Collage Your Life

Techniques, Prompts, and Inspiration for Creative Self-Expression and Visual Storytelling


By Melanie Mowinski

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$29.95 CAD



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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 21, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Requiring minimal equipment–just scissors, glue, paper, and pens–collage is an accessible craft that offers limitless creative possibilities. Like meditation or journaling, making collage can be an avenue for self-reflection and artistic exploration. In Collage Your Life, artist and teacher Melanie Mowinski teaches a variety of core techniques including lettering, stamping, stenciling, transfers, and adhesive methods, and provides dozens of prompts to jumpstart the creative process and encourage crafters to explore the versatility of collage, such as: make a self-portrait; disrupt your routine instincts; incorporate text; assemble mementos from a trip; process anger or anxiety; collage with others; or try creating block-out poetry with pages from a magazine. Inspiring examples of the author's work along with that of other collage artists are featured throughout. Crafters, journaling fans, scrapbookers, and artists alike will find guidance and support for developing their own distinctive collage style, whether the goal is to create a visual record of daily experiences and special occasions or to expand a creative journaling practice.



What Do You Love?

Chapter 1: Build Your Materials

A good toolbox contains more than objects. Explore general tools and materials, plus the building blocks of design and composition, to get started.

Chapter 2: Develop Your Techniques

Collage extends beyond the actions of cutting and pasting. Learn basic collage methods plus how to mix other mediums into your collection of techniques.

Chapter 3: 55 Prompts to Jump-Start Your Practice

The heart of this book! Dive into this chapter for prompts and inspiration to nurture and develop your own voice.

Chapter 4: Create the Container

Learn how to construct different kinds of handmade books to showcase your collages.

Reading List



Featured Artists



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Share Your Experience!

ben lewis giles

What Do You Love?

What do you collect and save?

What materials speak to you?

Maybe you pick up feathers when you walk in the woods, paint chips at the hardware store, quotes from your favorite writers or influencers, images of circles, vintage boxes, and magazines, you know what I mean. Those pieces of ephemera that just have to be in your life.

ciara phelan

Perhaps you have piles of children's drawings and paintings, or birthday cards from your youth. Maybe they live in file folders or in a box. Possibly you have random scraps of things all over your house that you have always wanted to put together somehow. Maybe you want to use items (such as ticket stubs) to document significant occasions. Or as a chronicle of a momentous time in your life, or even just the days' events.

Let the ephemera you collect and love guide you to create. Doing so just might lead you to your own visual style. You might discover you like bold imagery on a muted background, or three dimensions paired with flat stylized shapes. You may like to include feathers or found objects in compositions, or decide that you only want to use the color green. Whatever it is, it is YOU.

I have categorized folders of papers from various periods of my life containing old letters, my childhood artwork, newspaper clippings, and more. And then there are the piles of magazine cutouts, file folder boxes of various categories, and boxes of groovy magazines and papers for random exploration. When I want to create a collage, looking through my complete collection of papers is overwhelming. Sometimes I choose a few pieces of paper from each of these collections at random as a starting point. Other times I begin with a prompt and search my collections for a specified amount of time. The point is just to start.

What you make doesn't matter.

All that matters is that you make something.

Maybe you are new to collage- and art-making and the thought of making something scares you. You are in the right place. Go where the fear takes you. And make something.

Maybe you are a seasoned collage- and art-making person but are looking for inspiration or a new direction. You are in the right place. Go where the open door leads you. And make something.

If you can make something and not care about it or be attached to it, even better. (Yes, this is hard!) Commit to making and being okay with "bad" art. When you show up consistently, put your judge in silent mode, and make something, the faucet of inspiration is more likely to turn on. Connections will become easier, and you will take more and more risks. Sometimes you will make something you like. Sometimes you won't. Like any kind of practice, you have to cultivate it to make it grow while also finding your peace with uncertainty and those compositions you don't like.

This book will guide you! We begin with a chapter that will help you develop a set of skills over time. This leads us into a chapter that will teach you techniques for turning the items you collect into collage form.

ben lewis giles

We will also explore the challenges of maintaining an art practice, as well as tips and tricks for overcoming those challenges. My goal is to encourage you along your creative path by offering suggestions for how to find ideas wherever you are in the world, in your life, and in your making journey.

Throughout the book there are sample collages, examples from outside artists, and prompts—but remember all of those are simply ideas. Use this book to help you discover what you love to make.

To get us started, let's think about the myriad ways to weave your collections into a collage practice. Some may draw on a specific medium and technique, others may derive from the elements and principles of design, narrative, momentous moments, and more. Perhaps you want to use collage in your journal as a way to organize your ephemera. Or maybe you've read about commonplace books—one of the earliest forms of scrapbooking—and you want to make your own as a way to collect all these things you love. As you might imagine, the list is endless. Our hope is that you will use this book as a springboard to your own making. We won't cover everything in these pages, but we will get you started. In Chapter 3, some of the prompts and techniques will help you explore different ways of working. Take a dip into that chapter, and let yourself be inspired.

I make a letterpress card that says "Practice Takes Practice." Anyone who commits to daily exercise, yoga, making, or anything that involves skill knows this to be true. Developing a practice takes commitment, which means regular, focused attention on continual skill refinement. It's never a perfect process. There will be ups and downs and setbacks, as well as "Aha!" moments and breakthroughs. This book is designed to help you establish an art practice that reflects what you love through the materials and techniques you use, and the projects, prompts, and sources of inspiration you choose.

Come along with me; I'll give you pep talks and encouragement along the way. You can do this.

All it takes is practice.

chapter 1Build Your Materials

Every artist develops their box of tools over time. Most collage artists begin with a pair of scissors, some glue, and a stack of paper. Other tools get added when needed. As you dive deeper into the collage process, you might want a tool for cutting fine lines and perfect circles or maybe something to smooth out air bubbles on glued paper. You'll discover pretty quickly that collage-making can involve as many or as few tools as you like. However, a good toolbox contains more than objects. Let's explore.

amy duncan

General Tools

The following tools are those that I think every collage artist should have in their toolbox, since you'll use them constantly.

Scissors. There are scissors for every kind of cutting job. Large ones for big, bold, rough cuts and tiny ones for small pieces of paper or details—plus several in between. You can find scissors with wavy, zigzag, or other kinds of patterns in most scrapbooking supply stores. Add scissors to your tool collection as your work dictates.

Other cutting tools. Keep a variety of craft knives (I like X-Acto knives and #11 blades) ready for detail cuts, among other kinds of cutting work. An X-Acto knife with a mini-flashlight near the tip helps you to see the detail work, while Olfa brand snap-off blade utility knives work well for cutting substrates (or base layers) and thicker materials. Use anything that can help systemize and ease your cutting, including circle cutters and punches. Always keep extra blades on hand, too. Accidents are more likely to happen with dull blades.

Cutting mat. All cutting should be done on a self-healing cutting mat, if possible. Use a large one as a placemat on your worktable, plus have a few smaller cutting mats ready to slip into place as needed. Use them not only to protect your work surface, but also as measuring devices. Most come with grid lines, which you can use to help you make both rough and precision cuts. In a pinch, you can substitute cardboard from any kind of box for a cutting mat. The cardboard backing on pads of newsprint, drawing, and other kinds of paper is perfect for this.

Rulers. Rulers of all lengths are useful. Always keep a short (6-inch) and a long (18-inch) ruler in your toolbox. In addition, 12-, 24-, and 36-inch rulers can be helpful. Choose rulers that have centimeters and inches, because sometimes centimeters are easier to work with. When you're cutting with a craft knife, it's best to use a metal or metal-edged ruler, since plastic and wood can get nicked by the blade, ruining the ruler for drawing straight lines. If your metal ruler has a cork bottom, for precision cutting it's better to flip that faceup so your blade doesn't slip underneath the ruler.

Timer. Using a timer challenges you to complete your work in a designated amount of time. This can be useful when you don't have a lot of time to work and you need to be mindful. It also can be especially valuable if you struggle to make creative decisions. A timer can be analog or digital. If you are trying to limit screen time, definitely get yourself an analog timer.

Bone folders. Bone folders (shown above, to the right of the long rulers)are used by bookbinders to score and crease folds. Collage artists use bone folders to smooth out paper and banish air bubbles. Although these tools were originally made from bone, the name bone folder is misleading because now many are made from plastic, horn, and Teflon. While Teflon folders are more expensive than bone or plastic folders, they perform the best. Glue never sticks to Teflon folders, they don't mar the paper, and the action is very smooth when you use them to burnish, smooth out air bubbles, or work to commit your adhesive. Bone folders come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Compass. Drafting compasses let you make circles easily. Maybe you want to mix mediums and create outlines for a circle to paint or you need to cut out a circle—if circle perfection appeals to you, keep a compass in your toolbox.

Brushes are important for applying both paint and adhesive. Never use the same brush for both mediums, though. Stiffer brushes work well for most glues, and short brushes work well for general adhesive, but you should have a variety of brush sizes to use depending on the job. For painting, sable brushes are the best. For stenciling, choose brushes with short, firmly packed bristles. If you really dive into stenciling, get a few brushes in varying widths. Keep some water brush pens on hand, too (I like Niji).

Markers, pens, and pencils come in a wide range of mediums, tips, colors, and more. Choose what you love.

Other Tools

In addition to the above-mentioned tools, which you'll use frequently, here are several items that you'll probably find helpful but most likely won't use every time you sit down to make a collage.

Templates such as circles, arrows, and boxes are readily available in a range of sizes and are a great alternative to a compass.

Versa-Tool is a type of woodburning tool with knife attachments. You plug in the tool to heat the blade, making it easy to cut out stencils from Mylar and other plastic-like stenciling materials. When you use a Versa-Tool you'll need a piece of glass for your cutting surface so you don't burn a hole in your cutting mat.

Stencils can be purchased or you can make your own from transparencies, stencil film, or thin cardboard. You can even use shapes from magazines, found objects, and more as stencils.

Stamps and stamp pads can be used to add predesigned generic imagery and text to your collage. Pair the stamps with a dye or with a pigment-based stamp pad, which tends to be water-resistant and lightfast. You can also carve your own stamps from corks, erasers, and other materials, including E-Z-Cut printing blocks.


Materials can range from paper you collect throughout your day or find in your recycling box to high-end fancy papers, vintage magazines, and more. What kinds of papers call to you?

rosemary rae


A substrate is the base layer for any collage and can range from medium-heavy papers such as Bristol board and printmaking papers to cardboard, Davey board, or other materials. Choose a substrate to support the mediums you will be using to create your collage. If you intend to use only paper, you'll likely be fine with a heavy paper substrate. The more layers, materials, and mediums you use in your collage, the stronger the substrate you'll need. As you experiment, you may want to try using canvas panels, hardboard or plywood, or even painting panels as substrates. Really, everything is fair game. Experiment and test whenever in doubt. Here are some of the most common substrates.

Medium- to heavyweight papers are what most of the collages in this book were built on. Use found or purchased papers—aim for paper weight that is 80 lb. or heavier. Bristol board, manila envelopes, some magazine covers, index cards, card stock, printmaking papers, and watercolor papers are all good options for medium- or heavyweight paper.

Cardboard can be found everywhere, especially in things that might otherwise end up in your recycling bin. Corrugated cardboard works especially well for book covers.

Davey board comes in a variety of thicknesses and is used primarily by bookbinders. It works well as a substrate for heavier mediums.

Mat board also comes in a variety of thicknesses. Sometimes offcuts are available from framing stores for a good deal.

Did You Know?

Weight is the term that describes the thickness of paper. Regular writing papers, or text-weight papers, can come in weights of 24 lb., 28 lb., 32 lb., and 44 lb., while medium- to heavyweight papers can come in weights of 80 lb., 100 lb., and 130 lb. and are often called cover-weight paper or card stock. The number is determined by the "basis weight" of 500 sheets, or a ream, of that type of paper in its original, uncut form.

Substrates come in a variety of colors, textures, and thicknesses. Here are just a few options: A) mat board; B) cardboard; C) found cardboard; D) plywood; E) canvas board; F) newsprint; G) card stock; H) manila file folder; I) Davey board; J) various printmaking and watercolor papers; and K) date book.


Gathering papers for collage-making can be just as much fun as making the collages. Much of it starts with you and what your interests are. This is where your collections of ephemera, papers, notes, and other things come in handy. You can also make rules for yourself, such as you aren't allowed to purchase any papers; they all must be found. Or maybe you only use National Geographic magazines. Whatever you decide, let your you shine.

Let the collector in you shine!

In addition to being classified by weight, paper can also be classified by surface, usage, or even brightness and opacity. Try to become familiar with paper terms and categories so you will have a better idea of which paper will be best for the job you want it to do. Below are some examples of the many kinds of paper you can use.

Transparent papers: sewing patterns, some handmade papers, tracing paper, and tissue paper.

Colored papers: construction paper, colored pages from magazines, Color-aid paper, and found papers. Organize them by color so they're ready when needed.

Paste paper and other painted papers: Paint papers yourself using pigmented paste, acrylics, watercolors, or inks.

jacinta bunnell

Handmade papers: all kinds of weights, patterns, and thicknesses. Dive in and explore.

Magazine papers: magazines, catalogs, and brochures. You never know where you will find inspiration.

Vintage papers: postcards, magazines, letters, and drawings from kids (either from your own childhood or, if you have kids, your children's drawings)

Text papers: headlines, paragraphs, and words on paper. Cut out text that speaks to you, and keep your cutouts in an envelope or file for future use.

Found papers: receipts from the post office (or heck, from anywhere), ticket stubs, insides of security envelopes. Paper waits for you everywhere.

Waste papers: old telephone books, catalogs, magazines. All of these can become waste papers. One of the really great things about using a multipage document is when you flip the page, you have a new work surface.

Other Materials

Throughout this book, we will explore a variety of collage-making techniques, ranging from how to apply adhesives and use a bone folder to incorporating mixed mediums into your compositions. You will use many of the materials below in your collages.

Washi tape is tape made from Japanese rice paper. It is similar to masking tape but is available in a variety of widths, textures, patterns, and colors.

Gesso is a primer for canvas that is typically used to make a surface less porous. In this book we hack gesso and use it instead as a medium for stenciling, masking, and neutralizing papers. Gesso is usually white but also comes in black. Both create an opaque surface when dry.

Packing tape


  • “With sharp scissors—and an even sharper imagination—Melanie Mowinski shows us that the joy of collage comes from nurtured serendipity and playful hands-on experimentation.” — Janine Vangool, editor of UPPERCASE magazine
    “In Collage Your Life, Melanie Mowinski demonstrates how expansive the artform can be, and how the portal to discovering its magnitude includes sincere presence and observation. The book's thorough presentation of methods and prompts will lead readers to varied and compelling paths of expression through the wondrous world of collage.” — Jenny Doh, artist and former Editor-in-Chief, Somerset Studio

    " This is an excellent introduction to collage for crafty dabblers and experienced artists alike. Those who do not consider themselves artistic at all may also be inspired to try this forgiving medium, which has low barriers in regard to time, money, and skill. Mowinski’s instructions and encouragement easily convince the reader that they, too, can create collages. There is an overview of tools and techniques, a brief discussion of artistic principles and design elements, and simple instructions. A large portion of the book is the “55 Prompts to Jump-Start Your Practice” section, which provides ideas when inspiration is lacking. Each prompt has a brief introduction and a short list of instructions. Peppered throughout the prompts are statements and examples from several collage artists. In addition, collages created by other artists (all credited) are located throughout the book. There are also instructions for several bookbinding techniques. Wide-ranging reading and resources lists finish out the book.
    VERDICT Highly recommended for public libraries. This will appeal to anyone interested in scrapbooking, bullet or art journaling, bookmaking, printmaking, as well as anyone looking for a creative outlet who thinks they aren’t artistically talented." —  Library Journal, starred review

On Sale
Jun 21, 2022
Page Count
224 pages

Melanie Mowinski

About the Author

Melanie Mowinski is a professor of art at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and founder of PRESS: Letterpress as a Public Art Project. She has maintained a daily practice of collage and creating with paper for more than 10 years. Her artist books are part of special collections at the American Library at the Smithsonian, Haas Arts Library at Yale University, and the Tate Modern Museum of Art in London. She lives in Williamstown, MA. 

Learn more about this author