Portrait Collage Ideas – Vintage Family Photos

collage portrait made from torn paper and paint of a mother and child

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Portrait Collage Ideas

Eldest Son was created from hand-printed, archival tissue papers, torn and assembled as a portrait collage of two figures. The faces of each figure were painted loose and expressive on top of torn, layered papers, with watercolor and gouache. You can do this too, so let’s take a look at the steps and the supplies you’ll need to generate some portrait collage ideas.

portrait collage underway with stamps, ink, paper and friends around a table
Making art can be messy, especially in a group, so cover your work surface, and have paper towels or rags close by for clean up and blotting.

Rubber Stamped Lineco Paper for Collages

While stamping, tearing and gluing at a lovely art-making-party hosted by a friend (now there’s an idea, right?), I started the portrait collage in this post. The portrait collage was finished later in the studio. Gather your family around a table, and have a blast making collaged portraits with just a few, simple supplies.

Layering hand-printed papers on illustration board to create a portrait collage
An art-day with friends around the dining room table. Messy, but so much fun!
Torn Paper Portrait Collage Supplies using tissue paper, rubber stamps and acrylic paint
Beautiful Lineco tissue sheets, painted with acrylic, and stamped with random patterns. They look like richly printed fabrics. When torn into strips and swatches, these will make beautiful torn paper portrait collage bits and bobs.

Tissue Paper Art Ideas

We started our portrait collage day with Lineco Buffered Tissue Paper and acrylic paint. You can tear, cut and crinkle Lineco tissue paper. It’s acid free, and perfectly suited for collage. Painting the tissue with different colors in acrylics works well because it dries fast, and toughens the tissue paper.

(Pre-colored tissue paper is not acid-free or lightfast, so it’ll break down and fade over time. Great for kids and playing with this stuff, but maybe not the best for art you might sell.) My painted Lineco tissue sheets dried in minutes, and then I stamped all sorts of patterns on the colors (see below). Homemade abstract wrapping paper!

printing patterns on lineco paper with rubber stamps and acrylic paint
Using foam brushes to add acrylic paint to Lineco tissue paper. After the inks dried, pattern was added with rubber stamps. These sheets are my foundation for tearing and glueing to illustration board to build a portrait collage.

Creative Ideas with Lineco Tissue paper

Lineco tissue paper is very thin – like tracing paper. When you apply acrylic paint to a sheet (use brushes or a foam roller), you’ll get some rippling, but it won’t matter. Once you start tearing, cutting and applying your colored and patterned pieces to illustration board, re-wetting the torn pieces with gloss medium and varnish flattens everything out. Any remaining wrinkles and creases in your finished collage add lovely handmade character.

An assortment of hand carved mars staedtler rubber stamps to use on tissue paper to build torn paper portrait collages
Hand carved Mars Staedtler eraser rubber stamps. The stamps were tapped on a foam roller coated with different colors of acrylic paint, and then pressed repeatedly onto the painted tissue paper. You can use a flat foam brush, or a set of kitchen sponges as your acrylic paint stamp pad.

Torn Paper Portrait Pattern Stamping

While building your inventory of Lineco tissue sheets, think about contrast, and pattern. Paint some tissue sheets in light, pastel shades. Paint another set in dark, rich hues. And then stamp dark color onto light sheets, and light hues on dark sheets. Make sense?

torn paper collage preparation, with Lineco tissue paper and acrylic paint, painted onto the tissue, and then stamped with hand carved rubber stamps.
Light colors stamped on darker hued tissue sheets with hand carved rubber stamps to make a torn paper collage portrait.

Don’t Be Fussy

Try not to be too fussy with coloring your tissue, or laying the pattern on it.

Apply your colors quick, and move onto the next sheet. When stamping, move your hand frog-style, leaping from spot-to-spot on the tissue.

Be random in your pattern making and color. Work fast, because you’ll be tearing the tissue into strips and squares and shapes. In little bits and pieces, your “composition” in color and pattern won’t matter.

sweet potato stamps carved into simple shapes like hearts and stars
You can pattern your tissue paper with random paint strokes, or add simple shapes like hearts and stars with a potato stamp!

Illustration Board & Gloss Medium

I used illustration board as my backing. That stuff is sturdy and won’t warp from applying wet swatches of tissue in layers.

I used Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish to adhere to tissue to the board.

Later, when I was painting details on the portrait, I used watercolor and gouache. You can use the same acrylic paint applied to your tissue.

a portrait collage in process with torn paper tissue on illustration board
Illustration board with a loose pencil drawing as a shape-map, and torn paper collage applied with acrylic gloss medium and varnish.

Pull Inspiration from Family Photo Albums

A slide snapped in the early 1960’s was my reference photo for this art. I printed the image as an 8×10 for reference (you can see it to the left below).

A vintage tv and curtains was part of the original sketch, but there was enough complexity around the figures already. Don’t feel burdened to copy your reference photo exactly; add and take away parts to make your portrait collage work for you (<–like this).

Transparent veils of warm white acrylic were painted behind the figure to knock back the busy background pattern, and mimic light coming from the left.

A collaged Portrait made from a vintage family photo using torn paper and ink and stamps and paint
Adding transparent layers of acrylic to the left side of the background to resemble the direction of a light source.
a little boy's face wearing glasses created as a portrait colllage
Lots of juicy texture depicting a little boy in glasses, sitting in his mama’s lap
a vintage mid century modern portrait collage made with torn paper and paint
Blues and sienna browns highlighted with lemon yellows over patterned paper

What If I Can’t Draw Well?

What can you do to create figurative portrait collages if drawing and representational art is not your strong suit?

I have another collage portrait method for you in the next post.

No drawing skills needed, but it’s just as fun as this method, and you’ll use all the same supplies. Are you interested?

portrait collage of a mother and son from a 1960's family photo
The finished portrait collage: Eldest Son 20×15 Portrait Collage on Illustration Board (Available framed and ready to hang in my Etsy Shop)

Make a Portrait Collage with No Drawing Skills Required

Stay tuned my friend! We’re going to use every art supply assembled here to make totally fun portrait collages, with no drawing.

We need a dose of easy these days, don’t you think? I’ve got a simple art-making project for you that will fit the bill. And its family-friendly too.

Gather your supplies, make some tissue paper backgrounds to be ready, and we’ll get started in the next post.

Thanks for stopping in and I’ll see you at the art table,


P.S. There is a new art group on Facebook called The Art Refuge. All skill levels from novice to expert are invited to join. The purpose is just what the title implies: it’s a refuge to look at and share art as a salve in chaotic times. You can participate in twice weekly art challenges to keep your hands busy and your eyes off the bad news. 🙂

A torn tissue paper collage portrait of a mother and child, framed and held up by the artist to give the artwork a sense of scale
Torn Paper Portrait Collage framed and ready to hang. Don’t you want to make one too?

Art Quote

Social gatherings brought other teenagers to our home, and for the first time Sandy (Alexander Calder 1898-1976) and I became aware of the general attitude towards nudity. We were surprised and embarrassed for reasons we could not understand by the sly looks and salacious remarks of two boys from Ossining. Mortified, I went weeping to Mother, who tried earnestly but unsuccessfully to explain why charcoal drawings of nudes by my parents’ friends Robert Henri and Everet Shinn were ART and therefore acceptable for living room display, whereas photographs of undressed persons were not.  Having been surrounded by paintings and statues of unclothed figures all our lives, Sandy and I had never given the matter much thought. Suddenly, the attitudes of our new friends became all-important, and the next time they came, we took down the offending drawings and hid them behind the piano.

Margaret Calder Hayes ~Three Alexander Calders, 1977
a cat making direct eye contact, and asking of you miss your art supplies
Visit SixTipstoPaintMore.com to watch a few video of creative encouragement.

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8 thoughts on “Portrait Collage Ideas – Vintage Family Photos”

  1. Thanks Belinda for all of your wonderful posts. I’ve been following them for years. I’m also a mixed media artist and have learned numerous techniques from your generous sharing. Please stay well and keep these inspiring posts coming.

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