21 brilliant collage tips from top illustrators

Learn how leading artists create playful and powerful collages.


I prefer to make works that have very strong, surreal atmosphere involving some kind of mysterious veil around its core – giving the viewer a sense of something hidden and unknown that makes them think about the image in order to discover its true meaning and message.

Valentina Brostean (Italy)

Strong lighting is the main key for creating my desired atmosphere. To create bold, engaging works try to combine opposing elements: small/big, dark/light, nice/ugly, sour/ sweet, sharp/blurry.

Once when you found the balance between chosen opposites, you'll have almost guaranteed to bring a strong impact in your work.

Valentina Brostean (Italy)


To create my works, I many use Photoshop – sometimes constructing elements in Illustrator. I also use hand-drawn elements from sketches and drawings that I’m making – combined with vintage photos scanned from the old newspapers and magazines or sourced on the internet that possess the specific kind of texture and rendering that I need in order to create my surreal atmosphere.

Valentina Brostean (Italy)

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Carefully choosing a background with some kind of old paper texture helps create a vintage feeling.

Valentina Brostean (Italy)


I rework my scans to the point where the basic source is totally unrecognisable. For example, if I chose to use some human character I will cut it out in parts. I separate every element – eyes, legs, arms, fingers, hair and also details like shoes, hats or a dress – and then I will combine some of those elements with the same cut-out elements from other photos that I’ve chosen before.

Valentina Brostean (Italy)


I used Photoshop’s tools and filters to adjust saturation, colour balance, contrast and lightning to help finish the piece.

Valentina Brostean (Italy)

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Lay clippings, colors and background all out on a surface - move them around, take away half at a time and overlay pieces until it feels right.

I never glue until the very end. Often I set a 'finished' piece aside having not glued it down so I can look it over in a few days with fresh eyes and rearrange.

Holly Chastain (USA)


Huge collages with many pieces don't carry the same weight to me as a piece with 3 shapes involved.

I find that the fewer shapes, the more "a fraction of a inch to the right" matters. Move things around until something 'clicks'.

Holly Chastain (USA)


In the past, I rejected the computer as a means of creation. I always used the Internet for inspiration, and Photoshop to scan and edit my work – but not to generate imagery, or modify pre-existing imagery in a way that was not reproducible IRL. Over the years this has changed and I now use the computer in many image making and editing ways. The way I reconciled my aversion to digital creation was to use the medium as if it were a permanent medium like physical paint.

If I were actually painting on a photo, I would not be able to go back and undo whatever marks I had just made. I do the same with the computer. I refer to this practice as "commitment to the first try”. I'll keep all my edits on layers so I can go back and choose which to use, but never erase or try to overwork anything. I keep my marks loose and aggressive same as IRL.

Jesse Draxler (USA)

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Don't just use whatever imagery you can find. Have intent. Just because Life magazines from the 1960s are easy to come by, doesn't mean that is the appropriate source imagery for the message you are trying to convey. If there is no message you are trying to convey – or if vintage isn't the intent but rather a bi-product of the materials you have at hand – try harder.

If you are just mashing imagery together for the sake of doing it, well that is when collage becomes a craft and nothing more.

Jesse Draxler (USA)


Pick your tools wisely. Scissors or Xacto or Photoshop, or...? What you use to make your cuts is as important as is how you piece them together. Certain tools are better for certain things and bring forth different obstacles.

Jesse Draxler (USA)


Collage is about working with what you have in front of you, so I start by gathering as much actual material as time allows. Photos, textural elements, odd snippets of anything, relevant and obscure.

Martin O'Neill (UK)

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Sometimes it’s better to invent something new or or splice odd things together in a Frankenstein way, rather than look for something whole and perfect for a collage. I then photocopy, scan and reprint lots of potential elements on different papers and surfaces – then cut all this up (and out) and start collaging freeform by hand. I then mix this with paint and mark-making.

I take photos as I go along and this leads to roughs for clients and ultimately a finished piece of work ready for scanning and sending.

Martin O'Neill (UK)


This freeform system opens up unusual avenues and juxtapositions which are usually richer than trying to re-create something you’ve pictured in your head to answer a brief.

It’s like preparing yourself to accidentally find a better response. I don’t like to use the Internet too much for research or image-sourcing, I like to look through old books and – if there’s time – go and find relevant books on the subject matter of the piece.

Martin O'Neill (UK)


Success in any image arrives through experimentation with contrasts.

Martin O'Neill (UK)

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Consider having a ‘front‘ image and a ‘back’ image and make them work together in harmony to illustrated your narrative.

In this collage, Going nowhere, the front image was a picture of a road I found with a piece of the car. Already there was a nice perspective in it so what I wanted to do was to accentuate this.  By letting the road end in the mouth of the woman, the vanishing point of the perspective is naturally accentuated.

I had to make the transition between the two images look smooth, so I needed a third element that could make this work. I used a mountain range made up of three different pictures: the last one is almost black so it would naturally flow Into the black colour of the woman’s hair and give more depth.

Underneath the road I wanted some colour, so I used a picture of a desert and made it more orange. This element also works as a buffer between my front and back images.

Structuring images like this will give you something to hold on to if you want to create a harmonious collage.

Sammy Slabbinick (BE)


Let your imagination take over when you are browsing through books and magazines on the hunt for source material. Try to think outside of the context of the magazine. The beauty of making a collage is that there are no rules.

Sammy Slabbinick (BE)


Good composition within your imagery is important. Even the best chaotic psychedelic collages have balanced working harmony between the different elements. Play with perspective and accentuate and exaggerate it to create unusual compositions.

Sammy Slabbinick (BE)

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I like collage because you can work quickly and freely, creating random or accidental juxtapositions and unexpected combinations of colour and imagery.  The flipside of this is that a piece can quickly become an unfocused mess. That’s why it’s a good idea to work within a unifying framework or structure.

For this series of book covers I used a large central number on each cover, and within each number I worked playfully with bits of found patterns, textures, typography, colours and imagery.

Bill Zindel (USA)


Finding the right materials for a collage is a big part of the process.  Even when I create a piece digitally, I like to use materials found in the real world, and scan them in.

For me the age and patina of papers is important, and I like colours that are only found in older magazines and books. I have folders and boxes full of elements that I use repeatedly:  rounded corners, stripes, patterns, large type, stereos, cars, guitars, etc. They’re all labeled so I can find them when I need them.

Bill Zindel (USA)


Working in a collage style can be challenging when an idea calls for very specific imagery because you may not be able to find what you’re looking for. It’s good to keep this in mind when you start, and try to determine how to communicate the idea simply while still working within your own style.

Usually it’s helpful to sketch first to work out a composition and get the client to sign off on the concept before collecting materials.

Bill Zindel (USA)

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The majority of my personal work is created by hand, using UHU stick and fabric scissors. I prefer fabric scissors because they have a slight serration, so they help grip the paper when you are cutting out finer details.

I’ll occasionally use a scalpel but always fear that I’ll cut myself and bleed all over what I’m working on.

Anthony Zinonos (UK)


For commissions I work digitally, scanning images and bits of paper into photoshop as layered files. This way I can compose a collage as I would by hand but still have the freedom to make any requested changes for clients. The commission process is very  different because I’ll starting with an idea from a brief, then trying to find images that I can use to create whatever I have in mind, whereas with personal work I find the image first, which then leads to the idea.

Anthony Zinonos (UK)


My favourite places to find collage materials are car boot sales and charity shops, however materials can be found everywhere and at no cost, for example; the copy of Metro left on a train seat, the inside of an envelope from the junk mail dropped through your door or someones discarded shopping list found on the pavement is all potential collage resource.

Working with found images can be restricting and sometimes limiting, however don’t feel the need to make everything look photographically correct, exaggerating scale and playing with various coloured shapes to represent objects will add more of a playful feel to your work.

Anthony Zinonos (UK)

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I’m constantly looking out for and collecting materials. These are the starting point of my process, I’ll leaf through old magazines and books till an image catches my attention.

Anthony Zinonos (UK)


A story or idea will form inspired by the piece that I cut out from the book or magazine.

Anthony Zinonos (UK)


I’ll cut out shapes or use the scraps on my desk to experiment with composition and layout , seeing how well they sit alongside the cut out image and attempt to bring my narrative to life.

Anthony Zinonos (UK)

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Copyright laws can be a nightmare because they are such a grey area. When it comes to my personal work, I don't worry too much about where the image comes from, however when I produce commercial work, I'm definitely more aware.

Some clients don't bat an eyelid, but when dealing with bigger companies, I find that they are more wary of where your images are being sourced from.

For commercial work, I tend to mix up as many different small elements from as many different sources as possible. If clients are not comfortable with this, they can can pay for stock imagery, which – unfortunately – is not cheap.

Generally I tend to use imagery older than 40 years and rarer publications which are no longer covered by copyright.

Anthony Zinonos (UK)


Start with a coloured geometric shape of paper and see what you can create by simply sticking other images and elements to it.

Anthony Zinonos (UK)