Your OWN Collage Papers

Kathleen Mooney

Collage – exciting, stimulating, current – all wonderful creative energy.  However, I often found that using old, dusty, “someone else’s mojo”, street trash, or potentially valuable appropriated papers made me uncomfortable.  Really – if it is good enough to tempt you to appropriate it -- that probably means some other person created it.  How would you feel if someone took your art and used it as theirs?

Artists hand techniques and methods around like candy to their friends.  I really don’t know the source of a lot of my techniques and methods.  There is Kathleen Conover, but she says she got hers from Carrie Burns Brown.   Carrie says she got it from someone else.  Then there is Jonathon Talbot with his “Collage: A New Approach” - I learned about his methods from Linda Doll.  See – it is a never-ending stream of credit… the point is – I didn’t develop my methods in a vacuum – I like to say all the faults are probably mine and all the best stuff came from someone else.  That is how art making goes.

What works for me is that I can create my own papers, my own colors, my own signs and symbols and patterns and I don’t need to suffer the concerns in that first paragraph.  Once I have done that -- I now have a method to layer up everything in EXACTLY THE RIGHT LAYERS, ALIGNMENTS, AND POSITIONS and then IRON it into place without having to stop, disturb, deal with glue, distract myself, have new thoughts and derail my train of thought.  My train goes off the rails too easily.

What you need:

  1. A substrate – paper, canvas, plexiglass, wood… we are using acrylic mediums - so anything that acrylic will adhere to will be a fine base.
  2. Clear garbage / recycle bags - 33 gallon.  Other plastics will perhaps work too, but I get such good results with using these as my “flexible printing plates” that I just don’t use anything else.  Feel free to try on your own.
  3. Acrylic paints – craft, Golden, latex house paint, your favorites – it really doesn’t matter.  Even watercolor will work when we mix it with Acrylic Medium.
  4. Matte medium.  I like Liquitex brand.  Others will work.  It needs to be acrylic for what I do.
  5.  Gloss medium.  I like Liquitex brand.  Others will work.  It needs to be acrylic for what I do.
  6. Pacon Spectra Art tissue paper
  7. Paint brushes – use your acrylic brushes or dollar store brushes.  Big house paint brushes are fine.
  8. Cooking Parchment paper – any kind will do.
  9. A “Retired” household iron.  It needs a polyester setting.  Once I use things in my studio I try to never bring them back into household use.  I use a power surge strip too – you can tell at a glance if it is ON.
  10. Foam core board – a good base for ironing.  Also great for transporting your painted papers for drying.
  11. Brushes, paint mixing cups, a big drying space, time, foam core to transport. 
  12. Washing Machine overflow tray if you are soppy, messy.  Expensive – but if it saves a big ruining mess…
  13. Block Carving tools and supplies.  Try amazon and


Creating the papers:

Set up your work area – Foam core, Garbage bag opened flat – cut it if you need to.  Mix some acrylic paint about half and half proportion with Acrylic medium.  Paint your mix on the garbage bag - just a little bigger than a sheet of Pacon tissue.  Float the Pacon tissue onto the paint. Transport the garbage bag to a safe dying location.  Carefully transfer the garbage bag from the foam core to the floor or table.  Let it dry.  Really – let it dry.

Once it is dry, transfer back to your work area and put on the foam core again. Coat the same or another color of your mixture (or plain medium) on the top side.  Have fun.  Transport the garbage bag to a safe dying location.  Carefully transfer the garbage bag from the foam core to the floor or table.  Let it dry.  Really – let it dry.

Note: You can thin the mixture with water, but that will give you different results – dying time, transparency, adhesion when you iron.  Play with this.

When the paper is DRY, peel it off of the garbage bag.  Note: the suffocation warning will often come off of the bag and onto your paper.

I store the papers on pinch hangers on a garment rack in my studio.  Smaller pieces will store in a book.  Note: if stored in direct contact with any amount of heat – then the papers will stick to each other.

You can further embellish the papers any time you wish with acrylic painting, pours, spatters, printing.

You can reuse the garbage bags.  The “left behind” paint and marks are really interesting to paint over.  Try it.

Designing and bonding the acrylic papers:

Now you have a lot of beautiful silk-like panels of acrylic paint.  Let’s call these the “acrylic papers”.

Cut, tear, layer, punch, align, and position in a test composition.  Don’t worry about gluing the layers in place as you go.  Reposition pieces and get it all just the way you want it.  How many layers?  My guess is that 4 or 5 is my success limit. 

Heat your household iron – Polyester setting.  If you use a surge strip you can leave it on Polyester and turn it on and off with the strip.  Then you will know at a glance if it is HOT.  Use common sense and safety!

Place the foam core, parchment paper and carefully transport your design to the work area.  Place on top of the parchment paper.  Put another layer of parchment paper on top.  You now have a “sandwich” where the parchment paper on each side of your design is bigger than the acrylic papers.

Iron the sandwich.  Hold the iron in place long enough that you don’t want to leave your hand in that same place when you move the iron.  It should be uncomfortably warm.  Too hot will melt the acrylic papers more than you want.  Uncomfortable will be hot enough to bond the layers

Once you have ironed the design – remove it from the sandwich and see how well it has bonded.  This bonding is the effect of the plastics in the acrylics and heat. 

Now you can trim, cut, punch, align and position again if you wish.  These can be components of a bigger artwork or complete in themselves.

Store them in a book, hanging with clip hangers or separated by wax paper until ready to use them.

Adhering to the Substrate:

Take your design and layer it on a substrate.  Either a big acrylic paper and little components or painted substrate and components.  Once I know where the pieces will go I use Gel Medium to paste them down.  Put gel medium on the substrate then put your acrylic paper down.  Gently smooth from the center out – try to prevent air bubbles.  Let it dry.  Continue to layer as you wish.  If the substrate is 3 dimensional you can “package wrap” the corners later.  Just leave them hanging for now.

Note:  Don’t tug the acrylic paper too tight on top of stretched canvas.  It dries tighter and can curve your stretcher bars.

Let it dry.

Printing on acrylic papers:

Cut design in a print block.  This can be an eraser, an easy cut block, linoleum, foam core, a potato, cardboard… anything you can think of to carve will do.  Remember – your design will print backwards.

Sometime the simplest designs are the best.

Safety First – always carve away from hands, eyes, body parts… be aware of where your cutting blade is at all times.

Mix some acrylic paint – I like a consistency of milk, sometimes cream.  Paint it on your block.  Print on your acrylic papers.  Have fun.  Let them dry.

Create some art!

The remaining time is to get hands on and make some art!  Make a lot of art.  Experiment. Explore.  Push the limits.  Do something new!  I am here as a technical and artistic coach.  Learn as much as you can while I am here to see what you are doing.

A little story:

For years I made and hauled around my acrylic papers.  I really didn’t do much with them.  Finally, I took them to Ireland with me on my yearly art residency.  I illustrated an epic ancient Irish poem with tiny 3.5”x 3.5” abstract designs.  This is the kind of thing I do for fun (whatever…).

I returned home and used the art in a book with the collected enhanced verses and my art.  I put them on my website.  I published a book

I was at a computer client appointment.  He mentioned his daughter had just purchased a rug company.  I mentioned I always thought my art would be great as rugs.  My website was up to date and I had the book to share.  Within a week Molly from Foreign Accents Rugs was developing my designs for a special collection of rugs.

I had a great run of years of nice commission checks from each sale of those rugs.

You never know in this art life.  You just have to be ready…

Create your OWN art, always Create as authentically YOU, Create with confidence…

The BEST part of making your OWN collage papers is they are YOURS.  If I had used appropriated papers in my collages I would have had all kinds of potential legal issues that would have probably prevented me from doing the rug deal.  Don’t rely on myths about changing appropriated images or items a certain percent.  If it is someone else’s work and it is tempting to use it – you probably shouldn’t!   Use your own papers and do your own work.

Not only profitable use of your art… competitions, public art, published art… anywhere someone else’s art could be mistaken as YOUR art.

If you absolutely must – be sure to get the other artist’s permission!  As you struggle with how to even ask the question (Hey – can I use your art and possibly get total credit for your wonderful original creation?) you will see it is better to spend the time to be authentically YOU with YOUR art.

Always give full credit where credit is due.



Collage Anew approach Collage Without Liquid Adhesives by Jonathan Talbot ISBN 978-0-9701681-2-2

Collage, Colour and Texture in Painting by Mike Bernard ISBN 978-1-84994-340-6

Collage in all Dimensions by Gretchen Bierbaum (National Collage Society) ISBN 0-9771094-0-2

Collage Techniques by Gerald Brommer ISBN 0-8230-0655-7

The Art and Craft of Collage by Simon Larbalestier ISBN 0-8118-0806-8 (a lot of copy and photo manipulations)

Collage Art by Jennifer L. Atkinson ISBN 1-56496-640-2