I have an extensive stock of various collage materials, which are stored in separate boxes for each type. I usually try to include some papers that are particularly relevant to the subject matter, such as an appropriate holiday brochure for a painting inspired by a Cornish harbour. Or I might tear shapes from or use newspapers or magazines to suggest different textures – perhaps the brickwork on the side of a building – although this should be kept within reason, otherwise the painting becomes too busy. In any event, contrast is important, so I like to offset the more exciting textural surfaces with plain papers, such as brown wrapping paper, pastel papers or white tissue paper.

Coverack Cornwall by Mike Bernard
Coverack, Cornwall, mixed media on canvas, 20x30in (51x76cm).

The collage in this painting includes tissue paper for the foreground texture and small, coloured paper shapes for some of the flags and details

Texture and design
Creased, transparent, reflective or obviously textured papers will provide interesting surface qualities. The shapes can be cut or torn. I prefer a torn edge, as it is more in keeping with the spontaneity and expressive nature that I aim for in my paintings. I sometimes make use of the trimmed edge of a newspaper or magazine to suggest a particular vertical or horizontal division in the composition, but I seldom actually cut out shapes, because this usually results in outlines that are too rigid and defined. Some artists like to position the paper shapes before gluing any in place. This allows them to consider the relationship between the different shapes before committing to a particular arrangement. However, I prefer a more intuitive, direct approach. I start with one shape and fix that in position, and then I add other shapes in relation to the first one. Although I make some reference to the location sketch, I am only thinking of very basic shapes and divisions at this stage. I might overlap some of the paper shapes, and I try to avoid placing them exactly parallel to the edges of the painting paper. Rather than having lots of right angles and parallel lines, I prefer more subtle angles and diagonals. These create a more dynamic quality in the design. Once I have decided on a shape and glued it in place, I cannot alter it. But ironically I am able to keep the initial stages of the painting fairly undefined – so allowing me different options in terms of the way to proceed. Generally, I start with just four or five shapes: these will indicate the key divisions within the composition, which I often emphasise by extending them right across the image.

To secure the various collage shapes in place, I use a matt acrylic medium – usually Spectrum Copolymer Emulsion – which is waterproof, whereas PVA, which is equally suitable as an adhesive, is water-soluble. I dilute the acrylic medium with water for use with thin papers, but apply it undiluted for gluing materials such as corrugated card, mountboard and fabric. An alternative method, which I sometimes use, is to impress a paper shape into an area of wet acrylic paint. I might add collage at any point while working on a painting. There are occasions when I use collage instead of paint – perhaps a figure made from torn pieces of paper, or shapes cut from brown wrapping paper for the fruit boxes on a market stall. Also, collage is a very useful technique for adding small highlights and contrasts of colour, using specific shapes cut from coloured paper.

Waterside House Venice by Mike Bernard
Waterside House, Venice, mixed media on MDF, 24x24in (61x61cm).
To secure the collage in place, I use matt acrylic medium. This is diluted with water for use with thin papers, such as the newsprint included in this painting


Materials for collage can include:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Tissue paper
  • Wrapping paper
  • Wallpaper
  • Handmade and art papers
  • Textured, coloured and interesting
  • surfaces such as corrugated paper,
  • foil paper and fabrics



This is how I normally develop a painting, starting with the initial foundation work in collage.


Using Collage

With reference to the subject matter, I built a collage from pieces of paper to establish a sense of the basic design for the painting. The dark shape on the left is the first indication of the foreground sea wall; the orange-brown rectangular piece of paper, centre right, is a foundation texture for another section of the harbour wall. The newspaper at the top hints at some fishermen’s cottages, while some wrinkled tissue paper below suggests where the water is going to be. To create interest and balance within the design I also considered the way that various shapes interrelate. For instance, I placed some tissue-paper shapes at the top to balance the ones in the foreground. Equally, I thought of the textures and how they could be used to advantage later on.


Collage with Mike Bernard

I sometimes develop the collage further, before starting to apply the two main colours that I have chosen for the subject. I decided to use a blue and a golden sand colour for this painting, working as usual with acrylic inks and applying them with a soft-haired 2in (5cm) varnishing brush. The collage must be dry before starting on this stage, for which I first wet the paper by spraying it with water. With the painting held vertically at an easel, I applied the colours quite randomly, allowing them to run and create haphazard effects.
How to collage
With the entire painting surface covered in some way, either with collage or colour, I began to think more particularly about textures. For those areas in which a rich textural quality would be useful, I applied white acrylic paint, quite freely, with a lino-printing roller. I wanted to create a sense of unity by repeating the texture in different areas, but I avoided those passages of the initial blue or golden sand colour which would, I estimated, relate to specific parts of the subject matter. As well as adding texture, the white acrylic paint will impart a luminosity to the painting once coloured glazes made from diluted acrylic inks are applied over it.
I start to resolve the essential elements: I took a fresh look at the location drawing, and where appropriate exploited the divisions, marks and surface effects that were part of the painting. I defined the main house, using white acrylic paint, and with black acrylic ink offset from the edge of a piece of card, I put in some fencing posts. The challenge was to balance areas that gave meaning and definition with those that were left as textural, abstract qualities
Polperro Harbour by Mike Bernard
Polperro Harbour, mixed media on HP watercolour paper, 19x26in (48.5x66cm).

Finally, I drew with a dip pen and some black or brown acrylic ink to add further outlines and details that I thought necessary



For my large paintings, I work on sheets of acrylic-primed MDF (medium-density fibreboard). Naturally, the large scale offers greater scope for a variety of freely expressed techniques, as demonstrated here. The first problem I had was to identify the house more prominently, as in reality it was well hidden by the trees. So I had to move it slightly in relation to its context.



Beer Beach
I made a location drawing and took some photographs

I used a variety of materials for the collage, including tissue paper, gold wrapping paper, newspaper, pieces torn and cut from magazines, and even part of a monoprint. You will see that the shapes roughly correspond to the main elements of the original drawing. For example, the red shape indicates the client’s house, the brown areas on the left show the harbour wall, and the tissue shapes are the tree line. All the time I was trying to balance colour and texture, plain against print

Using a roller to paint in collage
Next, using a lino-printing roller and some titanium white acrylic paint, I added random areas of light and texture. When these had dried, I sprayed the whole surface with water and applied the two basic colours – cadmium yellow medium (tube acrylic paint) and black Daler- Rowney FW acrylic ink – with a large brush, allowing them to blend, drip and run. Then, the surface was sprayed again, to encourage more drips and runs and I began to draw in the main outlines, using the edge of a piece of card dipped in black FW acrylic ink.

Mixed media by Mike Bernard
After assessing the development thus far, I focused more clearly on the main elements of the painting, working with collage and acrylic paint to add some substance to the main shapes.

Collage and mixed media
I continued with the process, also enhancing the sense of depth and perspective. I introduced brilliant blue acrylic colour and bright blue collage to heighten the overall impact and, where necessary, I started to draw and define shapes and textures
Beer Beach by Mike Bernard
Beer Beach, mixed media on MDF, 35x48in (91.5x122cm).
I worked on the detail, mainly using black and white acrylic inks and drawing with a dip pen. I added the lobster pots and the post in the foreground, the masts and numbers to boats, and more detail to the house on the hill. I toned down some of the foreground colour and refined and unified the colour in other areas. I varnished the painting with copolymer emulsion and framed in the same style as an oil painting, without glass.
This extract is taken from Collage, Colour and Texture in Painting by Mike Bernard, and Robin Capon.