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How To Fix A Busy Background – Collage Art Tips & Ideas

Today, I'm tackling a common challenge in magazine collage art, a super busy background that takes away from the focus of your piece! Some of my best tips and ideas for collage art “problems” in a fun way!

How To Fix A Busy Background - Collage Art Tips & Ideas

I made a super fun background using printed background papers with tissue paper and wax paper, flower catalog images and and all sorts of clutter. It felt overwhelming!

But instead of tossing it aside, I decided to use it as an opportunity to show you a fun technique for counteracting a busy background!

Fixing A Busy Background Video

How To Fix A Busy Background – Collage Tips & Ideas

Here is where the mess started, I had made a SUPER busy background and had to figure out a way to take different elements and make a cohesive whole!

The first step was to find a central image for my collage. I stumbled upon a picture of Candace Bergen from an old magazine. She was a 1980s supermodel and in a TV show, I think it was Moonlighting?

Her large head immediately grabbed my attention, and I knew she could be the perfect quirky star!

To add some whimsy, I decided to give Candace a body made out of a giant fork I found in another magazine.

I also included a peacock with gorgeous feathers and added some purple arms to Candace for good measure. To further balance out the composition, I used hanging lights as the center of a flower.

As I began assembling the collage, I paid close attention to how each of the magazine images interacted with the others. I wanted everything to feel connected.

For instance, I positioned Candace so it looked like she was tipping her head playfully, made sure that the peacock and flowers all touched each other and used rules of composition in collage to “sell” the idea of a giant fork lady… hahaha!

Here's one key to fixing the busy background, I embraced the negative space around the collage elements!

Instead of completely covering it up, I used the background as part of the design.

I used acrylic paint to cover some of the background flower images in the border with geometric shapes and used a cohesive color palette that helped tame down the busy-ness of the piece.

This way, the background colors and patterns peeked through, adding visual interest without overwhelming the viewer.

Magazine Collage Tips and Ideas FAQ

I am sure you have some questions (I know I did when I started!) Here are some answers…

My magazine collage backgrounds always feel too cluttered. How can I make them look more intentional?

A great way to create a cohesive background is to focus on color! One of the problems with this background was there was just a mess of colors and patterns with no color focus (I was using up the last of my images and had already taken out the “good” paper scraps!)

For most of my backgrounds I try to pick a color theme so I am not working as hard to make something less chaotic! I like super bright colors, you might like more muted or beige colors… just go with what you like best!

Do you have any tips for choosing a central image when the background is busy?

Mostly I pick one or two main elements to focus on in all my collage projects, but especially when I have a busy background!

Candace's giant head and the large peacock image helped to cover up much of what made this piece so busy.

A great place to start is to pick a magazine image that is large and that you absolutely love, this will make some of your later decisions easier!

I'm afraid of ruining my borders. How can I practice using negative space without wasting a lot of material?

My collage style is to work directly in my journal but you could for sure paint your border pieces BEFORE you put them around the piece and make sure you like them first!

Art projects like this are supposed to be fun and not stressful, make them the way that is easiest and calm for you!

How do you decide when a collage is finished? I feel like I could keep adding things forever!

Oh my gosh, isn't this the big question! My paper collages have backgrounds, images, painting, sometimes even metal bits and fabric (I make mixed media art journals).

I find that I finish when I think it is done and then know that I could go back later and make changes if I learn a new technique, get new supplies or find unique collage ideas that I haven't tried before!

I love the whimsical feel of your collages. Where do you find such unusual images?

While Candace IS unique (I bought a bunch of 1980s magazines off Ebay), the rest of the images came from current fashion magazines, home decor and even a flower catalog!

Any old magazines you have laying around can be fodder for a fun collage!

Embrace the Challenge and Don't Be Afraid to Experiment!

This fun collage idea was a perfect example that a busy background doesn't have to stop you from having great results!

With a little creativity and some strategic use of negative space, you can use those seemingly unusable pages to create something truly unique.

So next time you make a background page that seems overwhelming, don't be discouraged! Explore the creative process and see if you can turn that hot mess into a great art project!

I hope this inspires you to try your own hand at magazine collaging! If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I'll be happy to help. Until next time, happy crafting!

Here are some more collage art ideas you might like!

How To Fix A Busy Background - Collage Art Tips & Ideas