Art Techniques: Torn Paper Collage

Today I’m going to walk you through my process for creating a torn paper collage, like my custom pet portraits.

  • Draw out the design on paper.

I use acid-free artist’s drawing paper drawing paper in varying sizes. My favorite is 9 inches x 12 inches, since this gives a nice, intimate-sized piece that still allows for excellent detail. It also doesn’t feel like an endless marathon of collaging, like larger pieces can. Large collages do provide a nice, bold statement though, so that’s something to keep in mind when deciding on the size.

  • Select pieces of magazines and catalogs with desired/suitable colors.

I have a big stack of magazines and catalogs in my studio, so I have plenty of material to choose from. Since I primarily make animals and pet portraits, I look for large areas of natural and neutral colors like grays, tans, browns, white and black. Blues and greens make excellent background colors, so I also focus on collecting catalogs that contain these. The texture of the paper is somewhat important—some catalog papers don’t tear well, which makes it difficult to tear the tiny, precise fragments that I use in my collages. Some of my favorite catalogs are the LL Bean and Restoration Hardware ones. Those are great for finding the colors use a lot of!

  • Apply adhesive to a section of the drawing.

I use the Zig/EK Tools 2-Way Glue, which I previously reviewed here. It’s acid-free and archival and easy to apply in precise areas. I’ve tried several other acid-free scrapbooking adhesives, but the two-way glue is by far my favorite. I use the wide, chisel tip for covering large areas and the fine-point pen or fine-point chisel tip for adding glue to smaller areas or next to areas of the piece I’ve already completed. The glue remains tacky after drying so if I misjudge how long a section will take me, the paper fragments will still stick.

  • Carefully hand-tear the magazine pieces to desired shape and size.
Photo by Britta Jackson from Pexels

I carefully select and tear each and every paper fragment by hand. Every. Single. One. Whiskers are incredibly tricky to tear by hand, if you were wondering. I’m constantly trying different techniques to hand-tear thin, delicate whisker strips. If the whiskers are too thick and bulky, they can really detract from the overall look of the piece.

  • Place the paper pieces onto the adhesive

I place the paper fragment using fine-point tweezers. You can use your fingers, but they get sticky very quickly, making it hard to get the paper fragments to stick to the substrate and not your fingers. Also, I typically use such tiny fragments that it’s nearly impossible to place them accurately with my fingers. I don’t remember where I got my tweezers but I think I should look into getting a second (and maybe a third) pair—I’d be completely lost if mine were ever missing or damaged!

  • Repeat steps 3 through 5.

Over and over and over. This is definitely Not a fast process. Each collage takes many, many hours of work. It’s also important to take frequent breaks to give your hands, back, eyes and brain a break. I don’t recommend multi-hour marathon collage sessions.

  • Success! You now have a completed torn paper collage masterpiece!
Moving On box turtle tortoise torn paper collage by Tamara Jaeger
Moving On box turtle tortoise torn paper collage by Tamara Jaeger

So, are you ready to give torn paper collage a try? Drop any questions below. I’m happy to help.

Is making a torn paper collage totally not your thing but you still want a piece with that unique look and feel? Check out the pieces I have for sale here.

Would you like a custom portrait of your own pet? You can check out the ordering process here or email me at with any questions!

Want to keep updated and see more of what I’m working on? Sign up for my mailing list here and get a totally FREE digital download of a tiger linocut print. (I promise not to be spammy with my emails—I hate that too!)

* Please note that this post contains affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward me a small commission – at no extra cost for you. 

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