Battling Perfectionism One Collage at a Time

In this first post of a series, I’m challenging myself to let go of my desire for perfection as I learn how to create both handmade and digital collages.

This is very difficult for me. I am going to be making a collage for each self-care tip and I have this dream that you are going to love those collages so much that you will want to collect them, the way I collect examples of gorgeous collages on a Pinterest board.

I have lofty goals, limited skills, and acute sensitivity to what you might think of my efforts. My default position has always been to avoid trying anything I don’t think I can be good at, meaning all art forms other than writing. I also like to hide what I am doing until it is as perfect as I can make it.

Why Challenge Myself?

Kurt Vonnegut quote "The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one's soul to grow." on mixed media background featuring blue butterfly
So why give myself this challenge? Simply, I agree with Kurt Vonnegut. I also believe that challenge—taking a risk, and being aware of my own learning—is essential to personal growth.

Why challenge myself publicly? That answer is also simple. I’m not going to work on my perfection problem if I keep my efforts private. Committing to sharing my progress with you keeps me accountable.

Why Collage?

Collage is the perfect medium for women like me who can’t draw. I find even the word ‘collage’ reassuring, coming as it does from the French word ‘coller’ meaning ‘to glue’. So to collage is simply to glue paper or objects to a surface. Seriously. How difficult can that be?

I don’t mean to disparage master collage artists. There is a galaxy between my rudimentary efforts and the work of the masters. But I believe that, with some work, I can improve. I find that very exciting.

First Week’s Progress

On the rare occasion that I made a collage, I  did it the way we were taught in school. Do you remember that? Grab a magazine, tear out images, arrange them attractively on a sheet of Bristol board, and make sure there isn’t a speck of background showing when you’re done.
collage of overlapping images topic of what I want in my summer
I graduated a few years ago to making collages that doubled as vision boards, which meant that all of the overlapping images in my collages fit the theme of feelings, experiences, and things I wanted to have in my life. Here’s the collage/vision board I made at the beginning of the summer.

Then, a few weeks ago, I read a wonderful book that turned my understanding of collage upside down. Living Into Art: Journeys Through Collage by Lindsay Whiting is the story of nine women and one man who participate in a collage studio in Sonoma, California. Some of the artists are professional artists, but most are people like me (and maybe like you?) who are looking for a manageable form of creative self-expression and a sense of community with kindred spirits.

In each chapter there’s a ‘Studio Clip’, instructions for how to make a collage. The first clip went something like this:

Set a timer for 20 minutes. Constraining your time will focus your choices (and, in my case, constrain my desire for perfection.) Choose a favourite magazine that has lots of diverse images. Select one image of any size (I used a full page) to use as your background. Then, without giving it a lot of thought, cut out 4-6 images that appeal to you and arrange them on the background. You can layer, overlap, or position each image.

In the past week, I’ve made three collages in this manner, culminating with my first self-care collage. For that one, because I was going for a deliberate message, I cut the silhouette out of coloured paper, chose photographs for the other images and, for the background, blurred a photo of a hedge maze using the photo editing app, Pixelmator.

So I have taken my first step. I’ve learned to make collages in a new way and I’ve taken the risk of sharing my earliest efforts with you. The ‘taking a risk’ part is my personal bright spot and I need to keep doing it. With your help, I will.

collage of labyrinth, hedge maze, cornstalks, silhouette of woman

Confession Time

I have another reason for challenging myself publicly. I’m hoping that you might want to take on this challenge with me. It could be that you’re working in collage too, or in another medium where you don’t think you have much talent but you are willing to give it a try. Or maybe the challenge for you is letting go of perfectionism in another area of your life, like meal preparation or an obsessively tidy house. Whatever you choose, look for the bright spots and cheer yourself on!

Please share your experiences in the comments below. This is a safe place to take a risk. Please challenge yourself! And if you would like to take a photo of your efforts, please send it to me at I’d love to share your work, named or anonymous, in a future post. 

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