When I started working with mixed media collage, I bought everything I could lay my hands on, spending a small fortune on every shiny and fun thing, every product mentioned in books (and blog posts!), and inevitably found that I used only a handful of these supplies on a regular basis. To an extent I think this is unavoidable as you find your individual style and what works best for you.
In this post I’m going to give you a rundown of the various supplies and tools that work for me, just to give you an idea of my basic toolkit. Yours will be different, and that’s as it should be, but hopefully this will provide a handy overview for anyone who is a relative newcomer to the wonderful world of mixed media collage.
The one question I get asked more than any other is, ‘What glue do you use?’ For a collage artist, finding the perfect glue is crucial, for obvious reasons. There is a bewildering choice, and it’s easy to spend money on supplies that don’t work for you, but the chances are you’ll have to experiment with several different brands and types before you hit upon the one(s) you like best. I know many people like to use a basic glue stick, and UHU gets very good reviews, but my personal go-to glues are Yes! Paste and Mod Podge (matte).
There’s a Mod Podge formula for every occasion; this handy guide explains the differences and uses of each type.
I found out about Yes! paste when reading this book, which I would recommend highly and will be talking about a lot on this blog because it’s Just.So .Good! The Yes! paste has two major plus points: it will stick down heavy objects, and you can use it stick down papers without them wrinkling. It’s quite thick, which can make it difficult to work with, but you can mix it with a few drops of warm water to get the consistency you want.
If I don’t care about the papers wrinkling (and I do like texture, so a few wrinkles are fine by me) I use the Mod Podge, which is a good all-rounder with other uses apart from gluing stuff down. I often use it as a final coat sealer on my collaged board books.
For applying the glue, I use brushes like those in the set (below) from Tesco, intended for children and perfectly adequate. This set costs about £3 so it’s not a disaster when one of them gives up the ghost.
Because I’m not primarily a painter, I don’t spend a great deal of money on paintbrushes. I often use a gel plate to apply paint and sometimes fingers, so I have only a small selection of brushes, which I bought cheaply from The Works for those rare occasions when I want to apply paint with a brush.
Make up sponges are also incredibly useful for applying paint. I buy small wedge-shaped ones that come in bags of 5 or 6 and reuse them till they fall apart. They’re particularly good for applying paint through a stencil.
I use a lot of acrylic paint in my work, although that’s not always obvious as it tends to get covered up with collage elements. Nevertheless, paint is something I consider an essential supply. I use acrylic paint for its versatility. At the outset I bought all the colours I could lay my hands on, but now I know the range of colours that suit my work and stick to buying a core set of 4 or 5 colours. I use the Winsor & Newton Galeria range, which is good quality but affordable.
A tube or pot of white gesso is another of my must-haves. I use it as an undercoat on my altered board books and to blank out parts of compositions (sometimes whole compositions) when they go wrong. My favourite is the Pebeo gesso which comes in a squeezy tube, but I’m currently using a £5 tub from The Works.
When I discovered the Mini Ink Pads in the Tim Holtz ‘Distress’ range, I went overboard and bought several sets. Eventually I realised that I only used 2 or 3 of them on a regular basis (Black Soot, Walnut Stain and Vintage Photo). I use these in tandem with rubber stamps. I have a dizzying number of these, but the ones I use more than any other are the ones I bought many years ago from Traci Bunkers’ online shop. She sells unmounted sheets of stamps although not, alas, any of the sets I purchased. You can buy different sized reusable acrylic blocks to mount rubber stamps, which is a cheaper option than buying mounted stamps, particularly if you’re not sure how much you’ll use them. I’m much the same with stencils: I have loads but tend to use the same one or two. Again, you can pick up stencils quite cheaply, for example on eBay.
I use acrylic ink to splatter onto my work, and stick with the two colours that I know work for me, black and sepia.
Whatever your style, you might want to consider buying a gel plate. These have multiple uses and I’d recommend exploring the different techniques you can achieve with them. I have a large Gelli plate and a smaller Gel Press plate. I tend to use the latter one more often due to the small scale of my work. Gel Press are a bit cheaper and I haven’t noticed any difference in quality between the two, both of which I’ve had for several years.
Other mark-making tools I use regularly are pastel pencils and Caran d’Ache Neocolor II crayons. You can buy these individually for a couple of quid, which is a good way of finding out whether or not you enjoy using them.
I don’t always seal my work, and when I do I will either use Mod Podge or a spray sealer. I’m currently using the Winsor & Newton General Purpose Matte Varnish Spray as I can no longer find my preferred spray sealer, but I’m preferring the Winsor & Newton one because it doesn’t mark the artwork. If you want to varnish your work, do shop around and read reviews, as some of them can turn your work yellow after time.
I would also recommend buying a decent craft knife and a self-healing cutting mat and, particularly if you fancy using a gel plate, a rubber brayer. The other piece of kit I wouldn’t be without is a metal ruler, which is really useful for cutting papers to size without having a neat scissor-line, but if you want to do ‘fussy cutting’ then you’ll need a good pair of small, sharp scissors.
I hope you’ll find something of use in this post, and do let me know if you have any must-have supplies of your own you’d recommend to other artists.
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