Fear of empty spaces in art history

collage horror vacui
"Fear of empty space" -- did you know that was an official  thing in art history? I didn't. Not until I discovered the work of Colin Johnson, whose collages are cram-packed with found images, words, doodles and more visual elements.

The official term is "horror vacui," which sounds like a skin disease or type of exotic beetle. According to Wikipedia, examples of this style come from the work of "the mentally unstable and inmates of psychiatric hospitals." So is the kids book series Where's Waldo?

Here's an example of horror vacui from French Renaissance engraver Jean Duvet.
engraving by Jean Duvet
Art students sometimes copy masterworks as part of their training. So I decided to make a collage in the horror vacui style. After studying some of Colin Johnson's intricate pieces, I tried to make my own.

First, I decided on a color scheme -- each of Johnson's pieces sticks to a single color or 2 analogous colors. I chose green. I went through my ephemera stash to find green images that might work, like these:
images for my collage horror vacui
I also tinted several larger black and white line illustrations to fit in with the green scheme. 
image for collage horror vacui

After placing the images on some lime green card stock, I filled the spaces in between with doodles, lines, dots -- whatever I could think of. I used colored pencils, markers, and paint pens. 

Here's the final piece. It took a long time -- longer than I expected. It was also harder than I thought.
my final collage horror vacui
Have you ever tried to copy the style of another artist? Was it fun? Frustrating?


  1. Wow! I didn't know that was a thing either. Thanks for sharing. I think horror vacui could be applied to a lot of the collage/mixed-media work I do. The piece you created is very engaging!

  2. That is just a great way to push your artistic boundaries. Way to go with this! :-)

  3. I love this! It's busy but the parts are distinct. And it flows. And it's green! I'm sure I suffer from horror vacui in many realms outside art (home decor for example), and I had a boss who could not abide white space on a written page. I just never knew it had a name.

    1. Your fabulous home has just the right amount of empty space. Except your couch, where Clarence takes up so much room!


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