The best books and paper for collages

Nothing delights me more than a Reader’s Digest Family Guide To… an Atlas of… or a Grafton Books: The New… They’re my MacGuffin when scouring second-hand bookshops and charity stores looking for collage materials.

The paper is sturdy but not too thick. The finish is sateen; not gloss, not matte – sateen. And the clarity of colour is so good. Okay, the photography is often outdated, but the people they employed to illustrate each page deserve accolades infinitum. 

My latest find, The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution, had thirteen illustrators working on the reimagined dinosaurs that grace all 108 pages. Thirteen! I doubt the publisher paid them well for their efforts, but hopefully I’m wrong.

Hand-drawn illustrations from these types of sources are absolutely gorgeous. Often highly detailed with a late 80s, early 90s aesthetic, they offer this GenX lady plenty to feel nostalgic about.

They are also fun to cut out. I just snipped a narwhal out of Discovery Atlas: Animals and I had a literal squee moment once I saw it on a new background. Any mixed media artist should understand what I mean!

National Geographic magazines are a significant source of inspiration, too. I’ve destroyed many editions (sorry collectors). But the paper is a tad too glossy. I steer clear of Time and The Economist because of their ultra thin paper, which tears easily. 

For cosmic backgrounds, I adore books like Patrick Moore’s Passion for Astronomy. I find it much harder to source this kind of thing though. Dramatic looking nebulas and supernovas don’t come in book form these days, and the books I do find lack clarity because of older film photography and printing styles. The imagery I crave lives online. Once I transition into digital, I’ll have more to play with there.

I’m reserved when it comes to ripping up some books. It just feels wrong to destroy certain books over others. Atlases and Reader’s Digests seem less precious in that regard. 

Do you delight in the illustrations found in books from bygone days? What’s been your best find yet? What is your go-to non-fiction book ‘brand’ for collaging? Please let me know in the comments. I’m really into this kind of nerdery.

Disclaimer: No book was fully destroyed in the making of any collages. I’ve started recycling the off cuts! There’s a medium called Papercrete that is made from pulped paper and concrete. All my leftover scraps are going to be pulped and turned into other things, like Papercrete pots. But I’ll leave that escapade for another post.

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