Q&A: What Materials Do You Use For Your Collages?

Tree Baby (Firefox) collage by Megan Coyle
Tree Baby (Firefox) collage by Megan Coyle

I get asked this quite often, so I figured I’d share a list of all the materials that go into my collages, as well as links to those materials (to make things easier for anyone interested in making their own “painting with paper” collages). Here’s everything I use for my artwork:

1. Magazines

My collages are made entirely from magazine cutouts. Oftentimes, I recycle old magazines that friends and family members have given me, by turning them into new works of art. In the past, sometimes I’d subscribe to magazines so I’d have more materials to work with. One of my favorite magazines to use is Vogue, (or any fashion magazine) because they have so many ads and pages filled with various colors and patterns. I also really enjoy using National Geographic, especially when it comes to working on landscape pieces.

2. Glue

I like to work on my works in progress with a glue stick, because the glue is more temporary. This gives me more flexibility to peel up layers and move them around if I’m not crazy about the placement of the magazine cutouts. Once I’m finished with a collage, I’ll later varnish it to seal in the placement. My go-to glue stick is Elmer’s All Purpose Glue Sticks – they give me the right amount of flexibility and they’re acid-free (which is important when you’re working with delicate materials like paper).

3. Scissors

Some collage artists prefer using X-Acto knives because of the precision they get, however, I prefer using a good old pair of scissors (partially because I’m too clumsy to work with X-Acto knives). I currently have a couple of pairs of Scotch Multi-Purpose Scissors. Even though these scissors aren’t super small, I like working with them even when I’m cutting really tiny bits of paper.

4. Surface

Instead of working on canvas or Masonite board, I enjoy working on watercolor paper when I’m cutting and pasting magazine strips. I like using watercolor paper because it’s heavy enough to be more durable than other papers, and at the same time, it still gives me the flexibility to cut out portions of a collage if I’m not crazy about the direction that an entire composition is moving in. I can cut out the parts that do work and layer them on a fresh watercolor paper surface. My go-to paper is Strathmore.

5. Varnish

I always varnish a completed collage, and sometimes I’ll varnish a work in progress if the magazine cutouts are small enough in detailed areas (so those pieces won’t accidentally fall off). I like to use Liquitex’s Matte Varnish, but if you prefer to have a glossy surface to your collages, they also have a high gloss varnish that you can use. I like Liquitex’s varnish since it’s easy enough to layer, and it’s UV-protective.


If you want to frame your collages, I’d recommend using UV-protective glass and acid-free mats. Whenever possible, you want to work with materials that are acid-free and provide UV-protection to help protect the paper from discoloration over time.

Maxine “Max” Mayfield

Max Mayfield collage portrait by Megan Coyle
“Maxine ‘Max’ Mayfield,” Collage on paper, 7″x5″
Order a print

As requested, I tackled Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) for the next collage in my Stranger Things portrait series. This piece came together relatively easily, even though the sketch wasn’t entirely accurate. Often times I find myself working on reshaping areas of the subject’s features by layering magazine cutouts, especially when the sketch is really simple.

I enjoyed incorporating a little bit of texture for this piece with the stripes in her shirt and fragments of red hair from various magazine ads. Again, I used similar texture for the background that I’ve used for the other portraits. And I continued to use quite a few solid colors for her shirt and face.

Up next, I’m planning to make a portrait of Lucas Sinclair’s sister, Erica.

Why Do Artists Make Drawings?

Drawing by Megan Coyle
Drawing by Megan Coyle

Artists make drawings as a way to express themselves creatively. Drawing can also be used as a way to plan future works of art or work through creative ideas. Overall, drawing is one of the many creative outlets artists can use.

Here’s an overview of why artists draw:

1. Creative expression

There are many different materials or mediums that artists can use to make artwork to express their ideas. Drawing is a technique that artists can use for some of those mediums, such as charcoal, color pencils, graphite, etc.

2. Get familiar/better with the medium

If an artist enjoys drawing or wants to improve drawing with a different medium, making more drawings can help with this. After all, practice helps you improve with any craft, and drawing is no exception to this rule.

3. Brainstorm ideas

Drawings are a way that artists can sketch out ideas for future works of art. They serve as a wonderful way to explore ideas and get a sense of what compositions may work for different mediums or scales.

4. Plan future works of art

Sketches/drawings also work really well when artists want to plan out future works of art. By planning out how to approach a composition through drawing, the artist can save time for when they approach the materials they’re using for the actual work of art and help them avoid running into as many errors (which can be costly depending on the materials used) as they’d run into otherwise.

Will Byers

Will Byers collage portrait by Megan Coyle
Will Byers collage portrait illustration by Megan Coyle
“Will Byers,” Collage on paper, 7″x5″
Order a print

Another day, another portrait completed in my Stranger Things series. “Will Byers” is now the sixth portrait I’ve made for the series, although this one didn’t come together that smoothly. Portraiture continues to be a bit of a struggle for me, but hopefully the more I practice it, the more I’ll approve.

This piece involved a few more patterns and textures from magazine pages than my previous pieces used, especially when it came to the flannel pattern for Will’s shirt. When this was a work in progress, there was a bit of struggle and reworking of the shape of Will’s face, but eventually I shaped it in such a way that I felt I could deem the portrait complete.

Dustin Henderson

Dustin Henderson portrait by Megan Coyle
“Dustin Henderson,” Collage on paper, 7″x5″
Order a print

Last night I completed the fifth collage in my Stranger Things portrait series. I had a lot of fun tackling Dustin since he’s got a really unique smile. Again, this portrait felt like a bit of a struggle, but the struggle wasn’t as rough as it was initially. It’s getting a little easier, but not much easier…I also focused on using mainly solid colors for this piece, but continued to use a similar texture for the background that I’ve used for the other portraits in the series.

Up next, I’m planning to make a Will collage. Then I think I’ll have at least four more to make before I’ll deem this series complete for the meantime.

Mike Wheeler

Mike Wheeler collage portrait by Megan Coyle
“Mike Wheeler,” Collage on paper, 7″x5″
Order a print

My “Stranger Things” series is slowly coming together. “Mike Wheeler” (played by Finn Wolfhard) is the fourth portrait in the series, and I’m noticing that this one came together somewhat easily when compared to the last three collages. Hopefully that means with more practice, these portraits will only get easier to do.

For this collage, I also live streamed part of the process. I think the initial sketch wasn’t entirely accurate, so a lot of the detailing and shaping came later after I blocked out all of the colors. Again, I primarily used solid colors, with the most texture being implemented with the background and Mike’s hair. I’m definitely looking forward to working on more pieces for this series.

Lucas Sinclair

Lucas Sinclair collage by Megan Coyle
Lucas Sinclair collage by artist Megan Coyle
“Lucas Sinclair,” Collage on paper, 7″x5″
Order a print

I had so much fun working on this portrait of Lucas Sinclair (played by Caleb McLaughlin) that was inspired by the series, Stranger Things. This is the third collage I’ve completed in a series of portraits inspired by the show. While working on this piece, I ended up reworking his jacket so it would have more texture in it instead of consisting of only solid shapes of color.

I also managed to complete this portrait within a few days. The overall composition came together quickly, which is not always the case with my portraits. The piece I did of Eddie Munson was actually more of a struggle, while that wasn’t really the case with this one.

Eddie Munson

Eddie Munson collage portrait by Megan Coyle
Eddie Munson collage by Megan Coyle
“Eddie Munson,” Collage on paper, 7″x5″
Order a print

Portraiture is definitely a challenge for me, but I’m having a ton of fun working with improving on it. This piece is the second portrait I’ve completed in my “Stranger Things” series, and “Eddie Munson” was a top request that I received from my followers online. I’m looking forward to working on the other characters in the future. I also figured working on this series during the fall was very fitting with Halloween coming up.

Again, I wanted the background to look dark and reminiscent of the Upside Down, and again I used fragments from images of jeans for Eddie’s jean jacket (similar to what I did for the portrait of Eleven). For his hair, I used fragments of images of hair in magazines. This portrait took a little more time than the portrait of Eleven since I was really focused on getting all the shadows and highlights down properly.

Eleven

Eleven Stranger Things collage portrait by Megan Coyle
“Eleven,” Collage on paper, 7″x5″
Order a print

“Eleven” is a portrait that I completed a few weeks ago right after I binge-watched the fourth season of Stranger Things. If you aren’t familiar with the show, Eleven is one of the main characters and I wanted her to be the first portrait completed in this series. Then I continued to work on finishing up my Schitt’s Creek series before I wanted to revisit this series to work on more characters. This particular piece was completed over a weekend, and I wanted the background to be somewhat reminiscent of the Upside Down. I also cut up images of jeans for her jean jacket.

And stay tuned, I’ll have more portraits of characters from this show being posted soon. Again, portraiture is definitely a struggle for me, but hopefully the more I make them, the easier they’ll get.

It’s Corn

Corn collage by artist Megan Coyle
“It’s Corn,” Collage on paper, 5″x7″
Order a print

The other day I decided to breakup my flow of working on portraits by creating this still life collage. It was inspired by a song that has been blowing up on social media these days, and I figured I might as well make a collage of corn, film my process a bit, and share my process while playing the song in the background. The most challenging part of this collage was cutting out every little tiny piece of corn and pasting it down. I was alternating between a few different shades of yellow, and I’m pretty pleased with how it looks. The husk is rather simple and the background is really embracing the textures/fragments of photographs that I found, cut, and then layered.