Why collage-making helps you to develop your art

Why collage-making helps you to develop your art


Why collage-making helps you grow your art


I love making art with nothing else but brushes and paint, but I also like to include glue and scissors in the art-making process. Making collages is fun to do. You can do it in a very limited time, and it helps to develop your sense of composition.

The word ‘collage’ comes from the French verb ‘coller,’ which means ‘to glue.’ In collage, you take scraps of ‘something’ and glue them on a substrate. Usually those scraps are made from paper, but of course, you can use anything that you find around the house. Think about rubber bands, toothpicks, plastic, wool or cloth. Get creative, and use whatever you like!

I have made a lot of postcard-size collages lately. I first paint my own collage papers and use black tissue paper, crayons and Indian ink next to that.

The fun thing about making collages is that you split the art-making process in two. You divide the free and unstrained expression of abstract painting from the more conscious process of creating a beautiful composition. I’ll explain.


Making collage papers

If you make your own collage papers, you can try out everything you like. You can play around with paint; make textures and layers with all sorts of materials; scratch with pencils and markers and try out new colors. Practically, you can do whatever you like. You are free as a bird!

Playing around like this, you develop your creative muscles and get used to fearless painting. You don’t have to think about a final product yet which makes it easy to stay in the now, which, in my opinion, is a prerequisite for making lively art.


Glueing the scraps

Once you have created a collection of collage papers, a very enjoyable process starts. You can tear or cut the papers into pieces; move them quickly and intuitively around on a piece of cardboard and, when you like a particular scrap in a specific place, glue it on the cardboard. I use scraps of black tissue paper too which makes a beautiful contrast with the collage papers.

When you move the scraps around on the cardboard, you learn a lot about composition. Most importantly, you learn it by your intuition rather than from a textbook about composition or so. You can feel in your body when it ‘clicks’ and when the collage is coming together. These signs might be very faint in the beginning, but the more collages you make and the more experienced you get, the stronger these signs will become.

At last, you can add a final layer with mark-making tools. I often use Caran d’Ache Neocolor II crayons and Indian Ink to create final marks or scratches.

You can make tons and tons of postcards like this. It is fun and only costs ten minutes or less to make one. This way you can start or sustain a creative practice in a busy life without much trouble while you also develop your artistic freedom and eye for composition along the way.




Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator



Below you’ll find a photo of a recent piece of collage paper and a few postcards that I made from scraps of this piece.


Let me know below in the comments what your experiences with collage are, and if you feel like it, show the results of your experiments in the ArtNow Community! (It’s free, and you are more than welcome!)



God is in the details: Found Composition vs Intentional Composition

God is in the details: Found Composition vs Intentional Composition

God is in the details: Found Composition versus Intentional Composition.


There is a beautiful expression: ‘God is in the details.’ I love that one.

Every day after I make a new painting, I first photograph it. Next, I make a photograph of one or more details of it. Doing so is one of the most fun moments of the day. I love to go over the painting, see what part catches my eye the most, and make a photograph of it. I use this photo as a ‘featured image’ in WordPress, i.e., the photo that shows up on top of the blog page. Also, the photo above this blog post is such a detail. As you probably have noticed; photos of details are spread all over my website.


A painting within a painting

My friend Dotty Seiter once coined a beautiful expression for that. She calls it a ‘found’ or ‘volunteer’ composition (versus the … composition that you intentionally or deliberately make while painting). Another painter that I admire (Claire Desjardins, check out her amazing colorful artwork), calls it ‘a painting within a painting.’ I love to think about the details that way.


You always can find a nice detail

Sometimes the composition of a painting is not that great, but it is almost always possible to find a beautiful detail with good composition. Sometimes I like the photo of the detail even more than the painting itself. For instance, this study below did not turn out that well, but I loved the detail, which is satisfying.

You learn

Photographing your photos is fun, but besides that, I believe you can learn a lot from it. Because you are searching through the lens of your camera for beautiful details, you start seeing when a composition comes together. You become aware when you have this aha-moment: ‘Now it feels good.’

Sometimes this is very tricky. One millimeter to the right can draw the whole composition out of balance. You can’t always reason that but, if you listen closely, your body tells you when a piece comes together or falls apart.


Photography makes it easy

Because you can make multiple photographs of different details of the painting, there are plenty of possibilities to practice the art of composition. Using photography makes this very easy. When you are painting, it can be difficult to change the direction of the composition. By contrast, when you are making photographs, this is so much easier. You can try out as much as you want, and quickly delete the photos that don’t turn out well.


What do you like in your composition?

As I said, you can feel in your body when a composition falls into place, and after that, you can start to analyze why that is so. What makes you like this composition that much? It is very personal.

For instance, this is what I like in my details:

  • Both black and white are visible in the painting. Technically speaking, the most extreme values are present.
  • The colors contrast. For instance, when I use orange on a blue surface, those colors pop, which make the detail exciting.
  • There are lots of tiny textured details present. For instance, small scratches or thin pencil-lines. Because you make a close-up, those small details get extra attention.
  • There is ‘quiet space.’. What I mean is that not all of the painting is filled with visual elements like different lines, shapes, colors, etcetera, but there is some emptiness or simplicity, too.


Transport your findings

When you analyze your detailed photographs, you start to see what you like and what you miss in the composition of your paintings. Then you can transport your findings to your painting practice and implement them there.

For instance, I realized that I often implement nr. 1, 2 and 3 in my paintings, but I tend to neglect nr. 4. This realization gives me an interesting challenge. I can play with adding more empty space in my paintings, and see how things turn out.


Give yourself an assignment

You can do this very deliberately and give yourself a specific assignment. For example, ‘create at least one-third of empty space in this painting.’ This way you force yourself out of your usual routines, which can be very instructional.


Or let things develop organically

But if you don’t like that, or if you are a more intuitive painter, you can let things develop organically instead. Implementing your findings does not have to be a very cognitive process. When you start to see what you like and do not like in your details, you develop a certain awareness. When you paint, you can forget about everything, and paint without thinking or analyzing. Your don’t need to force yourself. Your new awareness has become part of you, so it will automatically show up in your paintings.


Start photographing

I hope you are inspired to start photographing details of your artwork too! If you haven’t painted yet, you can start anyway. Just take some magazines or newspapers, and look for interesting details. And you can of course also photograph small details in the world around you. If you watch closely, beauty is everywhere.


How do you treat your details? Let me know in the comments!





Because I like photographing details so much, I decided to create free downloadable art-cards of them. You can find them here. Enjoy!



Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

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Zentangles as a basis for abstract intuitive painting

Zentangles as a basis for abstract intuitive painting

Zentangles as a basis for abstract intuitive painting


In this blog post, I will tell you about the inspiration I found in the Classic Zentangle, and how it became the starting point for the Free and the Extra Free Zentangle, and for abstract, intuitive painting in general.


It all started last night when I could not sleep.

I had done The Forbidden Thing: I worked on my computer until 10 o’clock in the evening. Staring at the blue screen, clicking around, switching tabs, comparing designs, as if I did not know anything about the detrimental effect that working late behind a computer has on your sleep.

But: I was so excited about the design of my new website that I couldn’t stop working on it, and since there was no sweet husband at home who just would turn the WiFi off and tell me to go to bed, I just worked on until I heard him coming back.

So when I could not sleep that night, I was not surprised. I knew it was completely my fault, and after half an hour of lying awake, I went down to make a cup of tea.

Looking around for something non-stimulating to read, I bumped into a book about Zentangles that I had borrowed for my 11-year-old son. In the summer vacation, he had played around with a fine marker. There he had made drawings that looked like Zentangles, so I thought he might like getting some inspiration from this book.


Zentangling as meditation

When I looked in the book, I found out that there is a whole culture around these intricate graphic paintings. All kinds of predefined patterns exist, they even have beautiful and exotic names like Crescent Moon, Shattuck, Nipa, Betweed, Cruffle, Poke Root, Verdigogh, Btl Joos, Flux and Zander.

Moreover, Zentangles are supposed to be meditative and to draw you into the Now. They get you out of your head and into the simple movement of the pen on paper, letting the pattern arise – without too much thinking.

The writer of the book even claims that by regularly tangling your life gets more balanced. You can handle the daily chaos that most of us live in more easily and create harmony in your life.


The Free Zentangle

My aspirations were not so high that night though. I just wanted to sleep! I thought making a Zentangle would be the perfect thing to settle down, and help my chattering mind to become silent.

But: to be honest, I became a little bit recalcitrant by the predefined patterns and the slightly ‘kitch’ examples in the book.

So I thought: why not make up a Free Zentangle myself? Not use the prescribed patterns, but just the images that exist in my head. While still being true to the philosophy of the Zentangle by letting the shapes arise by themselves, simply focusing on the process of moving the marker over the paper.

Probably I widened the concept of a Zentangle much too far by not using patterns, but: who cares! In abstract art making, there are no rules and regulations, and you can get inspired by anything around you.


The framework for Zentangles

From the book I learned that the Classic Zentangle is about 3,5” square – that is 9 cm square. You start by drawing this square as a framework, divide it into parts, and start filling them with patterns.

I liked the idea of making a framework, so I took that as a starting point. I took a simple marker that I also use for writing, and I started to draw. No thinking, just following my impulse.

All kinds of imagery arose on the paper. Mostly shapes that I recognise from my other paintings, but also new ones. Some look like animals or sea-creatures. Some are just abstract shapes. I loved doing it, and I also liked the drawings that came out of the process. I found them beautiful and funny.


Here they are:


After that, I went to bed, and indeed: I fell asleep!


The Very Free Zentangle

The morning after my nightly Zen-adventure, I thought: ‘Why not take the idea of a Free Zentangle a bit further, and create an Extra Free Zentangle?’

So I took Indian Ink, an ink pen, and a tiny brush. I made the same square frameworks as the night before and started to create lines and shapes.

This time I worked much more expressive. I did not care so much about staying within the lines. Moreover, I did not only used them as a border but also as part of the composition.

An ink pen is not as easily controllable as a marker, or better said: the ink pen gives you the possibility to make lines that are more alive. Sometimes they are thick, sometimes thin, sometimes wild, sometimes refined.

You can make bigger stain-like marks if you turn the ink pen around and wipe the Indian Ink on the paper with the upper side of the pen. And you can splash ink drops on the paper shaking the pen. All those possibilities make the ink pen a much more expressive tool than a marker.

Next, I used a small, very cheap and hard brush, which I dipped into the ink, and made even bigger marks and stains with it. They made a nice contrast with the finer ink pen lines and stains.

Here you find the three Extra Free Zentangles that I made:

The Classic Zentangle

To conclude my whole Zentangle adventure, I decided to honor the Classic Zentangle, and make one myself.

I liked that very much! It was fun to sit down and play with patterns and let myself drawn into the process of making small marks on paper.

I did not care about the examples in the book – making them would need thinking! So I just patterned along by myself – which is not too difficult if you have finished kindergarten. It indeed got me out of my head, since the patterns are so simple that I had nothing to think about.

Here it is:


Part of a daily practice

I think Zentangling can be a perfect part of a daily creative practice. When you feel particularly uninspired, or have little time or limited materials by hand, making a Classic Zentangle is a beautiful idea.

It can stand on itself, but it can also be a perfect starter for a Free or an ExtraFree Zentangle. Or for an entirely other kind of painting or drawing.

I hope you feel inspired to start tangling yourself – Classic, Free or Extra Free. Get out of your head, into the Now, and have fun!


Let me know about your experiences below in the comments!




Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator


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