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DIY Art Therapy: Abstract Collage as Self Care

Updated on August 5, 2013

So, what is abstract collage?

Abstract collage is the intersection of abstract art and collage art:

  • Abstract art uses shapes, lines, and colors that don't represent recognizable things. For example, in an abstract painting, there might be a big swirl of green paint instead of a field of grass. Or there might be a big swirl of paint that doesn't have anything to do with grass, because that's the nature of abstraction.
  • Collage art involves layering pieces of paper, fabric, photographs, and/or other flat materials. In a collage, a field of grass might be made out of lots of spike-shaped pieces of green paper.

Therefore, an abstract collage might have a big green swirl made out of spike-shaped pieces of paper. Abstract collages are artworks that do not represent recognizable real-world things, and which were made using collage techniques

Example of an abstract collage:

Self care and DIY art therapy:

Self care is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: taking care of yourself! It can be as simple as remembering to drink enough water, or it can be as complicated as moving across town to a quieter neighborhood. Self care is all about loving yourself through actions, and doing what you can to help yourself feel good.

DIY art therapy is a little less self-explanatory. When I say DIY art therapy, I'm not talking about the kind of art therapy that takes place in a psychologist's office, but what I am talking about is pretty similar: Some people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues use art-making as a way of coping with their struggles. There are various approaches to this: Some find it soothing to sit down and dedicate half an hour to molding clay. Others scribble with crayons as a way of venting their emotions. Some people want to analyze their watercolor paintings in order to understand themselves better. And other people find that photography allows them to zero in on little things in life that give them joy. You get the idea--basically any artistic practice that you can think of, people are doing to feel better! It is awesome to proactively use art to encourage your own mental health.

Why abstract collage is great for DIY art therapy:

For one thing, abstract collage is easy! Sometimes people worry when they do other kinds of art therapy, like drawing or painting, because they don't feel skilled enough to execute their ideas. It can be hard to let go of the idea that you need to make "good" art. Abstract collage doesn't involve that kind of pressure. There is no narrow concept of what makes a "good" abstract collage; expectations are loose and open.

Furthermore, abstract collage is very soothing, both in terms of the process, and often also in terms of the visual effect of the finished product. Because of this, abstract collage is a great way to deal with anxiety, especially nervous energy: you can channel your energy into the process of making art instead of having it bounce around in your mind. Listening to music while doing abstract collage is highly recommended!

So, with no further ado. . .

This collage incorporates sticker tape and an old snapshot as well as magazine scraps.
This collage incorporates sticker tape and an old snapshot as well as magazine scraps.

Let's get started! Supplies:

  • Magazines: Be willing to destroy them! You don't need more than one, but if you have stacks and stacks of old magazines, that's fine. (In fact, I'm jealous.)
  • Glue stick: Tape or Elmer's glue would also work, but I prefer glue sticks, because they don't make a lot of mess and you can glue things totally flat.
  • Plain paper: To be used as a base/background. Cardboard would also work. Whatever color you want!
  • Scissors: Not strictly necessary, but if you prefer clean edges to ragged ones, you might want to have some scissors on hand.
  • Heavy books: Optional. These can be used to help keep the finished product flat as the glue dries.

Those are the basics. You can incorporate tons of other things into your collaging experience, if you so desire. Here are some examples:

  • Stickers.
  • Old books.
  • Leaves.
  • Fabric scraps.

Whatever else occurs to you would probably work! Go for it.


  1. Flip through the magazines and look for images and textures that you find visually appealing. You can go for anything that catches your eye, or perhaps decide to focus on a particular theme or color. Pay attention to often-overlooked elements, like blurry backgrounds, skies, clothing textures, or hair textures.
  2. Tear or cut out whatever you find!
  3. Layer your magazine scraps on a piece of paper, in whatever pattern or arrangement you like. You may want to glue pieces down as you go, or you may want to lay out your whole design before gluing.
  4. When you're ready to glue, use your glue stick to cover the whole back of each paper scrap with a thin layer of glue, and then carefully press it down on the paper. Smooth the piece flat.
  5. Optional: When your design is finished, put it under a couple heavy books and give it time to dry. An hour is probably more than enough.
  6. Enjoy your finished artwork! Put it on your refrigerator. Mail it to a friend. Use it as a bookmark. Whatever you want!


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      Kevin 4 years ago

      The collages are very calming to look at too. Thank you for posting this.