My high school art teacher used to have a saying: “happy accidents.”

She would use this phrase whenever someone would make a mistake in their artwork.  The student, young and frustrated as most 16-year-olds can quickly become, would cry out in anger after toiling on a painting for weeks and making some irreversible accident, like using the wrong shade of acrylic.

The teacher would let the vexation play out, and calmly explain that this was a “happy accident” that could ultimately improve the work if treated as a new direction rather than a misstep.

She was usually right.

More than a decade later, this saying has stuck with me, and I (try to) openly embrace errors in my designs.  How many timeless works of art really came out exactly as planned?  I’m almost positive most went through multiple evolutions before their completion.

While this may be a much deeper sentiment than the design I’m featuring in this post deserves, it’s a great example of the “happy accident” attitude, and it reminded me how much this teacher influenced me in everything I create.

Anyway, on to the point:

Earlier this year, my company moved its office to a larger space.  Never one to miss out on a chance to celebrate, I began planning an office warming party to welcome our friends and family into our new awesome digs.

For most events, I’ll simply create an evite and call it a day.  For more special occasions, I’ll get creative and design something in Photoshop or Illustrator.

This time, I was inspired to go a different route and revisit my grade school roots and make a collage.  So I pulled out some magazines, scissors and my sketchbook and started composing what would ultimately become our office warming party invitation.


Materials Used:

  • Assorted magazines/catalogues
  • Scissors
  • Tissue paper
  • Mobile phone
  • Photoshop


I cut out a small house and other shapes from some patterns that struck my fancy and rearranged them on the sketchbook until I liked the layout.

In a stroke of inspiration, I remembered a gift bag I had received earlier that week stuffed with charcoal-colored tissue paper.  I tore off a piece, crumpled it to my liking and laid it on the book as a puff of chimney smoke to add to the cut-out paper vibe I was creating.

Tissue paper used as chimney smoke.
Tissue paper used as chimney smoke.

I had some alphabet stickers from my scrapbooking days that I used to create a title: you’re invited.

My initial composition of cut paper, tissue paper and stick-on letters.
My initial composition of cut paper, tissue paper and stick-on letters.

At this point, I didn’t glue or tape anything down; I knew pressing this down onto a scanner would make the tissue paper lose its 3D aspect.  I knew a photograph was my best best.  Mostly out of impatience (since I didn’t have my nice DSLR camera at hand), I took a picture (above) with my mobile phone and uploaded it to my computer to tweak in Photoshop.

Here’s where the happy accident comes in: I immediately realized that while the sticker lettering looked pretty cool IRL, it was slanted and a bit too hodge-podgey when viewed on a computer screen.

After adjusting the contrast, tone and lightness of the image (to fix the weird tungsten hue that tinted my picture from my mobile pic), I covered the title with a box the color of the background to effectively erase it.

Beginning to clean up the image in Photoshop.
Beginning to clean up the image in Photoshop.

I put some text on the image with event information and our logo, and ended up using an extremely similar font to the sticker letters. (It was a happy accident that just needed a little fixing!)

However, something still wasn’t right; the image felt unbalanced.  I used the selection tool to draw a box around the bottom patterned block and selected Edit > Free Transform to allow me to resize and reposition it.  I placed it on the bottom of the image so it was flush against the border.

Resizing the bottom patterned block to balance the image.

Finally, I fixed my uneven cutting of the house by layering rectangles the same color of the background on top of the house shape.

Cleaning up the house shape with rectangles the color of the background.

While this invitation took a few turns throughout the creative process and was not how I originally imagined it, the final product was a charming mixed-media collage that looked clean, simple and elegant.  I got great feedback from my coworkers, who loved the “analog feel” of the invitation, and were delighted to be able to send out something a bit more tangible than the same boring evite.

This project only took me about an hour and was a great detail to make this event just a little more special.

Finished product: Mixed media collage invitation edited with Photoshop.