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Collages are an excellent way to tell a story or show your perspective on something. While it’s fun to just slap images onto a background and see what happens, it can be even more satisfying to create something that expresses a specific idea.
For instance, lately my collages have been built around inspirational quotes which relate to specific things in my life that I’m concerned with. I’ll think of a keyword, look up quotes related to that keyword, and then pull one that inspires me. Then, I’ll use that as my inspiration as I create the collage. I may or may not put the actual quote on the image– it’s not really the QUOTE that’s important as much as the sentiment behind it.
This can be a great way to think deeper about your own feelings and emotions about a specific idea or sentiment. Which is ALSO a great way to learn more about yourself! And it makes your art more personal and interesting when you include things that are interesting and personal to you– it helps form a deeper connection between yourself and your art, and enriches your life as an artist.
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But where to find ideas for a collage? Glad you asked…
Where to find ideas for collages
1. Favorite quotes from writers or philosophers
This is what I tend to do the most. I’ll think of a keyword, look up quotes related to that keyword, and then pull one that inspires me. Then, I’ll use that as my inspiration as I create the collage. I may or may not put the actual quote on the image– it’s not really the QUOTE that’s important as much as the sentiment behind it.
2. The news/current events
This is a favorite topic for satirical collage artists and one that’s easiest to pull from, since mostly they’re right at the forefront of your brain anyway.
3. Family stories
Think back to stories you heard from your parents or grandparents. Is there a particular one that interests you or that would be fun to make art about? Collages that tell specific stories can be amazing pieces of art!
4. Memories from childhood
Or maybe you have your own favorite memory from your childhood, which only you know about. Write down as much as you can remember, and then pull out key phrases and concepts to use in your collage. (I’ll write more about using your own life experiences for collage ideas in another post!)
5. Places you’d like to visit, or have visited in the past
Again, these don’t have to be specific– you don’t have to make a whole collage using Eiffel Towers, or the Empire State Building. How do these places make you feel? Do they have any specific colors, sounds, smells associated with them? How can you translate that into a 2D collage?
6. Favorite people, celebrities, musicians, or artists you admire
Same thing as favorite places: what do you like about these people that you can translate into an abstract art collage? (Some people put images of their favorite celebrity into their collage, which is fine, but sometimes it can be more interesting to consider the “aura” of a celeb and build something around that instead.)
7. Books, movies, or TV shows
Whatever media you consume! What do you like about a particular story? Are there any specific colors, themes, or images you can pull into your collage?
8. Big genre concepts like horror, scifi, fantasy
Going a little abstract here: if you have a favorite GENRE of media, what about that genre do you like best? What images relating to that genre inspire you? Usually these have specific visual clues (e.g. horror = dark and stormy nights) that can work well in collage.
9. Holidays, birthdays, specific years or decades
Either specific favorite holidays or dates, or just the IDEA of that date/year/decade. A 1970s collage could focus on favorite colors from that decade, for instance.
10. Music and song lyrics
Similar to using quotes: find a particular lyric or song you like, and use that as a starting point for your collage.
>>> Need to keep all your collage inspiration organized? Evernote is a wonderful resource for keeping track of quotes and ideas for future projects.
Brainstorm themes and colors
Once you have a starting point for a collage subject, it’s time to brainstorm the corresponding image themes and colors that you want to use in the collage. When I’m doing a digital collage, I’ll first make a “mind map” to work out specific things I might want to use. Usually this means making a text document or writing on a post-it note.
>>> Short on ideas? Check out these free monthly art journal prompt PDFs in my shop.
Making a mind map
A mind map is a diagram to visually organize information. Usually it looks like a central idea with related ideas branching out from it, but for our purposes it can be as simple as writing a list. The goal is to start thinking about the central subject of the collage, and then finding images, colors, and moods relating to it.
For instance, if I were creating a collage about Winter, I might come up with the following mind map:
– cold, bright, snow, bare trees, red berries, bears, deer, antlers, fir trees, pine trees, pinecones, fireplace
– white, dark green, dark red, hazy yellow, light (cold) blue, warm orange
– cozy, family, quiet, soft, Father Christmas
Then I’d use these ideas to gather colors and public domain images for my collage.
Note: I do think it’s better to be a little abstract about how you translate a specific idea into a collage. Like for my example WINTER collage– it’s easy to go full-tilt into a Christmas-themed one and just stick vintage Santa images everywhere, but that isn’t necessarily what I think winter actually IS. (And the Santa collages have been done to death, besides.) Instead, I want to focus more on my feelings and favorite things about the winter season. While Christmas is a part of that, it’s not the whole shebang.
Once you have your mind map of concepts, colors, and ideas, it’s time to start gathering images for your collage. If you use Canva, you could create a specific folder for that collage and upload images you want to use into it. Folders are only available for Canva Pro subscribers, so be sure to upgrade your account if you’re using a free one.
Translating subject ideas into images
I have a large digital image collection already, but I still have to go through my Canva folders to find the ones I need. And of course I’d like some new images to use! To find images for my collage, I search my favorite image sites using keywords from my mind map. This is where a thesaurus might come in handy, since image creators may use a different keyword than you’d expect, and you can sometimes find awesome images by going a little off course. I recommend going through your mind map list of words and add a few synonyms if you think it’d help find images for some of the more conceptual words.
Also, keep in mind that finding corresponding images for abstract concepts is very subjective. You shouldn’t worry too much about getting it “right”; as long as it makes sense to you, it’s right! Be as symbolic or as specific as you want, it totally depends on your art style. I’ve been getting more abstract lately, but sometimes it works better to just be direct.
For example, in this piece to the right I literally put an image of an eyeball to tie into the “who looks” part of the Carl Jung quote, and blacked out the eyes of my focus image to emphasize that part even more. But I also could’ve gone very abstract and used entirely different imagery, and it would’ve been just as good.
(This piece is a perfect example of wishing I DIDN’T put the text on there. It would’ve looked much better without it.)
However, like I said for the WINTER collage example from earlier, I wouldn’t just stick Santa everywhere in there, because it would overwhelm the story of that collage. The nice thing about art is that there are almost no rules, and however you want to create is entirely correct. If you have a good amount of images and ideas for colors/concepts, then you’ll be able to select the perfect ones for the story you’re telling in your collage.
The next step in building your collage is pulling out a focus image.
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