After Collage-Artist Virginia Simpson-Magruder was profiled on our blog we received queries from our readers about how to create collages. Here, Virginia explains her personal technique and gives us tips on how to get started – with a Christmas theme in mind!

1. Create A Sturdy “Canvas”

When I create a collage in one of my Paperblanks journals, the first thing I do is glue 6 to 8 pages together to make a sturdy “canvas” or surface that will stand up to the weight of the images and the mediums you use.

TIP: First glue one set of 3 to 4 pages together on the right. Then go back to your start and glue 3 to 4 pages together on the left. Leave the “center” pages unglued: the center between the two sets of glued pages makes your “spread” – the area to which you will glue your images.

2. Choose Your Images

The next thing I do is choose my images. Generally I go through magazines and tear out images that catch my eye by their shape, color or the emotion conveyed.

TIP: Don’t think too hard – just pull, cut or tear out the images!

“Enjoy the Joy” (altered journal page)

(Materials: Magazine images, rubber stamp ink pads, rubber stamps, magazine text, Sharpie fine point pen, Neocolor II water-soluble crayons.)

For instance, in the collage “Enjoy the Joy,” I specifically pulled images that had green in them.

For a special theme I’ll often pull from my stash — built up through many years of collecting all sorts of paper ephemera, including tickets, postcards, antique papers, gift wrap and vintage photos (scan or photocopy these if they are precious).

TIP: Don’t limit yourself on what you might use in a collage! Think ribbons, lace, coffee filters, old letters, envelopes, dried flowers –it’s endless!

“Tis the Season” (altered journal page)

(Materials: photocopy of photo, wrapping paper, rubber stamp ink pads, old writing from my grandmother’s journal, Sharpie waterproof pen, Neocolor II water-soluble crayons, sticker.)

In “Tis the Season” I’ve used images cut from old Christmas wrapping, cut-out words from my grandmother’s handwritten notes, text from a magazine, a sticker star and a copied photo of my grandmother (Virginia, my namesake) when she was around 12 years old.

3. Map Out The Arrangement And Look Of The Collage

Next I carefully cut out the items I am most interested in.  Or I tear images or pages into strips and use the strips as a background, as I did in “Enjoy the Joy.”

I arrange all of the elements on the page to get a feel of how I want them to lie on the page. Then I look at what color I want to use as the background.

4. Color The Background

I work a lot with direct-to-paper rubber stamp ink pads.

TIP: Just turn the pad over and brush it lightly against the paper. I generally use two or three colors that vary from light to dark and apply them on the page like that.

5. Glue Down Images & Text

After coloring the pages I spread the images out again to see if I want to change anything. When ready I’ll use a paste glue stick and glue down my images. Finally, I add text that has been cut out from magazines, handwritten, stenciled or even stamped.

This is how you will make a basic collage that you can enjoy or give as a gift!


  1. What materials/tools do we need for our collage? Scissors, paste glue, journal or other heavyweight paper or cardboard to serve as the canvas. For color: rubber stamp ink pads, acrylics, watercolors, oil pastels. Pens: waterproof Sharpies, copic markers or sharpie poster paint pens (oil). Rubber stamps images/letters, numbers are nice too.
  2. What are the best items to choose for a collage? Any paper ephemera –  cool gift wrap, handmade papers, woven paper, vintage paper; images from magazines, textbooks, books, dictionaries, etc.
  3. Once we have all our materials collected, what is the best way to begin the collage? Where do you start? I pick 3 or 4 images and lay them on the paper.  Then I move them around (add to, remove, etc.) until it feels right to me.
  4. How do we arrange the items on the background? Generally I follow two rules (but not always!). The Rule of Three (or Odds), which is to keep your images to ones, threes, fives, sevens, etc. (this is more interesting to the eye). The second rule involves arranging your images so that they lead your eye around the paper, from right to left, diagonally, up or down, in a circle, etc. I like to call this the Circular Rule.
  5. In your opinion, what kind of glue should be used? Is there a specific sticking procedure you would like to share? I tend to use paste glue sticks. I find they handle most one-dimensional items as long as you glue both the back of the item and the area of the surface you are gluing to.
  6. What is the best way to remove the excess glue? I don’t usually need to do this, but when I do, I use baby wipes (oil-free) to wipe away excess glue.
  7. What do you think is the most challenging part of making a collage? Just having the patience to allow the collage to emerge. It’s necessary to let it breathe. If you want to make a collage in 15 minutes, let it be that – don’t mess around with it!
  8. Do you have any others tips to share with us? Curb that critic! Jail the judge! Send the schoolteacher home! Play! Play! Play! Practice, practice, practice!

If any of your questions aren’t addressed above, feel free to ask us in the comments section below!

For more information about Virginia and her artwork, follow the links below:


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