Art Tutorial: Found Poetry Collage

If you like found poetry, you can take it one step further and create a collage with it. A few days ago, I used raw-art techniques for found poetry. Today, I’m using a different method. It’s the journaling version of NaNoWriMo –National Novel Writing Month.

While the “rules” of found poetry say you underline the words, then copy them, I like the idea of cutting out the words and pasting them down. This can get a little tricky if you are using catalogs or magazines. It gives it a visual and textural feel, as well as a heightened realism in the cut-out words.

Here is my most recent venture into found-poetry journaling, a two-page piece, including cut-out. Directions are below the photos. Words of the poem:


In a seaside town
two minutes from the beach,
you grow up with nothing–
Winters hold razor-sharp edges.
Pearl moon makes the most of its small space
Still big and empty enough for
human-scaled dimensions.


Overleaf (page 1) with moon cutout backed with parchment. You can see part of the poem through the parchment.


Next page. Moon repeats--this is the piece from the previouis page. The letter "M" is large to emphasise the word "moon".


Materials: Several magazines, catalogs, old books and. . .

  • Scissors, craft knife (small box cutter or X-acto knife)
  • glue
  • tweezers
  • parchment paper, cut into 5″ x 8″ pieces.

Method: Read through catalogs, magazines, or an old book that you don’t mind cutting up. When you find a phrase you like, cut it out carefully. Leave a margin around the words you want. It makes it easier to change tenses or capital letters if the new piece overlaps, rather than butts up against, the cut-out piece.

Don’t worry too much if you don’t have perfect sentences. Right now you are gathering. It’s also a good idea to cut out a few extra words. You don’t know yet where this is going, and that’s part of the fun.

In this case, I had drawn a fancy bottle on the page, intending to make the poem about memories–the bottle was a perfume bottle, the idea that scents evoke memories. That was my idea. Poetry’s idea ran away in another direction. That necessitated the cut out page and re-thinking of the design. Leave yourself open till you have the poem. It’s much easier.

Put the strips of paper together, using lines to create phrases.

In some cases, you may want big or fancy letters for the initial capital. You could write them in, or use rubber stamps, but I find the search and cutting method to be more satisfying for this collage.

Trim the larger pieces you have to make just the words you want visible. Now use tweezers to place them as you would collage pieces, to see where you want them.

The glue choice is important. I tried a glue stick, but it doesn’t deposit enough glue and often the paper rips. Thin glue makes the paper too fragile. I like to use a PVA glue and a thin paintbrush. Put the strip face down on the parchment paper, use the tweezers to hold the paper in place, and stroke the glue over in a thin coat. This keeps the glue from oozing out underneath the paper and leaving marks on the page.

Use the tweezers to place the piece of paper, face up, in place. Pat over the entire surface, including corners, with the tweezers. You can use the paintbrush, too. I use plastic instead of painted wood paintbrushes. The paint flakes off the painted wood when you are working with glue and gets in your artwork.

First, circle the words.

Method II: Finding hidden poetry in book pages

Here’s another way to create found poetry. It’s easier in that there is no cutting and more challenging in that you are using words in the order they appear in a book.  Don’t use a book of poetry, this is your own found poetry.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Utility cutter to remove page from book
  • Pages removed from a book. (Novels are better than textbooks or non-fiction books).
  • HB pencil
  • Eraser
  • Acrylic paint
  • Newsprint or other paper to protect your desk
  • Small paintbrush
  • Colored pencils, markers, or crayons

Read through a few pages of the book until you find some interesting phrases that catch your attention. Then carefully cut the page out of the book. Start at the top of the page and start looking for phrases that tell a story. This is not related to the plot of the book, so you can use a book you haven’t read. Find a phrase that appeals to you and circle it.

The poem you find is not in one line–you might find it scattered word by word over the whole page. If you are lucky, you will find a few words grouped together. Use a pencil that’s easy to erase, the first stage is where you change your mind about what the poem is about. Erasing extra circled words is a normal thing to expect.

If you need to add an –ed or –ing, look for them after the main word. If you have words you won’t need, use an eraser to remove them, leaving just the words you want for now. When you are finished, read the poem aloud to feel the full force of it.

Paint over the words you don't want.

When you’ve circled all the words in your poem, you are ready to paint out all the words you aren’t going to use. Paint slowly, using small strokes. You want to surround each phrase completely. Words that are divided at the end or beginning of a line should be free of paint at the end of the line and have the hyphen visible. The words you want are easily visible, the ones you aren’t using should be covered with paint. It’s great if they are faintly visible, so you can see it was a book.

I used Titan Buff, you can use any color you want. You can also paint designs on the page.

Most book pages are thin, and will curl. If you paint the back side of the page when the front is completely dry, the page will stop curling.

Keep your journal open until the page is completely dry.

––Quinn McDonald is a writer who stands in the middle ground between words and illustrations, believing they both make meaning and create art. © Quinn McDonald, 2009 All rights reserved

9 thoughts on “Art Tutorial: Found Poetry Collage

  1. I went to a Creative Writing Course and we learned how to do this at one of the sessions. We had a book on The Supreme Court and Industrial Society, and I found the phrase “The heart is in the shadow of the restricting truth.” I titled it Coldness and I absolutly loved it. I really wish I would’ve thought of this sooner. It’s fun, creative, and really challenging.

  2. I love this idea, and it’s what I do…except I simply call my work mixed media, or collage. Mostly, I use my original poems pasted onto my original artwork. not sure if that satisfies your requirements, but i’ll send you a photo of the latest “Unrequited” soon. Great ideas…keep ’em coming! thanks

  3. Love this method. I find words that beg me to tear them from magazines all the time… But I’ve not thought of ” found poetry” what a lovely concept! Thanks for this post.

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