Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Collage Without Wrinkles

Collage without wrinkles

Jo Reimer, collage

One of my main problems is wrinkles. Wrinkles in the papers I use in collage, that is.

Moisture in the glue soaks into wet paper as I work causing the paper fibers to relax and form permanent wrinkles in the direction of the grain. I prefer a smooth surface. The solution isn’t necessarily to change the adhesive. I needed to learn to work with the natural characteristics of the paper and my preferred adhesive. Here’s what I’ve discovered about avoiding wrinkles.

Wrinkles happen when I use a wet adhesive to apply paper to a dry surface. There are several solutions but mainly the aim is to equalize the two surfaces in some way before sticking them together with just the right amount of adhesive. These are some clues to best practices. I don’t use them all at the same time.

  •  Mist the paper with water. Give it time to curl up and then relax. When it relaxes apply the glue.  For thin paper, apply the glue to the substrate, not the paper.
  • Wait a couple of minutes after applying glue to allow the paper to relax and absorb moisture before placing it on the substrate.
  • Use only as much glue as necessary. Too much glue will dry unevenly under the paper and create bumps and ridges.
  • Spray collage papers with an acrylic sealer on both sides and let it dry. Proceed to apply adhesive and build your collage.
  • Apply a thin coat of polymer medium to both sides of the paper. Dry thoroughly. Store between sheets of wax paper or plastic. Use a tacking iron to fuse the papers to the substrate. (Jonathan Talbot method)
  • There’s less wrinkling when the grain of the paper and the grain of the receiving surface line up.
  • When using acrylic medium glue the paper to the substrate and let it dry before coating the top with more acrylic. This allows the paper to relax and pull back into shape.
  • 3M Spray Mount won’t cause paper to curl and wrinkle but you have only one shot at getting the paper in the right place on your collage, plus there’s the whole fume and over-spray issue. I use a big plastic bin in which I place the paper face down on an opened magazine. Spray and quickly close the lid. Wait a minute and lift out the paper and apply to your substrate.


·         Work on top of kitchen parchment paper. Glue won’t stick to it. Or use old magazines as your working surface, discarding wet pages as you work.

·         Apply the glue with a palette knife or medium-soft paintbrush working from the center out to the edges. Place the element where you want it. Gently squeegee from the center to the outer edges using an old credit card or something similar and wipe off any adhesive that is squeezed out from under the paper. Let it dry thoroughly before adding a coat of matte medium on top of the composition. Dry again. Seal with a spray sealer. (I’ve ruined work by using a brush-on sealer without first applying a top coat of acrylic medium.)

·         Don’t hurry the process.

Tools and Adhesives:
  • My favorite spreader is the large plastic “Scotty” painting knife by Richeson.  Buy at least six. 
  • 1 1/2” Purdy nylon paint brush for spreading glue.
  • Matte Medium from Golden or Liquitex  
    Polymer medium from Golden
  • YES! Paste, mixed 1:5 with acrylic glazing medium (thanks Crystal Neubauer)
  • Matte Medium mixed 1:1 with Elmer’s white glue plus a few drops of Dawn detergent. This detergent breaks down the clay coating of magazine papers, reducing wrinkling.
  • Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating


Johnathan Talbot: Collage, A New Approach

Crystal Neubauer: The Art of Expressive Collage


  1. Great ideas; I will try to remember them in the heat of the moment! I just watched a video of Romare Bearden working, and he dipped his cut papers in a bucket of water before gluing them down!

    1. I saw that, too, and it's what inspired me to writing this post. I tried dipping the papers in water but it created too much of a mess for my taste. It would work best if glue is added to the substrate rather than to the paper. I'd love to know what glues he used... maybe wallpaper paste!

    2. Well that was comprehensive and useful!

  2. Thanks for the great tips. I'm not a 'wrinkle' fan either.

  3. Thanks for the great tips. I'm not a 'wrinkle' fan either.

  4. Hi Jo, i just happened upon your blog via Pinterest. Love your collages; they're so different than most. You keep it interesting and create very nice work. I was surprised that you hadn't yet discovered YES Paste in regards to your wrinkling issues. It's an acid free, archival all purpose glue that lets you stick things down flat and even the lightest most delicate papers don't wrinkle. Non toxic, water based, no solvents, easy to clean up and it dries clear. Comes in a nice big fat 1 pint jar so will last you a long time. Michaels might carry it in the U.S. Here in Canada I have to get it at an art supply store. A little expensive but well worth it to never have to worry about wrinkles again. Hope this helps. Continued happy arting!

    1. Lorraina, since I wrote that I was reintroduced to YES! paste which I used long ago but forgot about. I add distilled water to the YES to thin it a bit and it works very well for all sorts of purposes... and doesn't cause the paper to wrinkle. Thanks for your suggestion which supports my own findings. And thanks for the compliment about my work being different than most. I strive for that. And that's why i tossed most of my appropriated images and base my work on my own papers, drawings, and photos. I've been absent from blogging for awhile but am feeling the pull to return to the discipline.


I appreciate comments and questions.

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