Inspiring College Students Describe Their Collages

Near the end of this fall semester, international and domestic students in two sections of a communications course made personal collages and then wrote about them. To celebrate the multifaceted creativity expressed in the students’ work, I have documented it here. I hope viewers find the following images and words as inspiring, charming, and uplifting as I have.

Esteban’s Collage: Blessing to Create

These images represent how important it is for me to cook and see happiness in those who enjoy my recipes. First, the image on the left represents my mother, to whom I owe this passion for cooking. This image remember me when I was a little boy. I went into the kitchen, and I found my mother preparing the dinner. . . . . I spent hours accompanying her, learning every detail of what she prepared.
Detail from Esteban’s Collage: Blessing to Create

. . . . When I see (family and friends) smile, taste, toast, delight, all these gives me great satisfaction . . . It is not only a pleasure for me to prepare something in the kitchen, but to share these moments with the people I value and appreciate. I am blessed to be able to create these moments.
Tri’s Collage
Detail from Tri’s Collage
Chaehee’s Collage

Going to college is very special and a miracle that happened to me because it was a challenge that seemed impossible . . . . I didn’t have the financial condition to go to college, but I came to Canada and saved my money by a working holiday. Finally, I managed to raise the tuition by myself. So, the fact that I am going to college on my own makes me proud.
Devin’s Collage

I’ve liked to take pictures since I was in middle school. I was hated by my parents because I wasn’t good at study . . . and eventually I ran away from home often. And I used to go to rooftops to see the night views alone because it was the only activity that made my mind feel comfortable . . . I took pictures of the scenes with my phone camera and kept them for viewing whenever I remembered them . . . . At the end of high school, I decided to enter the photography program at college, and now I’ve reached my dream. Therefore, my collage is a landscape that gave me dreams and hope.
Rodrigo’s Collage

I love to draw whenever I have free time or whenever I get bored and have nothing to do. I also like trying different art styles. . . . I love to play video games. It helps me get things off my mind when something goes on in my life. . . . I love watching movies and TV shows. . . . I also watch movies with my dad as he likes to watch movies as well.
Chris’ Collage

I am very cultural and like to travel to unique places, such as China, Bora Bora, Hawaii, St. Lucia, and many more places. I like to try many different foods from all over the world that I have never tried before. When trying the food, I like to understand the background of each food and the culture behind it. . . . . When being blessed to travel to many places of the world, I like to take it all in and appreciate what I am blessed with.
Weijia’s Collage

The collage represents that the person has multiple eyes on her. This means I am from a different culture and country, and now I try to adjust myself to many different aspects to adopt the different environment. Also, it means that I am gaining multiple abilities for different situations.
Detail from Weijia’s Collage

The two mouths show that I need to learn a second language to help me be able to live in the different country with better life. At the same time, I go to school to study fine art.
Hong Sheng’s Collage

In my collage, there are three aspects: fried chicken nuggets (loving food), Elsa (loving animation), and a painting (loving drawing). Firstly, I like any delicious food, whether it is fast food or Western food. I don’t think food has ranking; only they are delicious or not.
Detail from Hong Sheng’s Collage

. . . . In conclusion, my collage is showing that it is time to jump out of the sofa to pursue my dreams — food, animation, and drawing skills — and look to my sky future.
Yubing’s Collage: Entertaining Myself

Games assist me to keep connection with my friends. . . . I can’t always share all my life with my hometown’s friends when I came to Canada, but . . . I believe that our friendship still exists. Finally, music can be my best friend during my daily life, especially violin songs, since my mother always played it in my childhood. For example, I prefer to have some music when I am working on my artwork because it will help me to make sure how much time I spend instead of checking the clock all the time.
Gissell’s Collage

I love animals, and I want a better planet for them. I used to have a white bunny who was so intelligent. I wish I had the ability to fly like birds. . . . I love to go to any beautiful place, sit and just watch the sunset, all the colours, details. Every time is a different experience.
Isaiah’s Collage

So today in English I did a collage . . . Firstly, I put Shadow Clone Jutsu on . . because I’m currently watching a TV show called Naruto and that’s one of his superpowers. I chose everything that is blue on my collage because it represents my favourite colour. The three stars at the top represent the stars in my heart that I will let out one day.
Detail from Andrew’s Infinite Loop Collage

The reason I made this collage is because I love mechanics, technology, music, space, science, and the feel of nature.
Detail from Andrew’s Infinite Loop Collage

I put an image of nature because nature is important and I like the look of it in the fresh air.
Natalie’s Collage (1)

The birds in the background are supposed to represent thoughts coming and going . . . (and) the black and white scenery represents you ignoring/blocking out things around you.
Natalie’s Collage (2)
Mariana’s Collage: Art Is Health Care

My collage reveals that I am a very artistic person. If you were to ever meet my family, you would realize where I got that from. In my family we are visual artists, fashionistas, musicians, music lovers, dancers and singers . . . . I think I am the only one who does act ha-ha. In this collage you will see a ballerina, paint, eye makeup look, and a dress, but you will also see that it says fitness. As a dancer of any kind, your body is your line of work, your gift, your reason for creating, you instrument, so it is important to keep it well-nourished . . . and train it for any circumstance. . . . I actually enjoy working out, I feel empowered, strong and seeing the results I want . . . helps with my confidence and how I now view myself.
Detail from Mariana’s Collage: Art Is Health Care

Now, the collage also says music. I was in a music conservatory for 8 years for piano. I did competitions and recitals. I have been singing since I was very little, started dance when I was 7, quit, continued at home, then started hip-hop dance when I was 15 . . . Any who, this is my artistic collage showing my artistic self.

Sasha’s Collage

Collage is an art. And as an art it reveals our inner self. My collage started to be just a drawing but turned out to be my self-portrait. . . . First, I love bright colours and my favourite piece of jewelry is my mom’s pearl earrings. Second of all, I put some quotes from an astrophysics book with colours from paint samples. For me it is a philosophy: the universe is full of math but it is an art. I wanted to do physics before art, but decided to go to cinema college instead . . . . and depict the beauty of the universe.
Detail from Sasha’s Collage

Last but not least, I put a red ribbon on the corner. Red is my favourite colour, and also this colour has a lot of different meanings: love, blood, purity, and revolution. All these are connected to me, and I think the quote “Fear Nothing” is my go-to quote these days.
Mint’s Collage

I made the collage that shows the aspects of my life and my way to the country that I always dreamed about, Canada. First, I used an elephant to represent my country, Thailand, because elephants are our important animal, and the Thai and elephants have had a deep relationship for a long time. Moreover, once an elephant used to be on our flag.
Detail from Mint’s Collage

Second, I flew to Canada as a bird. I flew over the sea to the country that has a beautiful red leaf symbol. Canada is a super cold country, so the bird has a hat and scarf to help it (me) stay warm. Actually, I wanted to make it wear boots and a jacket too, but it was hard to find the material.
Detail from Mint’s Collage

Finally, I put the bird holding a maple leaf. I hope that I can succeed in my career in Canada even though there will be obstacles like wind and snow, and the fish is my cheerleader (ha ha). In the nutshell, this collage presents my aspects of my country, Canada, and my desire.

Summer Images

Liberty, Missouri
Front Step of a Home in Hermann, Missouri
Liberty, Missouri
Liberty, Missouri
Liberty, Missouri
Mural on the Ceiling of Patron-Overflow Bus,
Southwest Diner, Saint Louis
Bus Mural, Southwest Diner
Daniel Boone Home Historic Site
Blue-tailed Skink at Daniel Boone Home
Streaming into Detroit at Dawn on the Greyhound Bus

Ink Drip Patchwork Collage

Ink Drip Patchwork (Stage One), Catherine Raine 2019

To create this effect, I repeatedly placed an ink-loaded paintbrush at various points at the top of the canvas. Then I tilted the canvas upright to allow the rivulets of ink to create their own pathways on the way down. After the vertical lines dried, I turned the canvas and repeated the process in order to create the intersecting horizontal lines.

Ink Drip Patchwork (Completed Collage), Catherine Raine 2019

I liked how the ink lines had made folksy quilt-like boxes, so I added colored papers to highlight the patchwork shapes.

Ink Drip Patchwork, Catherine Raine 2019

The spontaneous blending of the streams of ink as they met each other motivated me to select transparent papers for the collage. Not wanting to cover the ink tracks, I chose papers that would show off and interact with the colors resting underneath them.

Detail from Ink Drip Patchwork, Catherine Raine 2019
Detail from Ink Drip Patchwork, Catherine Raine 2019
Detail from Ink Drip Patchwork, Catherine Raine 2019
Detail from Ink Drip Patchwork, Catherine Raine 2019

I hope you enjoyed Ink Drip Patchwork! I highly recommend trying this fun art process.

Collages by International Students in a Leadership Course

Complete gallery
An engineering student envisions her future and encourages a visit to the universe.
Celebrating Canada’s multiculturalism — “Be Yourself”
“La Vie Est Belle” —
Vision of owning a flower shop in the future
“I want to have a house in the quiet countryside.”
For Freedom
“This collage shows my interest in art.”
“The collage is about my visit to Canada.”
“The penguin wishes he could fly like other birds.”
Be Happy!
“Botany is one of my interests.”
Detail from “To Infinity and Beyond”
“Where Are You Going? To Infinity and Beyond!”

Collage Workshops Spark Language Expression

When I came to Canada, I had to start again at the bottom. I struggled and had a lot of stress. The stairs show my difficult climb back up to success.(Geraldine, workshop participant, 2015)

     Since 2013, I have led more than thirty collage sessions, and each one has testified to the power of art to nudge emotions, memories, and personal wisdom to the surface. Bridging visual and linguistic boundaries, collage creates a world of meaning in which a yoga pose, a set of stairs, and a gold coin symbolize an immigrant’s struggle to regain lost ground. As an artist and ESL educator, I appreciate collage’s unique ability to sound the depths and reveal insights that elude verbal access, thus providing a perceptive gift that builds second-language fluency and morale. Having witnessed the alchemic energy that transforms ordinary paper and glue into artistic creations, I would like to share my collage-teaching experience with a wider audience. To showcase the learning potential of this versatile modality, I will focus on the process of workshop preparation, execution, and closing harvest.

Whether conducting a session with my own students or visiting the ESL classes of colleagues, I am delighted to promote collage as an educational tool. To harmonize proposed collage lessons with the curriculum, they are usually given a theme connected to relevant textbook chapters, and some typical ones have included Relaxation, Health, Nature Conservation, Families, and Personality Traits. The artwork that results from these themed sessions provides meaningful material for discussion and written reflection, which instructors often incorporate into assigned presentations or paragraphs.

With a theme and a firm date established, workshop preparations start with a dive into several thick folders from my picture collection (an entity that has taken on voluminous dimensions of its own). As I search for images that can be tailored to the theme, I take a moment to celebrate the latent promise of diverse colors, textures, shapes, and lines found in magazines, leaflets, wrapping paper, hand-made paper, tissue paper, fancy bags, and commercial packaging.  While sorting through the folders, I also contemplate the artistic destiny of items such as a page from a Rumi calendar or a stamp from an old postcard. After the image folders have been customized for a particular class, I gather the requisite backings, scissors, glue, and embellishments, sometimes making flying visits to the dollar store if necessary. 

When the day of the session arrives, I shoulder two large bags full of materials and make it my mission to fire up enthusiasm for art, an attitude which lays the foundation for a lively and productive session. Upon arrival at the designated classroom, I ask for a show of hands to gage how many participants have tried collage before. If the term is unfamiliar, I show them a sample collage and call attention to the French origins of the word (coller, to glue) while flourishing a glue stick in the air. Then I explain that collage is a process in which different pieces of paper are arranged and glued to a backing to create a new piece of art.

Before the actual collage-making begins, I assure the class that drawing skills are not a prerequisite. Hoping to alleviate possible anxiety over creative deficiencies, I strive to foster a non-judgmental learning environment, for I want participants to feel free to take a playful approach to the activity, setting aside worries about making mistakes. Thankful for the respite from critical evaluation, many students find that cutting, tearing, and pasting can relieve the stress of testing, grades, and error-correction, all of which permeate second-language study in college. Moreover, a relaxed approach gives participants the chance to defy negative beliefs such as “I am not creative” and surprise themselves with the strength of their imaginative capacity.

To avoid slowing the session’s momentum with overly-detailed instructions about technique, I prefer to pass around several examples of previous students’ artwork and let the exemplars provide inspiration. After the samples have made their rounds, I ask each person what color of backing they would like and supply the tables with scissors and glue. Then it is time to release multitudes of papers from their orderly folders into gloriously messy piles. As colorful items spill out with abandon, eager hands pounce on individual images that clamor to be chosen. When I see how swiftly the learners become engrossed in gathering their images and committing to a mental picture of what they want to create, it makes me happy.

Collage workshop in progress, 2015

     Once the session is in full flow and the students completely immersed, it is fun to intensify the joyfully-strewn chaos of materials by adding alphabet stickers, stencils, markers, fake jewels, ribbons, and tissue paper to the mix. With student-selected music playing in the background, the room hums with kinetic engagement, which is in dramatic contrast to the traditional pedagogical tableau of quiet students in rows of desks, immobilized by lectures. Instead, workshop participants are free to stand up and browse materials on other tables or study the composition of classmates’ collages. As the dynamic work continues apace, someone might call out a request for a fish, a field of snow, or a feather, and these calls activate a general scramble to oblige the seeker. Invariably, cries for vowels become increasingly urgent as the sheets of alphabet stickers become more and more depleted. When requested letters or visual items are unearthed, it is rewarding for the helpers because they have provided exactly what a fellow artist needs to realize his or her vision.

Detail from student collage on the theme of Endangered Animals, 2018

Near the end of the workshop, busy heads bend low over the tables in a final burst of concentration, determined to add finishing details like a border of faux stick-on pearls or a tissue-paper flower with a questing bee. One by one, collages are declared finished, admired by onlookers, and then placed in a spontaneous classroom gallery that is curated with the aid of masking tape or magnets. To gaze at the rapidly-expanding galleries that emerge at the session’s closing is to be awed by the creativity, energy, and humor on display, which is visible in spirited details such as a giraffe with a bedazzled purple bow-tie or two loops of string affixed by blue gems that seal the eyelids of an anguished god.

Detail from student collage, 2017
Student collage, 2017

As soon as the galleries are complete, cellphone cameras begin to click like mad, capturing each learners’ individual work and that of their classmates. Sometimes students will make videos of the displays, walking slowly to savor each artistic offering. Whether they record the collective works or simply examine them, it is heartwarming to see groups of rapt students standing in front of the exhibits and exclaiming over art that had not existed two hours previously. Gazing at evidence of simple materials transmuted into art by virtue of imaginative effort rarely fails to impact viewers; almost magically, collage reminds us that creativity is our human birthright.

Thanks to the pop-up exhibits, fresh artwork now brightens classroom walls and serves as a rich resource for written and verbal responses. For example, the following transcription of a collage presentation in a beginner’s ESL class contains visionary wisdom: “Sometimes we hear a noise and we think . . . it is something dangerous . . . but usually it’s something like this cute dog who want to play . . . Fear pulls you back. If we release our fear, we can reach to the stars” (Sergi, 2013). Sergi’s classmates and I were inspired by the comforting message of his piece, which stays with me to this day.

(Sergi’s speaking presentation, 2013)

I am very grateful for the courageous willingness of over 350 students like Sergi and Geraldine to try an unconventional classroom activity that encourages camaraderie, poetic thinking, and artistic confidence. Until the next collage workshop, may your garden be protected by an Ewok and your baby panda lulled to sleep by a lute.

Detail from student collage on the theme of Social Media, 2017
Detail from student collage on the topic of Healthy Lifestyles, 2017

Note: A version of this essay was first published in the Marshall Alumni Newsletter, Fall 2018

Collages (2016-2019)

Symphony of Waves, Catherine Raine 2016

Aquatic Garden, Catherine Raine 2017

Aquatic Garden, Catherine Raine 2017

Aquatic Garden, Catherine Raine 2017

Aquatic Garden, Catherine Raine 2017

Bookmark and Forest Paper Doll, Catherine Raine 2017

Layers of Orange Bookmark, Catherine Raine 2017

Three Hatted Birds, Catherine Raine 2017

Detail from Three Hatted Birds, Catherine Raine 2017

Detail from Three Hatted Birds, Catherine Raine 2017

Detail from Three Hatted Birds, Catherine Raine 2017

Detail from Three Hatted Birds, Catherine Raine 2017

Dancing Paper Figure for Greta, Catherine Raine 2017

Memorial Candle for Dad, Catherine Raine 2017

Algonquin Park Dream, Catherine Raine 2017

Embodied Road Trip, Catherine Raine 2017

Shadows of Two Thistles, Catherine Raine 2017

Detail from Shadows of Two Thistles, Catherine Raine 2017

Be, Catherine Raine 2018

Be, Catherine Raine 2018

Space Flapper, Catherine Raine 2018

Detail from Space Flapper, Catherine Raine 2018

Subway Returns to Nature, Catherine Raine 2018

Evolution of a Resting Silence, Catherine Raine 2018

Detail from Evolution of a Resting Silence, Catherine Raine 2018

1984 Journal, Catherine Raine, 2019

Detail from 1984 Journal, Catherine Raine 2019

Fire Cactus, Catherine Raine 2019

The Fox and Her World, Catherine Raine 2019

Katie’s Spring Flower Show, Catherine Raine 2019

Daydream in Green, Catherine Raine 2019
Detail from Daydream in Green, Catherine Raine 2019
Detail from Daydream in Green, Catherine Raine 2019
Memory of a River Walk, Catherine Raine 2019
Detail from Memory of a River Walk, Catherine Raine 2019
Pensive Swan, Catherine Raine 2019
Detail from Pensive Swan, Catherine Raine 2019
The Mud Peaches Caper, Catherine Raine 2019
Detail from the Mud Peaches Caper, Catherine Raine 2019
Shoe Celebration, Catherine Raine 2019
Shoe Celebration, Catherine Raine 2019
Tufted
Tufted
Tufted
Tufted Bookmark