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.

Talks: Evolution of an Artist’s Website

Evolution of an Artist's Website
Evolution of an Artist's Website

A couple of years ago I gave a talk at a Meetup for coders and artists. During the day I work as a software engineer, while I work on my art in my free time, so I was excited to speak at an event that involved the merging of my two interests.

Over the years, as I’ve learned more about technology and marketing, I’ve made adjustments to my artist website. Take a look at my talk to learn more:

Q&A: Where Do You Get Your Inspiration From?

Koala by collage artist Megan Coyle
Koala by collage artist Megan Coyle

I get a lot of my inspiration from everyday life. My portraits are inspired by people I know or familiar figures, while my landscape/cityscape collages are usually based on the sights I see when traveling around a new city or exploring a place that I’m familiar with. My still life pieces are influenced by common, everyday objects, while my animal portraits are usually inspired by my visits to the zoo or whenever I encounter wildlife on my travels.

Aside from finding inspiration from the world around me, I also like to get inspired by seeing what other artists are making. I draw inspiration from art museum/gallery exhibits, as well as by connecting with fellow artists online. Seeing what other creatives are making is a great way to tap into your own creativity.

Other times the materials I work with prove to be very inspiring. Sometimes when I’m paging through a magazine, I’ll find a pattern or fragment within a photograph that sparks interest in using a specific color palette or tackling a specific subject. Usually when I’m working on a work in progress, I find paging through magazines to be especially inspiring, since I never know what colors and patterns I’ll find. There’s always an element of surprise that makes the entire process exciting.

Q&A: What Do You Love About Your Medium?

Watchful Lion by collage artist Megan Coyle

I’m often asked why I’m drawn to making collages entirely from magazine cutouts. Why not paint my own paper or use different types of paper? Why not make paintings instead? There are so many different mediums out there, and I do enjoy experimenting with different materials. However, for my main body of work, I like making art from repurposing magazine strips.

Here are a few reasons why I’m drawn to this medium time and time again:

1. Flexibility

I really enjoy working on a work in progress with an acid-free glue stick, so that I have the flexibility to peel off previous layers if I’m not crazy about the way certain sections of a piece are turning out. And that’s the type of flexibility that I don’t have when I paint with acrylic or oil paint.

2. So many colorful options

I prefer using fashion magazines because they usually have a lot of colorful ads and patterns. Often times I’ll find interesting or unusual patterns and textures that I wouldn’t have been able to think of on my own.

3. It’s a creative challenge

One of the struggles of working with colors from magazine pages is that my color palette is limited to what I can find. However, I enjoy the challenge of searching for ways to incorporate the colors I find within a given composition. It forces me to hone the way I view images and think about how I can repurpose them to construct entirely new images.

4. It’s always a surprise

I never really know how one of my collages will turn out and I really enjoy that about the process. Sometimes I’ll find colors and patterns and work really well together. Other times it’s more of a struggle, and I’ll work on adding layers only to peel them back up and start over again. I like how I never really know how things will turn out, and whenever the layers flow together nicely, it’s such a satisfying and rewarding feeling. I enjoy the art of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

5. The possibilities

One of the things I really enjoy about my process is manipulating paper in such a way that it mimics a painting. I like creating the illusion that my work is made from one medium when it’s actually made from something entirely different. I enjoy the possibilities involved with manipulating paper. At the moment I enjoy mimicking the brushstrokes in a painting, but who knows what’s next? Perhaps I’ll start mimicking drawn lines in sketches.

Q&A: When Did You First Realize You Are An Artist?

Art always had a big role in my life when I was growing up. It was just something that I did and I didn’t think twice about it. I took art classes at local art galleries and took an art class every year at school. I don’t think I actively thought that I was an artist or thought about becoming an artist until I was in high school.

High school was when I started becoming more serious about art. I was mentored by a local artist at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, and had a couple of my first-ever group exhibits. I found myself spending hours of my free time painting at an easel and experimenting with mixed media. But again, I don’t ever think I thought “I’m an artist” or “I’m going to become an artist.” At that point in time I was wrapped up with becoming a writer, which is what I initially went to college for.

At Elon University I studied creative writing, but quickly realized that I felt lost without having some sort of visual art outlet. I picked up painting as a second major. After graduating from college, I finally realized I was an artist. I had this drive to make new work and exhibit my art. And I realized how important art had been in my life all along.

It’s funny how something can be in your life for so long, and it can take you a while to realize how much it truly means to you. I’m glad that what I once thought of as a hobby or creative outlet, is something I now know I need in my life. I’m glad that I eventually found my way to calling myself an artist. And these days I’m continuing to hone my craft and share my technique with others.

What Tools I use for my Artwork

The Curious Penguin by collage artist Megan Coyle

When you see one of my collages in-person, it’s difficult to tell what they’re made of. I think when it comes to art in general, it’s hard to imagine how a work of art was completed from start to finish. I like to post time lapse videos of my process every now and then, but I also thought I’d share more information about the tools I use to make my artwork:

1. Magazines

These are the main ingredient of my art. I like using fashion magazines since they’re full of patterns and bright colors. I also like using magazines like National Geographic when I work on landscapes.

2. Scissors

These are my tool of choice when I cut paper for my collages. I don’t ever use things like X-Acto knives, although I’ve heard of some collage artists who enjoy using them for cutting intricate pieces of paper.

3. Watercolor paper

I like using this as my support or the material I make my collages on. It’s lightweight enough that I can cut out pieces of a collage I’m working on – if it isn’t quite working out – and glue them down on another sheet of watercolor paper. It’s also durable enough that it can last for years.

4. Acid-free glue stickes

This is my adhesive of choice. I like using glue sticks when I’m working on a work in progress, since the glue isn’t completely permanent, and I can pull up previous pieces to undo any details that aren’t quite working.

5. Graphite pencils and erasers

Every collage I make begins as a sketch. It helps me map out my compositions so I can get a sense of how well a given idea will work. And erasers are necessary for when I need to redo parts of a sketch.

6. UV-protective varnish

When one of my pieces is finished, I’ll varnish it with a UV-protective varnish. Varnish helps seal the magazine strips in place, and gives them a more permanent adhesive than the glue sticks I use when the artwork isn’t quite complete. It also helps protect the paper from sunlight over time.

7. Archival frames

Whenever I frame my artwork, I like to use UV-protective glass and acid-free mats to help protect my artwork over time.  

Q & A: How Long Have You Been Making Collages?

Figure by collage artist Megan Coyle

I’ve been making collages ever since I was a kid. My first collage was made back when I was in middle school. Then for a few years, I continued to experiment with the medium. I had a tendency of working in a number of mediums and collage was simply another area I explored.

Writer's Block by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Writer’s Block” Mixed media on paper. 22″x14″
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By the time I was a senior in high school, I started exploring the process of cutting magazine strips while focusing on color and texture. Before then, my collages looked a lot more like what you think of when you think of traditional collage – where it’s obvious that the work of art was made from fragments of photographs.

Orange Girl by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Orange Girl” Collage and oil pastel on paper. 18″x12.5″
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My last year in high school was when I started painting with paper, where I manipulated paper in such a way that it mimicked the brushstrokes of a painting. I also had a habit of incorporating oil pastel with my collages, until a peer asked me why I was covering up all my hard work by drawing on top of it. When I realized I didn’t have a good answer for her, I decided I should focus on making collages entirely from paper.

Ali by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Ali” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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My senior thesis exhibition was my first cohesive body of work that was made entirely from paper. And since then, I’ve continued to hone and explore my craft. I have no idea how my art will evolve in the next ten years, and to me, that’s pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to my future artistic adventures.

Collages Inspired by my Family

Bill by collage artist Megan Coyle

Back when I was a senior in college, I created my first cohesive body of collage work where I made collages entirely from magazine strips. My senior thesis exhibition included a series of portraits, with several inspired by my family. At that time, I wasn’t interested in making portraits of famous or well-known figures, but figures that were well-known to me.

The image above is a collage, “Bill,” that was inspired by my father. I had taken a series of photographs of him and ended up working from a few reference images in order to complete his portrait. I wanted to make a portrait of my father because I’ve really appreciated how he’s influenced my interest in art. When I was a kid, I remember that he used to paint landscapes and still life scenes when we went on vacation. And over the years, he’s been an avid photographer.

Jean by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Jean.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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“Jean” is a portrait of my mother that was also part of my senior thesis exhibit. I remember that my mother’s portrait was a bit of a challenge because of all the details involved with the background – the windows, the bookshelf, the faint hint of color variation for the blinds, and of course, the detail of her shirt. Over the years, she’s worn many hats, one of which I’d like to think of as her counselor hat, being helpful in giving me advice in life. She seems a bit serious in this portrait, almost as though she’s about to impart some advice.

Bren by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Bren.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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“Bren” is a portrait of my brother. I’m realizing that he’s appeared in several of my figurative collages over the years. What can I say? My brother has always had a tendency of being great at making expressive faces. He is also pretty artistic, and growing up, I was inspired by the artwork he made. He studied animation back in college, and currently works as an animator/3d artist.

Ali by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Ali.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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“Ali” is a portrait of my cousin, who I like to say seems more like a sister to me than a cousin, simply because we spent so much time together when we were growing up. Like my brother, I feel like she can be pretty expressive, and she’s appeared in a couple of my portraits.

Scott by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Scott.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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“Scott” is a portrait of my cousin who passed away back when I was in high school. When I was in college, I really wanted to create a work of art in memory of him. I remember that I struggled with this portrait, since I really wanted to make sure I could capture his likeness. This portrait was also part of my senior thesis exhibition.

Boy with Dog by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Boy with Dog.” Collage on paper. 24″x18″
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After college, I started exploring different ways of tackling portraiture. “Boy with Dog” was one of my first pieces that looked at portraiture involving a person and a pet. This piece was also inspired by one of my younger cousins, Drew.

Sightseers by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Sightseers.” Collage on paper. 24″x18″
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Later, I started creating images where figures were interacting more with their surroundings. “Sightseers” is a piece that was inspired by my mother and brother when we were on the rooftop of a building in New York City, admiring the view.

The Hikers by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The Hikers.” Collage on paper. 24″x18″
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For several years, my family went to West Virginia for Thanksgiving. We’d rent a cabin, and it usually snowed at some point during our stay. “The Hikers” is inspired by the walks I’d occasionally take with my family in the snow. For this piece, I explored using more abstract shapes, as well as fragments from photographs of nature.

Snorkeling by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Snorkeling.” Collage on paper. 24″x18″
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Growing up, my family spent a few summers in Maine. Sometimes my brother and I would go snorkeling in the ocean, and since the water was always so cold, we’d wear wetsuits. “Snorkeling” was inspired by those summers spent snorkeling and exploring tide pools.

I have my family to thank for inspiring a lot of my earlier portraiture work. I actually haven’t explored figurative collages in a while, and I suppose you could say I’m well overdue for that. Perhaps I should turn to my family and friends again, and see how they can help inspire future works of art.

How my Art Portfolio Site Evolved

Megan Coyle's website

I studied painting and creative writing when I was in college. As an art major, I had a project to make a portfolio website for my artwork. And that’s how I got started with web development – I taught myself HTML, CSS, and JavaScript so I could have a functioning portfolio site.

Megan Coyle's previous version of her website

The first version of my portfolio site looked pretty terrible, but I was so proud that I figured out how to make it all on my own. I also liked how building the website was an art of its own. Above you can see that I made the header and navigational links collaged images. I later learned that using images for navigation isn’t very user-friendly, so I converted the navigation to text.

Megan Coyle's previous version of her website

Aside from teaching myself to code, and continuing to read articles on the subject, I also started taking classes in graphic design. I was hungry to make my website better, but I also wanted to make it look better too. I ended up creating a logo for my site, which you can see above. I suppose I was pretty proud that I designed the logo all on my own, that initially it was rather large in the header.

Megan Coyle's previous version of her website

For the next version of my site, I realized I needed to shrink the logo down more, and I started featuring more images of my work on the homepage. Once I had a better handle on the basic look and feel, I started building it out more.

In 2010, I put together an educational section with online lesson plans, since I noticed that students and teachers were contacting me every year with questions about my work. I wanted to make it easier for others to learn about my process and technique.

Megan Coyle's previous version of her website

I continued to play around with the overall look and feel, as well as making improvements to the user experience, like making the website responsive.

Megan Coyle's website

Earlier this year, I worked on redesigning my site once more. I even added an online store for purchasing my work directly from the site, to make things easier for users. I also redesigned the logo so it wouldn’t emphasize my collage work as much, which would open my work up to other mediums.

My site has come a long way. I’m proud that I’ve taught myself a number of things while going through the process of building it – such as learning about coding, web design, user experience design, and content creation. I’m so thankful that it’s easy to share artwork online – and by having a web presence, I’m able to reach people I never thought I’d be able to reach before.

Collages Inspired by the National Zoo

I’ve found a lot of inspiration from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Over the years, I’ve visited the zoo numerous times, and have taken lots of pictures of the animals in their different exhibits. I thought I’d share some images of the work I’ve made that was specifically inspired by some of the animals found at the National Zoo.

Red Ruffed Lemur by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Red Ruffed Lemur.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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I’m fascinated by lemurs, and think that the red ruffed lemur is a beautiful creature with colorful fur and bright eyes. When I was walking by the exhibit where this particular lemur lives, I just had to take a few pictures which later inspired this piece.

Fine Dining for Pandas by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Fine Dining for Pandas.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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Pandas are a lot of fun to collage. This collage was inspired by feeding time for the pandas, where one of the pandas was so engrossed with eating bamboo.

Tree Baby (Firefox) by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Tree Baby (Firefox).” Collage on paper. 16″x12″
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This collage was inspired by a day when one of the red pandas was pretty active, climbing around his or her home.

Cuddling Meerkats by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Cuddling Meerkats.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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Meerkats are one of my favorite animals. During one of my zoo visits, several of the meerkats were clumped together and looked like they were all cuddling with each other. I just had to take several pictures of them and use those images as references for this collage.

What Are You Looking At - orangutan - by collage artist Megan Coyle
“What Are You Looking At?” (Orangutan).
Collage on paper. 16″x12″
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It’s eerie how much orangutans look like people to me. They’re so expressive, and it seems like half the time I see them at the zoo, it’s difficult to tell who is really watching who.

Turtle that thinks she's a Giraffe by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Turtle that thinks she’s a Giraffe.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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During another zoo visit, I noticed a turtle that had an unusually long neck, and it reminded me of giraffes. From the turtle’s unusual appearance, I was inspired to make a piece modeled after that species.

Flamingo by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Flamingo” Collage on paper. 7″x5″
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I love how colorful flamingos are, and I always enjoy taking pictures of them to use as references for future works of art. I suppose I’m really drawn to their vivid pink feathers.

The Otter Sisters by collage artist Megan Coyle
“The Otter Sisters.” Collage on paper. 18″x24″
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I think otters are adorable and I always get excited when I see them at the zoo.

Animals are definitely one of my favorite subjects to collage. I love how they come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors. And I really appreciate that Washington, D.C. has a zoo that is so easily accessible to the public. Being able to visit the zoo frequently, makes it a lot easier for me to tackle my animal compositions.