Updated: Jan 20
Who doesn't love art supplies?! Working in collage & mixed media gives me the opportunity to fiddle around with all sorts of fun stuff. Here are my absolute must-haves for collage and some tools that I use every day.
*see resources & links at the bottom of this post
#1 Mat Board Corners (Cropping Guide)
Okay, so this is more of a tool than an art supply, but I wouldn't be able to make art without it, so I feel it worthy of this list.
I use a picture mat (cut in 2) to zoom in on my art & isolate a particular area without all of the distracting surrounding areas. This really helps me see composition, find the areas I like, or hone in on what might need improvement.
I have another mat (uncut) that I use as a viewfinder when I want to step back and take a look at my art just by itself.
It's easy to make your own. Take a regular picture mat (with a cutout for a photo) & cut on the dotted lines shown below. VOILA!
I have them in a few sizes, from about 5" to 14" but the one I use the most is cut from a 10x10" mat. It does not have to be square format, a 5x7" or 8x10" will work perfectly. You can easily find them at Walmart, Michaels, Staples, London Drugs, etc.
You can also use a plain old piece of paper or cardboard. White works best, but if you already have one in another shade, just paint it white or glue some paper over it.
#2 Acrylic Medium
I use Liquitex Professional Gloss Medium. It's too expensive, but I love it.
If you're not familiar with mediums, think of them as colourless paint. All acrylic paints have a binder with pigment. Mediums are just the binder without any colour added (not an actual scientific fact, just my take on it).
Medium works perfectly as glue for collage. It is also used for different painting effects; to create a glaze, thin paints, as an isolation coat, and to bring out the brilliance in paint colours (if you use gloss).
I also apply a thin coat as varnish for finished artwork, my preference is to mix it with matte medium to knock back the glare, just a bit.
I could probably write a whole post about different glues to use with collage, but I also want to mention that if you're just starting out with collage and don't want to spend a fortune up front, I personally know an incredible artist in New York who uses a glue stick & dollar store paint.
Don't get caught up in the details...make art with what's available, and upgrade as you go!
"If someone tells you that you have enough art supplies and you don't need anymore, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life" – artists everywhere
#3 Collage Papers/Ephemera
There's no end to the amount of paper that is available to us all!
old math & writing assignments from my kids' past school years
anything written in a foreign language
You'll quickly find the hardest part of having a lot of paper supplies is deciding how to organize them. Currently, I'm using one of those expandable folders categorized by colour. This works well for larger papers, but not so well for the little bits & bobs.
I keep those in small recycled plastic containers on my art table. I have a mental rule about only keeping pieces that are larger than a business card, but I. break. it. constantly.
#4 Acrylic Paints
I don't have a brand that I'm loyal to, although I know many prefer either Golden or Liquitex. Up until a few years ago, I didn't mix my own colours and still have lots of craft paints which I use for my smaller pieces.
For larger work, I'm currently using a set of Castle Arts paint that I purchased a year ago. Very buttery texture and lovely rich colour.
I found out early that buying white paint is a huge cost, especially if you use it a lot, as I do. After having run out one day in the middle of a painting session, I grabbed the leftover can of white paint we used for our living room walls and haven't looked back since! This has been a huge money saver and I use it by itself or mixed in with my artist paints.
#5 Mark Making & Pattern Tools
I love to incorporate my own distinct marks either directly to the surface or by making collage papers for future artwork.
In addition to rubber stamps & stencils, I use a variety of common items found around the house. You'd be surprised at what kind of objects can make interesting patterns:
wine corks (as dots or carved) with ink pads or paint
toilet paper tubes for making circles & other shapes
gift cards for scraping paint, making lines
screwdriver/pencil for scratching, writing, drawing into wet paint
rubber spatula for spreading paint
metal spatula (the kind you use to patch nail holes in your walls)
fingers! for painting, fingerprints, smearing...will make you feel like a kid again!
#6 Oil Pastels
Oil pastels are a current obsession of mine, I love how they feel when you use them to doodle overtop collage or paint. Or I use them underneath a thick coat of paint and then scratch away revealing bits of colour underneath.
Inexpensive sets can be found on Amazon and art stores, the key is to search out 'oil' pastels (they are different from chalk pastels). There are professional oil pastels as well, but for my purposes, the less expensive kind works just fine. Many artists swear by Sennelier for a very rich, creamy pigment.
Unless you are using them as your primary media, I would invest in a small set. These things last forever!
Tiny tip...crayons & china markers also work excellent and give a similar look in mixed media.
Red oil pastel layered w/paint Sennelier Oil Pastels
#7 Vine Charcoal
This is a very soft & thin twiggy charcoal that breaks easily but feels oh-so-nice to draw with. I have used it with paint & collage and just love the buttery feel. I haven't tried using a spray fixative yet. So for now, I just play with them, but they smudge & don't react well to gloss medium.
I've read that hairspray works great as a fixative but can yellow over time. Plus the thought of using hairspray sounds weird, right?
#8 Used Books
Really one of the cheapest of all collage materials easily available. I buy them for the colour of the pages, sometimes for the text itself with poetry books and foreign language.
You can find musical notes, maps, picture books, dictionaries; one of my current loves is a Japanese poetry book (see it used in the artwork above).
I have also used book pages as a surface for collage & mixed media. Way cheaper than watercolour paper and feels very non-serious so there's no fear of messing it up! (It's also truly fun to tear up an old book, feels defiant!).
#9 Tissue paper
I use tissue in my artwork for the effect it has on top of previous layers. I find white tissue useful to 'knock back' an area if I feel the area or pattern underneath is too strong.
I also have a great love for sewing pattern tissue. The kraft brown immediately gives me a feeling of childhood nostalgia. My mother used to sew and I was always so fascinated with the paper templates that unfolded into huge patterns. The colour has become a neutral tone for me, it goes with just about everything.
Oh, one more way I use tissue...You know those paper hats that come with Christmas crackers? The scallop patterns are irresistible to me.
Some tissues 'bleed' onto your surface which drives me crazy. I immediately get rid of the offender if I catch it in my stash. If you're unsure, try a scrap piece first!
#10 Card Scraper
A what? You know, like an old gift card, bank card, etc. I have at least 10 of them and use them to scrape (gently!) over collage papers as I'm gluing. I've found it to be the easiest way to get rid of wrinkles & bubbles.
They make great marks when dragging through wet paint. You can also apply paint to just the edge of the card & use it to stamp a line onto your artwork.
A really versatile tool and easy to come by!
#11 Black India Ink
I have found nothing darker or blacker than India Ink. It can be diluted with water to make many different shades of grey & also drips beautifully.
Inks generally belong to two categories: waterproof (or water-resistant) and non-waterproof. If you will be layering other water-based media such as acrylics or watercolours, use waterproof. Ink can also be 'fixed' to prevent smudging.
So there you have it, my top 11 favourite art supplies! Your turn! Leave a comment & let me know what you can't live without in your artmaking and how you use your materials!
Resources & Links
*note: I attach amazon links for quick reference, I am not an affiliate and always recommend you buy local if you can!
Art before dishes...