularly keep a written journal– when it’s not enough to create a piece of art, we often turn to writing things down as well. On the other side, it’s not as typical for journal-keepers to turn to visual art for their personal expression. That’s a shame, as creating a piece of artwork alongside a written record of your feelings and experiences can be very fulfilling.

Personally, many of my own collages are created through thinking about a specific event or feeling and developing a visual story for them. Though the connection between my experience(s) and my collage may not be obvious to anyone but myself, I enjoy making a visual journal to go alongside my written one.

Developing a color theme, finding images that represent certain points of an experience, and then finding a cohesive way to put it all together is almost a meditative process. It allows me to think more clearly and deeply about my life, and at the end I’ll have a piece of art I can print out and hang up (if I want to).

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On the viewer side of things, collages that tell a story are the most interesting to look at. Rather than a collection of random images slapped together willy-nilly, a collage based on a specific feeling/event becomes very focused and deliberate. Whether it’s your own story or someone else’s, using a story as a basis for creating a collage can yield fantastic results.

And the nice thing about using stories as collage ideas is that EVERYONE has a story to tell. Your life is a story! Why not use that story as inspiration for your art?

This is how to start keeping track of personal life events for eventual use in a collage or other art piece.

How to keep track of life experiences for artistic inspiration

1. Keep a list of “life topics”/keywords.

This is the easiest and fastest way to develop a list of subjects for a collage based on your life.

Once a week, write down a series of keywords that relate to your lived experiences. This can be as detailed or as simple as you’d like; the important thing is to just start doing it, and then keep up with the habit.

For instance, this week my keyword list might look something like:

  • Grocery store
  • Packing boxes
  • Old books
  • Cozy blanket
  • Apple Pencil

I would then take this list of keywords and brainstorm a selection of related topics that would make for a good collage.

2. Keep a journal!

Many of you probably aren’t used to thinking about your life as artistic inspiration. If you’re already someone who keeps a journal, then you’ve got a head start on anyone else. For those who have yet to take the plunge and start keeping a life record, now’s the best time to start doing so.

Keeping a journal takes time to keep up with, but it’s an excellent habit to have if you’re willing to put in the work. I’ve been a journal-writer since I was a child, but dropped the habit around collage. I’ve recently picked it back up and it’s been fantastic for working through things.

The benefits of keeping a journal are vast, but in particular: it’ll bring you clarity. The physical act of writing out your thoughts and feelings can release all kinds of things you might not have known were inside you, and that can translate into your art later on.

Once a day, one a week, or once a month, write a journal entry. Write in HEAVY detail. Describe major events, the people involved, and your own feelings on them. That last one is major– the goal is not just to have a description of events (I went here, I did this) but ALSO the emotional impact of said events (I went here and felt happy, I did this and felt sad because of [reasons]). The combination of events and emotions is key to later developing an emotionally intelligent collage.

3. Save articles or quotes on a Pinterest or Pocket account.

If you’re uncomfortable writing about your emotions (it does take some practice to get used to it) and don’t think you do anything interesting in life, then this option might work as a starting point.

None of us live in a bubble. Major events happen every day, and even if we don’t experience them directly, we can use them as inspiration for art. Save articles and quotes for things that inspire or interest you, and then once a week go through them and pull keywords to put onto an ideas list.

If you’re already a hardcore Pinterest user, you probably have a huge collection of articles and quotes you can pull from. For myself, I read a lot of articles online and save them to my Pocket account which can sync between my computer and my phone. (And it’s free!)

4. Ask family about their experiences.

As said before: we don’t live in a bubble. Family life events are just as interesting and unique to each person as anything else. If you can’t think of anything good to use from your own life, try asking an older relative about their childhood or when they went to college. Get their point-of-view about major world events, or ask them about their day. This would be a great opportunity to get information and ideas for a heritage junk journal, as well!

If you have no older relatives, or abhor talking and would rather snoop through someone’s personal things, try looking through their journals. Or even the published journals of famous people who aren’t related to you! Letters, postcards, personal essays, or blogs could also be a good source of inspiration.

5. Look at your planner.

If all else fails: pull topics from your to-do list! There’s major crossover between visual artists and planner artists, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if a lot of you already carried around a day planner (or two). Use your daily entries as a starting point to pull topic keywords. You’ve already done the work of writing tasks down, so now make them do double duty by turning them into a collage.

You might also want to start writing a sentence or two about your personal feelings/experiences beyond your “to do” list. Planner pages often have a small space set aside for personal goals or notes– that’d be an excellent place to have a mini journal entry.

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