Sunday, May 17, 2009


Collages are some of the easiest, most versatile, and thrifty crafts you can do with your kids. They can explore any theme; use up spare/leftover materials; or be totally freewheeling and fun. Of course, everyone knows how to make a collage, but sometimes you can get ideas from what other people have tried, so here goes...


These can be super simple (for toddlers just learning their shapes) or more involved (like tesselations). Last summer, we did these a lot. I'd cut out lots of squares and triangles and whatnot, and let Nora glue them all over black paper. She doesn't really make scenes with them yet (or, she didn't last summer), but older kids could use the shapes to make more representational things (sailboats, people, whatever).


(or, as Nora likes to think of it: Glue Extravaganza)

These usually require a heavier surface, like those papier mache boards from Michaels (shown above; 50 cents to one dollar each. I think I just made up how to spell "papier mache," too -- forgive me, I never took French). Now, it might seem like one should paint first and glue second, but when making a collage you can actually get some pretty cool effects by slopping glue and paint all together and then sticking various materials all over the surface. (Just make sure to wash your brushes promptly, or they will never recover.)

The collage at the top left of the first photo in this post is my favorite that Nora's ever made -- and one of the few I haven't let her give away or cut up to make something else. She's working on it in the picture below. Some tips for getting this layered look in a collage:

1) Use a heavy surface (like cardboard, canvas, or papier mache)

2) Stick to a limited palette. I gave Nora two paint colors: blue and red. (Usually, she would choose something like green, brown, and purple, which, to adults, just doesn't look too pretty. And usually I'd be cool with that, but we were making these for Christmas gifts, so I tried to sway her towards more complimentary colors.)

3) Supply materials with lots of different textures. We used lots of tissue paper and toothpicks. The tissue paper will become almost translucent on the glue-paint mixture, and dries almost like decoupage. You can crumple it up to make it 3-D, too.

4) Cover part of the project at a time for a layered effect. I learned this from an episode of Jon and Kate + 8, where they were making paintings on canvas. The artist who was helping them would cover parts of the painting with aluminum foil. That prevented the kids from turning the canvas into a single solid color, as kids sometimes like to do. The end results were amazing! (Again, I usually advocate giving kids total free reign with their creativity, but in that case they were painting canvases to hang on the wall, so they were more interested than usual in the final product.

Some great materials to keep on hand for collages include:

-- yarn -- scraps of fabric --tissue paper, in squares and crumpled -- newspaper -- strips of brown paper -- aluminum foil -- toothpicks -- Easter basket grass -- craft pasta --craft rice -- pom poms --craft feathers -- bits of sandpaper -- sponges -- glitter -- sequins --rubber bands -- magazine cutouts - - silk flowers, flower petals, or dried flowers and leaves -- sand, colored or plain -- ribbon -- stickers


-- Experiment with huge collages and tiny ones

-- Try theme collages. For example, supply your kids with magazine cutouts of various ocean animals; blue watercolor paints; a few seashells -- and let them make an ocean collage.

-- Try a collage bracelet. Use a strip of clear packing tape. Hold it for your child while s/he sticks various objects to it, and then wrap it around your child's wrist, sticky side out. It makes a charming, temporary bracelet! Nora made me one for Mother's Day, out of nature items -- dried leaves, flower petals, seeds -- and I wore it all day.

-- For great Christmas ornaments, buy a few of the papier mache or wooden shapes sold at Michael's. There are even round ones that make great Christmas balls. Have your child decorate them in a collaeg style; varnish them when dry. They are beautiful and make the best gifts!

-- Keep a collage box available for whenever the collage mood strikes. We have a box filled with two dozen or so Ziploc baggies. Each baggie contains a different collage material: feathers, pom poms, you name it. I just set the bin on the table for Nora and she'll whip up a collage whenever she's bored. And clean-up is easy; she can do it herself, because she just puts all of the leftover items back in their baggies and then puts the bin back in its cabinet.

-- Older kids can keep "collage journals" in spiral-bound notebooks or just on folded, stapled books of paper.

-- Used-up coloring books can be cut up to make collages.

-- To save a collage, cover it with a few light coats of spray varnish, and it will last a long time.

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