An Awesome Collage to Display Kid’s Artwork – And How I Saved $915

January 15, 2012   //  Posted in: Decor, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  22 responses


In search of a way to display children’s artwork, I decided to recreate a collage that would stand the test of time (editor’s note: still displayed 6 years later). If you’re in the mood to crunch numbers (I always am), my piece cost about $35, whereas the original masterpiece that I pinned cost upwards of $950! Pinch me.

My inspiration? This kid’s art collage showcased on Apartment Therapy:

Children's artwork collage, via Apartment Therapy

The backstory?

Pete’s been collecting his 5-year old daughter’s artwork for years, adoring everything from scribbles, to her first animal sketches, from finger paintings, to projects created in day care. I’ve encouraged him to keep the best original pieces to look back on (within reason, we don’t have the space to save each coloring book), and in the last year or so, she’s amassed quite a pretty gallery. My parents had saved a lot of the art that my sister and I created growing up, and I always enjoyed looking back through it and seeing my skills progress with age. I figured that in the future they’d both would both appreciate having some of her work, regardless of its significance at the time.

Kid art in excess.

The materials and investment:

  • 20-3/4″x28-5/8″ IKEA Ribba Frame, White, $19.99 (I actually already owned this one, it’s the one I repaired recently)
  • 1 standard uncut mat board, white, $4 (I purchased mine with a 50% off coupon)
  • Mat cutter (already owned, learning process detailed here)
  • Color printouts (I had to have mine output at The UPS Store, boo, $7)
  • Scissors
  • Tape

The original artist, interior designer Jan Eleni, charges $950 for a quality 40-piece collage of her client’s children’s art,. Yes, they’re lovely pieces, and I’m sure they’re mounted in something nicer than an IKEA frame, but I wanted one. One with a price tag lower than my monthly living expenses.

Unlike Jan, I decided that I wanted frame this art in a matted print form. So, rather instead of trimming art to size and taping it directly onto a piece of paper behind glass, I’d need to create a photo mat for them to be cleanly presented with. The questionable part was whether I’d be able to actually make a mat with spaces for multiple pieces of art, and if I was able to, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it well.

I started by cutting the newly purchased 36″x48″ mat board to size so that it would fit into the IKEA frame I planned on using. Then, making a whole evening of it while watching Julie & Julia for the first time ever (Note: I didn’t even know it was about a blogger), I carefully calculated and began to sketch where the openings would be on the back of the mat.

Planning where to line the thumbnail openings in the mat.

There were several things I considered as I planned:

  • I wanted a 2″ solid frame all the way around the perimeter of the mat.
  • I wanted each thumbnail opening to be even in size.
  • I wanted the horizontal and vertical spacing between each thumbnail to be an even width.
  • The exact dimensions of each thumbnail weren’t important, as long as they were all landscape in orientation, and evenly spaced.
  • I really didn’t want this to look like the matted collages with lots of ovals that everyone bought in the 70’s, my big goal was to make it look streamlined and modern.

I started by marking a 2″ border on the edge of the mat:

And then I got math-y. First, I decided how wide I wanted each line between the thumbnails to be. (How about a 1/2″? Sounds great.). I then considered about how many thumbnails I should try and fit across horizontally and vertically (4-5 across? 8-10 up and down?).

Factoring in the size of the mat, the 2″ border, and 1/2″ spacers, I calculated how much space would be available for each thumbnail. Happily, I landed on nice round-ish numbers, determining that each opening should be 2.5″ x 3.75″. I marked each line that I’d need to cut along on the back of the piece of paper, using the mat cutter as a long straight edge (if not for it, I’d probably have used the drywalling T-square, because it’s been handy as a straight edge in the past).

If you read all of that, maybe you think it sounds easy to create a custom grid on your one and only piece of mat stock, but real life there was a lot of measuring, calculating, mis-measuring, re-calculating, measuring. That’s why the back of the mat looked like this even before it was cut.

Measure, mis-measure, try again to make even spaces in your homemade photo mat.

Anyways, measure 15 times, cut once, and it seemed like it was going to work out.

Thank goodness it's symmetrical.

Of course, there were two minor 2 issues, both due to my own carelessness:

1) I forgot to rotate the paper as I cut it in the mat cutter, so half of the beveled edges of the mat angle the wrong direction. Slaps head.

Some edges bevel, some edges not. Poop.

2) An unknown substance was on the coffee table where I was cutting. Maybe a yogurt-covered spoon. Because of that carelessness, I do have a dumb little oily stain on the clean side of the mat. The other side of the mat was too marked up with pencil to be of any help. You can’t really see it in the end result with it framed behind glass, but still. Seriously, Emily, get your yogurt-loving act together.

Making a mess. Geez, don't give me nice things.

Those issues aside, I was really happy in how it turned out, so I began selecting my 32 pieces of artwork, scanning them one-by-one, and rotating and cropping (if necessary) to fit into a horizontal layout. Of course, I was still considering turning the mat horizontal and using 32 vertical pieces of art, but there didn’t seem to be as many of those once I started poking through Pete’s art stash.

I resized each scanned piece to be around 3.75-4″ wide, focusing on how a proportionate resize effected the height of the image (they needed to stay over 2.5″ tall), and then formatted the whole set, 4-up onto 8.5″ x 11″ pages of a word document. It pains me a lot (a lot, a lot) to admit that I had to take my word document to The UPS Store to have it printed in color; we only have a black and white printer, and I couldn’t exactly print it at work anymore (not that anyone does that).

Thankfully, UPS had a great printer and sold me 8 pages for about $7, which I stomached because it’s only the cost of 1.5 venti mochas, make the mental note to deny myself the treat of a mocha for the next 1.5 times it crossed my mind (I probably buy one a week, not that it’s significant as it relates to this project or my health). OK, back to the art.

Printouts of the thumbnails.

I trimmed each piece of printed art with a liberal border, and took care in taping every image into one of the open thumbnails on the freshly cut mat. I found it easiest to angle on the windowsill to let some light shine through the paper, just to see how much allowance I had with spacing and to make sure I wasn’t accidentally cropping out the grass or stick figure hair.

Mapping out placement for all of the art.

All said and done, I placed the mat and art into my IKEA frame, and stood back, pleased.

Pretty. What a perfect little way to make your kid proud. This one will live in the guest room, the room Julia has claimed as her own with a mountain of stuffed animals.

Pretty kid's art collage.

Side note: The Bat and The Nightmare Before Christmas were custom requests, not drawn by a 5-year old. Pete often freehand sketches special pieces for her to color. Now accepting inquiries from coloring book publishers.

Pretty kids art collage.

  • Martina
    6 years ago - Reply

    This is a pretty ambitious project but it turned out great, love the sweet & eclectic collection of illustrations you chose.

  • The Stucco Bungalow
    6 years ago - Reply

    There are so many things to love about this project! Love the special meaning of the artwork AND that you DIY-ed the pants off of this!

  • Cait @ Hernando House
    6 years ago - Reply

    I love the way that turned out, Emily! Has Julia seen it yet? I’m sure she loves it!

  • Jac
    6 years ago - Reply

    Please don’t ever let the girl hear you say the words “guest room”.

    • Emily
      6 years ago -

      She knows it as the guest room, she doesn’t live with me. But I know what you’re saying.

  • Michelle
    6 years ago - Reply

    Wow! Thanks for the inspiration to save my little guys art work. LOVE this!

    • Emily
      6 years ago -

      Glad you like, Michelle!

  • Ashley @ DesignBuildLove
    6 years ago - Reply

    absolutely awesome! I’m in LOVE with this project and can’t wait to do this when we have kiddos! I HAD to show it to Eric!!! :)

  • Jami Graham
    6 years ago - Reply

    This looks so amazing! You did a wonderful job, I will be doing this, maybe even a book of sorts for every year in school!

    • Emily
      6 years ago -

      That’d be a great idea! She saw it this evening and only commented on why I didn’t use ALL of her art. Might want to plan on making a mat with 1000 thumbnails.

  • michelle@decorandthedog
    6 years ago - Reply

    Great idea!! I always prefer art with meaning.

    • Emily
      6 years ago -

      Thanks Michelle – I agree with you 100%.

    • Elisa @ The Self Life
      6 years ago -

      Same here! If it’s made by someone you know = the best kinda of art. And the amount of time you put into cutting that mat should be an art piece in and of itself. Hah.

  • Erin B. Inspired
    6 years ago - Reply

    Wow! That’s really cool, Emily. I’m sure Julia loves seeing her art displayed, too.

    This is semi-related. Did you see the kid’s art duvet featured on YHL this week? That was pretty cool, too.

    • Emily
      6 years ago -

      I did see that – when the post started I thought for a minute that it was going to be the same project I was concocting. It turned out really cute.

  • Mindy
    6 years ago - Reply

    Absolutely incredible! I love it!!! I’m sure Julia will too! Does Pete love it? (He must)

    • Emily
      6 years ago -

      Yes, he does!

  • Lydia
    6 years ago - Reply

    What a neat way to display your kids’ artwork! Looks great!

  • Rachel Jones
    6 years ago - Reply

    that is AWESOME!!!! love it!

  • Marylou M
    6 years ago - Reply

    ditto to all the above comments!

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